What Can Make You Lose Every Time

I watched as this college friend pulled clothes from her suitcase and packed them into a duffel bag for the Thanksgiving weekend at home.

She still had an empty dresser and a full suitcase 3/4 of the way through the college semester.

I am not like this.  I am an insta-unpacker.  The moment I arrive at a hotel, I nest.  I empty every bag, tuck every item away, fill the mini-kitchen and set up the bathroom sink.

When we return home, I’m going to unpack no matter how late it is.  I’m going to start that load of laundry and pull out the toiletries because it cannot wait until morning, not if I want to get any sleep.

Maybe I looked lost in confusion as I watched my friend move clothes from one bag to another because she stopped to explain it to me.psalm16-11

It wasn’t procrastination or laziness.

It was perfectionism.  It was that ugly enemy that paralyzes us with the lie:  If you can’t do it perfectly, then why do it at all?

“I was so busy,” she said, “I knew I didn’t have time to put my clothes away just right, so I left them in the suitcase.”

Beth Moore wrote:

Perfectionists always lose (Esther).

It’s the same way my son chose to crawl rather than walk for weeks and weeks.  People asked me, “Can he walk yet?”

Yes, he could walk.

Did he always choose to walk?

No.  It amused him to walk a little from room to room or place to place.  But when he wanted to get somewhere with certainty and with speed, he dropped to all fours and crawled like a rocket.

Perfectionism does this; it paralyzes us into this one place of development.  We’re comfortable here.  We move along well enough.  This is what we know.

Why choose stumbling?  Why choose uncertain steps and potential embarrassment?

This is what we lose when we demand perfection from ourselves:  We lose the journey of grace, the way God walks alongside, the way He steadies us with His strong hand and smiles at our progress.  The way He cheers us along and encourages us on the weary days to persevere and not give up, to get up and try once more because He is with us, after all.

Jesus said these words to His disciples and it could have broken over their weary souls like the cracking of a whip, so they felt trampled and beaten and hopeless:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 ESV).

Be…..perfect?

It’s tucked in just one tiny verse after the beatitudes and after Jesus tells them not to retaliate against their enemies, not to get divorced, not to lust, not to sin when they’re angry, and to love their enemies.

Yes, do all this.  And be perfect.

That would have caused me some religious whiplash.  If I were taking sermon notes on that hillside, I’d have written it down on my bulletin with exclamation marks and references to look up later in case the preacher was wrong.

Hadn’t the Pharisees preached legalism and works-based faith?  The religious elite told them to be perfect, be perfect, be perfect and if possible, be more perfect, because that’s what it took to please God.

Here I am at the end of my 12-month pursuit of the presence of Christ, and I’m ending the year with this: Abandon Perfection.

But how do you move on past a verse like this?

Be perfect?  That’s impossible.  I’m a mess some days, broken and faulty and prone to sin.

So, Jesus, does that mean we’re hopelessly blocked from Your presence and Your favor because this perfection just trips us all up?

Oh, but here’s the grace we perfectionists need.

Ravi Zacharias writes:

Perfection, then, is not a change in the essential character but the completion of a course...We can never be who God is, but we can complete the task he assigns us to do” (The Grand Weaver).

Jesus didn’t mean we had to attain that holiness on our own or get everything right and never falter or sin.  He knows we can’t.

He asks us, though, to move forward.  Take those steps.  Make progress.  Obey Him.

When He tells us to move, move.  When He plants us, bloom.  When He leads us, follow.  When He prompts us, go.  When He nudges us, yield.

Perfectionists lose because we get so focused on the end that we despair in the middle and simply give up.  Or we never begin in the first place.

But God asks us to just take a walk with Him, rest in His presence, trust His direction, enjoy His company.  Then we’ll be where He wants us to be, with Him….and that’ll be perfect.

To read more about this 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, you can follow the links below!  Won’t you join me this month as I Abandon Perfection?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

No Pain, No Gain: Part II

I’ve learned to take a mild Facebook hiatus from about January 1st until just about February 15th every year.

That’s because everyone’s New Years Resolution seems to involve fitness and they are all eager to share their chosen method of extreme weight loss.

I know better.  I always feel that making exercise an official “resolution” sets me up for failure every time.

Cynic that I am at times, I also admit that I just wait for the Facebook exercise updates to disappear after a few weeks and then we all return to a normal and pleasantly non-guilt-inducing state of indolence and inactivity.

If you’re a Facebook user, you likely know exactly what I mean.  It begins on the very first day of the year:

“I hit the gym at 6 a.m. today!”

“I ran 3 miles in the rain, uphill, did my Zumba class and swam 15 laps today. Spin class tonight”

“I’m training for the around-the-world marathon and made it to Switzerland in record time today.”

Okay, that last one was a bit of a stretch.  Still, you’ve probably read updates just like that.  Or, perhaps you’ve written them yourself.

Over time, all but the most ardent of exercise-lovers cease to post how many miles they ran that day or how many hours they spent at the gym or how much sleep they missed out on in order to run twelve miles.

Lesson Two: Transformation Takes Time

For most of us, lack of instant results sabotages our best health intentions.  As I wrote in No Pain, No Gain: Part I, we must remember that no one begins as an expert or starts perfectly.  No one achieves perfection at the moment of salvation or within a week of starting Bible study.

And yet, somehow we expect this of ourselves.  We step on the scale after a few days of exercising, blink our eyes in disappointment that we haven’t lost 50 pounds and dropped two dress sizes, and pack it all in.  Clearly, exercising to the point of not being able to walk isn’t working.

Then again, maybe you do drop off 5 pounds a day for a short time.  And then you plateau.  And the results don’t come as easily any more.  And you don’t think you’re making progress.

And you quit.

In our faith-walks, also, God is engaged in a life-long work of transforming us into His Son.  Sometimes we expect one week of consistent quiet times, one month of ministry, one Bible study session, or one afternoon of prayer to serve as the Bippity Boppity Boo of a fairy godmother, magically transforming us into princesses fit for a heavenly ball.

But there’s beauty in the imperfections that Christ perfects day by day.  There’s power in sharing our growth and progress with one another, in being vulnerable, open, and transparent about the mistakes we make and the God whose grace covers over them.

Lisa Harper wrote in Stumbling Into Grace:

“The older I get, the more convinced I am that admittedly flawed sinners are the most credible witnesses of Jesus, because people with scars can’t fake moral perfection.  It’s glaringly apparent we can’t save ourselves. . . .We prove how miraculous and restorative the love of God really is. . . . Please don’t listen to the enemy when he tries to convince you it’s time to wave a white flag.  To cry uncle.  To stop believing and talking about how good God is simply because you’ve made some bad mistakes.  Stand back up and keep walking in faith.  It’s okay if you’re a little wobbly”  (p. 189).

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus gave His perspective on how perfect we need to be: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (NIV).

Wow!  That’s daunting.  Overwhelming.  Discouraging even.

Yet, Stephen Arterburn wrote that the Greek word for perfect is teleos, which means, “the goal, the consummation, the final purpose toward which we are moving.”  It “carries the sense of ‘complete,’ ‘mature,’ or ‘being at the proper stage at the proper time.”  He says:

What matters to God is the journey, not just the arrival at the goal. God’s concern is not that we’ve arrived but that we continue to face and travel in the right direction.  For his grace both empowers our obedience and forgives our failures.

Jesus gave us freedom to be less than perfect, but still asked us to be involved in the perfecting process. Be on the path to maturity, He said.  Be at the right stage of development; don’t lag behind by becoming a spiritual couch potato.

Paul said it this way: “train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come …Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8, 15, NIV). 

We are called to diligence and intense training in godliness, giving ourselves wholly over to maturing in Christ “so that everyone may see our progress.”

The point of our piecemeal progress and stumbling path to grace isn’t to show off our new look.  It’s to give glory to God.  It’s our testimony to others.  They look at us and marvel at the work God has done us and they seek God’s powerful involvement in their own lives as a result.  They want what we have.

We become the slim and toned chick on the exercise video who people want to look like.  They’ve seen the before and after pictures and think, “If God can do this in her life, think what He can do in mine!”

So, they’re willing to engage in some spiritual muscle-building, willing to walk around sore and stiff for a while, willing to skip out on what’s easy in order to do what’s hard—because they want God to transform them just as He transformed us.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King