Posted by: mikenicholsblog | October 5, 2011

the performance trap

Performance-based living is the norm in our 21st century culture. And make no mistake; almost everyone is caught in the performance trap. From a very young age we are all challenged to succeed, which is a noble aspiration. But often the desire to perform well and succeed becomes a way in which we value ourselves. When value is based on what you and I do, there will always be disappointment. Why? Because good can always be better, and inevitably someone will always out perform us. Graduating from childhood to adulthood doesn’t lessen the desire to be successful or the trap of performance-based living. We all see it in every corner of our lives – even in the spiritual dimension!

With full candor, I can tell you that if I am not careful, performance and winning can be too important to me. I hate to lose at anything. If I’m playing golf, winning is my goal (although I lose most often). In business, I am not interested in being second. Now I realize that having a healthy desire to achieve is noble, but performance-based living can easily become too all-consuming for me (and you). When I take inventory of my spiritual journey, there has often been too much focus on performing well, and too little emphasis on resting in Christ. Performance-based living in the spiritual realm is an adversary of the restful soul that can be ours. Rest is available to all Christ followers.

Recently, I have been reading a book entitled, Thirsting for God by Gary L. Thomas. His writing captured my attention concerning a quiet heart, and living in a relationship with God that is not performance-based. See if the quote below gives you a sense of the problem that we all face.

Undo fretting leads to “soul sadness,” or despondency, or, as Francis de Sales put it, “inquietude.” Soul sadness is the result of a performance-based holiness, and it often plagues those who most want to serve God.

DeSales wrote that true holiness is cultivated with “patience, meekness, humility, and tranquility, expecting it more from the providence of God than from [our] own industry or diligence.”

Patience, meekness and tranquility are not the fruits of performance-based living. God’s grace in salvation is through faith, not works. Nor should we who know Him try to serve with a performance-based mindset, as if that is a way to win His favor. He already loves us, wants us to enjoy His rest and without a doubt will guide us to successful living if we seek Him. However, we often turn serving, giving and helping others into performance-based holiness. And we experience “soul sadness” when our performance is about gaining favor, instead of resting in our God who loves to favor us. Serving, giving and helping others should flow from the well-source of our relationship with the Lord as He guides our performance.

Performing well and living with patience, tranquility and meekness are challenging things to hold in tension. I still want to win at golf and do well in business, but those things should never define me. When my (your) relationship is honoring the Father, rest will come, and our performance will cause “soul gladness”. If you are serious Christ follower, think about what drives your performance.

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