Stop Being Perfect, Start Being Holy

Written by Janel Breitenstein, USA

I remember a time back in high school, running hard after God. I thought if I could have one thing in the world, it was holiness. Maybe it sounds to you like it did to me: Intently focused on God. Uber-spiritual, even.

But looking back, I actually think what I wanted was to be perfect.

I am some form of a perfectionist. WordPress says I revised my last blogpost no less than 13 times. I am often obsessive, in fact, in my attempts to please people. (One of my friends laughs because when she arrives at my house, I always run to place a hand towel in the bathroom—all because she asked me for it on one occasion.)

This year, about two decades after my high school quest, I finally realized this: The only reason I wanted to be a perfectionist was that I detested my own failure. But I didn’t hate sin and weakness in me because it grieved God; I hated it because I thought I was better than that. It was a chip in my façade, a chink in my armor. I didn’t hate sin because I loved God; I hated sin because I loved myself. I loved my own achievement, my own goodness, my own . . . righteousness.

Maybe you’re wondering: Is there anything wrong with wanting to be perfect? Doesn’t God say to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”? Shouldn’t we have zero tolerance for our weakness and sin?

But you see, my craving to be unchained from weakness was cleverly cloaked in the right lingo of “holiness.” And the god of my quest was myself. Insecurity oozed around my failures. It leaked out when I didn’t meet my ideal. My husband pointed out that pride and insecurity are actually the same sin. Both place my sense of value—or lack thereof—in my ability to achieve my goals on my own.

When I don’t meet my ideals, I feel inferior and insecure. When I’m meeting my standards? I’m on top of the world . . . and likely feeling a bit superior. Neither pride nor insecurity is based on God’s acceptance of me or His value of me, apart from what I bring to the table.

But now, I have started to see holiness less as being free of wrong and weakness. I no longer believe that it strictly lies in the perfection of my outward behavior. After all, my heart’s kind of a rotting onion: the further I peel into knowledge of myself and God, the more underlying junk of my own is flayed open.

American Pastor and author J.D. Greear writes: “There are only two kinds of religions: those that teach you to obey in order to be accepted; and those that teach that you obey because you are accepted. In every story . . . from the Bible . . . God confronts attempts at self-salvation.”

Jesus earned my verdict. He says I’m accepted. I’m cleared. American pastor and theologian Timothy Keller writes that in Christianity, “the verdict leads to performance. The performance does not lead to the verdict.” When I accept Jesus’ verdict of “innocent” for me, God says to me what He did for Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Rather than motivated by fear—of failure, weakness, not being accepted—holiness is now motivated by faith that I am unconditionally, overwhelmingly loved, accepted, and thankfully not in control. It means I’m no longer trying to save myself. Instead, I’m allowing God to save me. My holiness flows from acceptance rather than insecurity.

Rather than strict control of my outward performance, holiness now feels like an act of worship, a jealousy for my life to be only His. True holiness, I think, has God as its source and object; perfectionism has myself as its source and object. You could say my behavior now emerges (yes, through self-discipline) from a genuine love for God, rather than a feverish clawing for His acceptance.

This means that when I really bite it bad—snapping at my husband, say, like I did the other night—I don’t have to be devastated because I acted like a “bad wife”, or because I behaved in a way inconsistent with my good character. If my mouth speaks out of the overflow of my heart (Matthew 12:34), I need to acknowledge that this is who I am: a sinner. I can confess to my husband without trying to blame-shift or deny or justify my tacky talk. I can ask his forgiveness. And I can lay my head on the pillow knowing that God’s changing me from the inside out. But my worth can remain super-glued to Jesus’ verdict for me in God’s courtroom.

Honestly, His performance is a lot more reliable than mine. My ability to achieve seems to melt away in the presence of that kind of perfection. Ultimately, I’m less and less focused on me and my rather sketchy (hand-towel-deprived) performance.

Holiness is, in fact, an utter reliance on performance—on perfection. Just not mine.

I am Loved, Really?

Written By Jacelyn C, Singapore

“Useless.” “Stupid.” “Good-for-nothing.” These are words and phrases some of us may identify with. Even though I know that I am a child of God, there are times I still label myself with these words.

I’ve always struggled with viewing myself as someone who is fearfully and wonderfully made by God. When I look at myself, I am reminded that I can never be like my friends. Compared to my fashionably dressed peers, I dress and look like a prepubescent child. And with my sub-par grades, it never fails to amaze me how I managed to scrape through Singapore’s grueling education system.

As I began university, my fears were amplified. Will I be able to make friends? Will anyone accept me for who I am? Will I be able to cope with the academic rigor of university? I shared with one of my close friends that I was fearful and anxious about starting university, and we had a meaningful talk.

But instead of being thankful for the friendship we shared, I found myself doubting if my friend really cared about me as I lay on my bed that night. I am so stupid and ugly. I do not deserve her love and attention.

I regretted being honest and vulnerable with her. What if she didn’t really want to meet me in the first place but was just too polite to turn me down? I was so afraid that she would reject me, thinking that I’m a loser. What if she makes better friends in university and decides that she no longer wants to be my friend?

I struggle to see why others would befriend and want to hang out with me. It’s not like I have a good fashion sense and can provide tips in that aspect. My grades are not stellar, so I am not a useful friend to seek academic advice from. Such insecure thoughts filled my mind that night.

I tossed and turned, struggling to fall asleep. Eventually, I gave up; I needed to occupy my mind with something. My Bible study homework seemed like a pretty good idea since I was lagging behind.

The passage that day was Ephesians 3:14-21, and it spoke of God’s love—that Christ did not come just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. His love was for all, whether Jew or Gentile.

When I read it, it immediately struck me: I am loved. It’s not that I didn’t know that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. However, this reminder from God to me—a broken, insecure and crying young adult—was so timely and encouraging.

Here are three fundamental but important truths about God’s love that I was reminded of:

1. His love for me is immeasurable

In Ephesians 3:18-19, Paul describes God’s love as one that surpasses knowledge and is wide, long, high, and deep. It shows how great His love for us is, and that it is difficult to quantify. In fact, God’s love for us is immeasurable.

Even as I struggle with loving myself and believing that I am enough, reading about God’s immeasurable love for me reminds me that He still loves me as I am.

 

2. He loves me enough to send His Son to die for me

In fact, God loves us so much that He didn’t want us to perish eternally. He gave up His Son to endure and resist temptations and, ultimately, suffer painful crucifixion just to restore our relationship with Him (John 3:16).

To think of how the Creator of everything still yearns and cares for us! I do not know a greater love than this.

 

3. I can now love others with His love

As we understand how the Lord loves each and every one of us, we’re called to reflect the same love to those around us.

1 John 4:7-8 reminds us that God is love, and tells us that only those who love others are born of God and know God.

Being in fellowship with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ further helps us to experience God’s love, and gives us opportunities to practice loving others, even when it is tough.

It dawned on me that friendships are perfect opportunities for us to reflect the unconditional love Christ has shown us, and to be recipients of unconditional love from people around us.

 

I was very encouraged by these truths and they helped me to see His love for me even in my weakness. Although my fragile self-esteem might be seen as a weakness, I know for certain that God’s grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God will help me to see that in His eyes, I am enough.

I do not need to be perfect; I don’t need to be like someone else. Even before I was born with all my flaws, God had already loved and accepted me for all that I am. My only response is to be thankful and to live out a life that pleases Him.

Landing in the Pig Pen Instead of My Dream Job

Written By Ellen Bargh, UK

As I walked into the farm yard in my pink-striped wellies and oversized farm gear, I was hopeful that this job would only be for a couple of weeks.

A friend and I had always joked about me going to work at his family farm in UK, my home country. It had always seemed ridiculous to me. I couldn’t work on a farm; I worked with people, not animals. I liked the comfort of being inside—not getting mucky and cold.

But here I was, working on a farm while waiting to fulfil my dream of living abroad. Over the past six years of studying in Canada, I had started to build my life there; I had friends and even my own apartment. When a job I had desired for a long time became vacant, it seemed like everything was coming together. The job involved working with students and doing administration. I loved the thrill of tasks and details as well as talking to people and helping them as they went through their years in college.

The week before I was due to fly back to the UK, I was interviewed for the position of Assistant to Dean of Students. All I needed was a visa to move to Canada to start my dream life.

But things didn’t work out as I wanted. Those couple of weeks on the farm turned into a couple of months, and my dream slowly slipped away. In the end, I did not qualify for the visa, and the job was filled by someone else.

Now, instead of my fun pink-striped wellies, I had proper green farm wellies. Reality had set in that I was going to be there for what seemed like the long haul. Instead of sitting in a nice lovely office, I was in a pig pen shovelling muck. Instead of listening to students talk excitedly about starting college, I was deafened by the squeals of piglets ringing constantly in my ears. This wasn’t what I dreamed my life would be after finishing my degree.

As I drove to work each day, often with tears streaming down my face, I would ask God why He had me working at a farm with pigs rather than with people who needed Jesus. What use was I in a pig pen? I wasn’t telling anyone about Jesus or working with children. How could this be what God wanted for me?

It was a daily battle to go to work and take my frustrations with the mundane to God. I wrestled with this for months. I was weary of what seemed like meaningless work. But the longer I stayed, the more honest I became with myself and God. God began to soften my heart and show me that He wanted me to talk to Him all day while I was working. He wanted me to love Him for Him—not because of what He does for me or because He could give me a better life.

I looked to the Bible for comfort, remembering that popular verse from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I started reading Jeremiah to find out more. I was shocked by the verses that came before verse 11. Jeremiah 29:5-7 says: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

God had sent the Israelites into exile. And while they were there, they were to build a life and do good to the place they were in, even though they didn’t want to be there or thought they shouldn’t be there.

As I went over these verses in my mind, I began to see the good things God had put before me in the place I was in. I was working with a wonderful family, and I had an amazing church family where I was asked to be involved in youth and children’s work. Of course, my desire to work with people was still there. And though my desire to be in a different job didn’t fade, I gave what I had to where I was at.

Recently, I read an Our Daily Bread booklet on contentment where the writer Gary Inrig writes, “Contentment, then, is not about self-sufficiency but Christ-sufficiency. It is not resignation but satisfaction. It is not acceptance of the status quo or surrender of ambition but submission to Christ and His purposes. Godly contentment isn’t about complacency or passivity or an otherworldly detachment from life . . . It is a deep-seated satisfaction that is the gift of Christ.”

A good job was never going to give me the contentment I wanted. It was only by looking to Jesus that I could find contentment and peace. The more time I dug into the things God gave me in the place I was at, I realised it was Him that I needed, and not a job.

Here’s three things that helped me to be content:

 

1. Give thanks

Give thanks daily for specific things God has given us each day—not just in the good times but all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:18). When we thank God, we focus on the good things, and soon envy and discontentment fade.

2. Give what you have in every situation

Even if we aren’t where we want to be, we can seek the good of the people or place we are in. Rather than tell ourselves we just need to get through this period of time till God takes us to the next thing, we can give ourselves fully to people or tasks during the time we are in “exile” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).

 

3. Seek godly characteristics rather than possessions or status

If we are always focusing on what is next—the next job, the next relationship or the next house—we aren’t focusing on becoming more like Christ. It doesn’t matter where we are, God’s will for us is to be like Jesus.

Why Should We Pray for Others?

Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

“I will pray for you.”

I believe all Christians are familiar with this sentence. It is the most common response we receive from our brothers and sisters in Christ when we share our troubles with them.

But do prayers of intercession really work? I used to doubt it. If intercession really helps, why are my non-believing relatives still resisting God? If intercession is really effective, why have the sick still not recovered? If intercession is really powerful, why are Christians around the world still being persecuted?

Moreover, isn’t God omniscient? So even if we do not pray on behalf of others, God would still know their needs, right?

Not long ago, I opened the Bible, desiring to find out more about the role and importance of intercession. The time I spent with the Word taught me five lessons. These lessons have been a tremendous encouragement to me and they urge me to reexamine my doubts towards praying for others. If you’re experiencing the same doubts as I do, I pray that the points below will help you see the importance of prayers of intercession.

 

1. Prayers of intercession please God

In Isaiah 59, God was astonished and displeased, for there wasn’t anyone who would help or pray and intercede for Israel. Isaiah writes, “He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him” (Isaiah 59:16).

If we want to please God, we ought to love others by praying for them. For example, we can attend the church’s weekly prayer meeting to pray for the needs of the church.

On a personal level, I feel disappointed with the politics and law in my country and am unhappy about some policies that are set in place. Seeing the state of my country, it is easy to just give up praying for my country. However, God used this episode in the Bible to remind me to persevere in prayer, for my prayers please Him.

 

2. Prayers of intercession were done by Jesus and His followers

Jesus taught us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He Himself served as an example when He prayed to the Father to forgive the people who persecuted Him. It would be easy for Jesus to curse the people who crucified Him on the cross. Instead, Jesus chose to intercede on their behalf (Luke 23:34). Jesus sets the example for us, showing us that it is possible for us to do the same.

We can also take comfort in the fact that Jesus cares for those who intercede for others. In Jesus’ three years of ministry, He answered many prayers of intercession. For example, the centurion who pleaded for his servant (Matthew 8:5-13), the synagogue leader who pleaded for his severely ill daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), the father who pleaded for his possessed son (Mark 9:14-29), and many more. Can we also follow these examples and pray for someone we know?

I have a list of people I pray for frequently. These people include my family who has yet to come to know Jesus, friends whose faith are stagnant, and children whom I support from the World Vision. And what encouraged me was to see how God answered prayers—one of my friends who has depression, started to interact with people and smile more.  I was very thankful for that.

 

3. Prayers of intercession bring us closer to the heart of God

God has a plan in every decision He makes. The sin of the city of Sodom was so great and grievous that in His anger, God wanted to destroy the whole city (Genesis 18).

Abraham interceded for Sodom and even negotiated with God, asking God not to destroy the city if there were even 10 righteous people in it. God was not displeased with Abraham’s plea. In fact, God patiently answered him.

Perhaps, God was pleased by Abraham’s request because it showed how much he loves and treasures lives. I believe Abraham slowly began to understand that God loved man more than he does, and that as long as there is one righteous man in the city, God would spare the city.

Eventually, God sent angels to rescue Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family, before the city of Sodom was destroyed. God showed His compassion and love once again. Therefore, when we continue to pray, we will gradually understand what the heart of God is like.

 

4. Prayers of intercession increase our empathy for the people we pray for

When we feel helpless and inadequate to help others overcome their difficulties, do not forget that as Christians, we have the power of prayer. We may not fully understand what a person is going through, but as we pray for them continually, we learn to put ourselves in their shoes and empathize with them.

When I pray for missionaries, I can imagine how hard it is for them to be away from home, to be alone overseas. When I pray for my persecuted brothers and sisters, I can feel their pain.

On top of that, others are encouraged to persevere in the faith when they know someone is praying for them. When we empathize with others, we demonstrate God’s love, and comfort them in their difficult times.

 

5. Prayers of intercession help us share each other’s burdens

Problems may not be resolved immediately after we pray for others. But the Holy Spirit can strengthen and comfort those we pray for.

When I was overseas pursuing my Masters’ degree, I was overwhelmed by the heavy load of assignments. I did not want to share my stress with my family, as I was afraid that they would worry about me. But being alone in another country, I did not have friends to talk to either. It came to a point where I wanted to give up and return to my country.

Shouldering the weight of all my burdens alone, I went to a church prayer meeting where a group of sisters prayed for me. As they prayed for me, tears flowed down my cheeks uncontrollably, and I could feel the weight of my burdens lifting.

I am now pursuing my Ph.D. Although my workload is still just as heavy and at times I feel like giving up, I know many others are praying for me and that I can always regain strength from God.

 

When we pray for others, we move from a self-centered focus to a love for God and people.

As our friends share their troubles with us, has it become a habit to just say “I will pray for you”, without taking any action? Has it become a convenient way to brush someone aside? We ought to treat our prayers for others seriously. Instead of saying “I will pray for you”, let us say, “Let me pray for you now”, and then immediately pray together with them!

Perhaps you have been praying for a long time and things still remain unchanged. But do not lose heart. As long as we are willing to spend time praying, it will not be in vain. May we learn to pray like Jesus did in Luke 22:42, asking for God’s will to be done and not ours.