Setting Others Free From Performance

As a recovering pleaser, performer and perfectionist, I deeply long for those caught in such bondage to be set free.  Our deep desire for love and acceptance can so easily lure us into the trap of trying to “earn” love with our spiritual leaders and with God Himself. The hidden and deceitful message is that I must “do” to maintain the love I so desire.  In fact, I must “do very well!”
This can happen without our awareness as we disciple and mentor others. How can we detect when someone we are ministering to is getting caught up in the performance gerbil wheel?  What do I observe as walk alongside them?  Which of these characteristics are most true of them? This chart can help us evaluate:
Grace Based Disciple
Performance Based Disciple
Disciplines spring from thirst with God
Disciplines are done to look good or be a good Navigator
Okay showing weakness
Needs to shine all the time
Receives grace well
Express deep shame when they fail
Able to rest and enjoy solitude
Compulsive doing and relating
Growing in abiding and fruit bearing
Measure value by productivity
Sense of privilege in ministry
Sense of pressure in ministry
How can we come alongside them to help to break this cycle?   First we can watch what we praise and affirm.  We tend to do more of what is affirmed by those who are important to us.  Praise for achievement can be read as love and validation.   Therefore to get more love and value, the goal becomes to achieve more.  We can value their heart more than their accomplishments.  We can affirm their heart for the Word versus how great they are at Scripture memory.  We can affirm their growing intimacy with the Lord instead of how diligent they are in doing the basics.  We can affirm their growing heart for the lost, not their ability in doing evangelism.
Secondly we can appropriately share a personal struggle and what God is teaching us in an area of our walk with Him.  Vulnerability begets vulnerability.  If we present an image of having the Christian life together, we will reproduce a similar façade in others.  What freedom to know we are all in process!
Thirdly we can model being a safe person, a place where grace and acceptance are the norm.  Our tone of voice and our non-verbals communicate volumes when they fear their actions or decisions don’t please us.  Can they be messy and in process with us and know their value isn’t altered in our eyes?  Do I need to manipulate and control them so they make me look good?  Will they taste the compassion of Jesus through me when sin is brought to light? Are they assured that my love and respect for them haven’t changed when sin is brought to light?
Fourth and most important, we both need to live out of the glorious freedom of the Gospel.  Do I point them back to the Father who knows the best and worst about us and yet calls us His beloved daughters?  Are they gaining the conviction that He will never love them more and never love them less, since His love is not contingent on their behavior? Are they becoming aware that the verdict is in and that because of the Cross they are now set free from condemnation and needing to earn love?  Can they begin to rely on the Spirit to be the transforming agent in their lives versus trying harder and needing to hide behind a mask of perfect performance?
Performing may be our default mode, but the fresh air of the Gospel is so much more appealing and life-giving.  As Tim Keller so aptly says, “ Our goal is not to raise up morally restrained followers of Jesus (performance) but spiritually transformed followers (grace).
 “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”  II Cor. 3:17
As a young believer I had a hunger to know God but my performance bent led me to keep check lists of how I was doing in the spiritual disciplines.  When I did well (lots of checks), I congratulated myself.  When I did poorly, I condemned myself.  I was doing “right” actions but was caught in performance and legalism.  As I began to understand grace , experienced it and saw it modeled in others,  my motivation changed and I began to enjoy a true and deepening intimacy with the Lord.  My heart (not just my head) began to be transformed and joy and freedom grew.
Our performance bent doesn’t disappear totally.  It loves to rear it’s head and influence our motives and actions.  As we allow the Spirit to make us aware of it’s presence, we are again able to bring it to the Cross.  The confession of our own ongoing struggle may give hope to those we are helping who are travelling the road to freedom and grace.
Marilyn has greatly enjoyed the privilege of investing in many young women over her 43 years on Navigator staff.  Her campus ministry began at UW RiverFalls, and then took her to the U of IL, Iowa State U. and finally the U of MN. She loves investing in laborers and staff women and now resides in Minneapolis. She finds great delight in meeting with good friends, reading good books and savoring good coffee.

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