Progress Over Perfection

Partly because I’m a perfectionist and partly because I get easily frustrated over my apparent lack (or absence) of progress as well as the lack (or absence) of progress I see in others, I need reminded of what God says about how we are to grow spiritually.

To that end, this post is simply my collection of Scripture emphasizing the idea of focusing on progress over perfection.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the LORD’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the LORD, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.(Ephesians 4:15)

“Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger.” (Job 17:9)

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:12-13)

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18)

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15)

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our LORD Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Even though I know this emphasis placed on progress over perfection this side of Heaven, I still get discouraged when I fail to see any forward activity. Knowing I have this tendency, I also daily pray this prayer…

“Father, forgive me for my weak faith. Help me to trust You even when I don’t see You working.”

Coupled with regular gratitude for the progress I have seen over the years and for His faithfulness through it, my focus continually returns to the almighty God. And, as always, focus determine reality, and I then see more of him working for progress in my life and in the lives of others.

Stability Within Change

Changing Seasons

While the extremes vary, everyone experiences changing seasons no matter where they live. Even Hawaii changes seasons, though not an extreme difference and only between two different seasons (summer and winter).

If you think changing seasons are unchangeable events, think again. Climate change experts say that the timing of seasons is now changing.

The Earth’s seasons have shifted back in the calendar year, with the hottest and coldest days of the years now occurring almost two days earlier, a new study finds. This shift could be the work of global warming, the researchers say. (Timing of Seasons is Changing)

Yes, even the changing seasons are becoming more unpredictable, though if you live in a place like I do (Michigan) that has always been the case.

Our season changes are extreme, and you simply love or hate it. I’ve actually heard of people missing the extreme changes after moving to a place with less seasonal change. Also, every time we enter a new season, someone (often a person who has lived in the area for many years) expresses surprise over it happening.

If you live in an area of extreme seasonal changes, you have to admit to the beauty of every season. I’ll admit, it’s sometimes hard to see when it’s hot and humid or rainy or bitter cold or there’s a foot of snow on the ground or you experience rain, fog, snow and cold with a 40-degree temperature drop all in one day.

Change – unexpected or not – keeps life interesting.

Life’s Seasons

Our lives have seasons too, some expected and some not. Some people embrace the change, some resist; most do both, and all are at times surprised when change takes place.

Staunchly resisting change is futile as well as unhealthy. We all know this both by observation and experience, but it doesn’t stop us from stubbornly resisting change at times.

Why do we sometimes resist the changing of life’s seasons and other times embrace them? Why do we in our hearts often wish things wouldn’t change?

The answers to these questions are unique to every person. What we all have in common, though, is the need for stability within change.

Stability Within Change

Stability within change is essential for thriving as the seasons inevitably change in our lives. For Christians, this means focusing on God who does not change.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 )

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[a He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1:17

As the seasons of life morph in both expected and unexpected ways, I am learning to lean heavily on Jesus. The hope he gives keeps me stable amidst the changes of the many extremes in my life.

“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” Hebrews 6:19

Battling Discouragement

Life can be discouraging. One area of persistent discouragement for me involves lack of apparent progress. That lack can be in myself or in those closest to me, but it also can be in general with how I see people living as a whole.

The only way I’ve found to keep discouragement from turning into depression is by replacing my thoughts, which focus on my feelings, with God’s thinking, which focuses me on him and all he’s done for me.

Reading the Bible is the best way I know to make this switch. During a recent struggle with discouragement, this verse served to refocus me.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Breaking it down helped to defeat my discouraging thinking and to replace it with hope.

Therefore…

What initially stands out is the “therefore.” Whenever I see “therefore,” I know that the author is basically telling me, “Because of what I just told you about… here’s what should happen/what you should do.”

In this case, the “therefore” refers back to the two verses immediately before it:

“The stink of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In other words, because Jesus conquered death — because of His resurrection from the grave — here’s how we now should live. See how the focus is on Christ? That’s a key with overcoming discouragement. Get the focus off yourself and on Christ.

Steadfast. Immovable. Abounding.

Now that my focus is on Christ, I can now see my way through discouragement.

  1. Be Steadfast = be fixed and firm in purpose; changeless, dedicated, dependable and faithful.
  2. Be Immoveable = steadfast in purpose; not influenced by feelings
  3. Always Abound = let it exist in great quantities; let it be well-supplied.

No matter how I feel, no matter my circumstances, no matter whether or not I see progress … if I focus on Christ, I can keep doing the work He directs me to do because I know none of it is without significance.

Significance

“…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

For something to be in “vain,” it is ineffectual, unsuccessful, futile, baseless and worthless. All very discouraging states. But because of Christ, I find motivation to be steadfast, immovable and abounding. Any work I do for him has significance.

A Go-To Verse

This is a great verse to go to when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It’s great encouragement for those times when progress feels absent. It reminds us to keep our focus on Christ and to keep doing the work he calls us to do.

For me, I am reminded that discouragement is often just a distraction to slow me down or stop my work. Focusing on Christ allows me to push through those feelings and to know I there is progress even if I don’t always see it or feel it.

Be Determined

Biblical Examples

Determination can be good or bad depending on your focus. It also lasts or fades depending on the approach we take to maintaining it. As Christians, our goal is to maintain a God-focused determination.

Let’s look at three individuals in scripture from whom we can learn a lot about a God-focused determination.

  • Ezra’s determination teaches us that we must be hearers, doers and teachers of God’s Word. (Ezra 7:9-10)
  • Daniel’s determination shows us that resisting the surrounding culture is not only possible but necessary. (Daniel 1:8)
  • Paul’s determination illustrates the need for complete focus on the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:26)

These men teach us a great deal about staying determined, and they set examples we can and should follow.

Biblical Instruction

Through Ezra’s, Daniel’s and Paul’s examples, we see that staying determined is possible. In addition, the Bible clearly indicates where our determination should focus.

We are to be determined to…

  1. Obey God: Simply make up your mind to do it. (1 Samuel 7:3)
  2. Avoid sin: Know your convictions before you are tested. (Job 31:1)
  3. Stand firm: Stand in faith, and you will be protected. (Isaiah 7:9)
  4. Follow Christ: Let Him lead you in every area of life. (Mark 8:34-38)

How to Be Determined

How do we obtain and maintain an enduring God-focused determination? Let’s again look to Ezra, Daniel & Paul for answers.

  • Ezra praised God for giving him favor. He also went to the Lord with concerns. (Ezra 7:27-28; Ezra 9)
  • Daniel had a habit of prayer that he maintained even when facing death. (Daniel 6:10)
  • Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, often included prayers filled with thanksgiving, prayers for others, as well as prayer requests for his ministry. (See a list of Paul’s prayers on Scripture Zealot.)

Habits of prayer, praise and thanksgiving are keys to constant God-focused determination. Also, never forget that God promises to help us stay determined.

“For the Lord God helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint (a stone), and I know that I will not be ashamed.” (Isaiah 50:7)

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Keep It Simple

What does God want me to do on a day-to-day basis?

How does he want me to live?

What is His will for my life?

 

The Bible certainly provides much detail in answer to those questions. Sometimes, though, I just want (need) a simple answer.

Some days get so overloaded I feel overwhelmed and like I’m barely keeping up. On those days, I want a basic answer to help me refocus. Fortunately, we can find those in the Bible too.

“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

This verse comes at the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. So, it’s part of his final instructions. I always look at the end of Biblical letters, verses like this one, as “if you remember nothing else of what I said, remember this.” Or, “if you want a starting point, here you go.” That’s how I usually take those instructions.

In other words, I see final words like these as ways to not over-complicate God’s will for us. Yes, there are more details we can and should delve into. At the same time, instructions like these help me keep a simple focus, something I need help with when life feels overwhelming.

Be joyful.

Keep praying.

Be thankful.

 

Even on my worst days, simple instructions like these serve to refocus me on God’s will. Even the slightest turn of my focus more fully on him serves to encourage my spirit and lessen the burden of overload.

What is Hope?

Fear vs. Hope

“The only thing more powerful than fear is hope.” (President Snow in The Hunger Games)

There was a time in my life when fear controlled me. Fear over what others thought. Fear of failure. Then hope took over.

Hope that what the Bible said about Jesus was true.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Hope that He would bring me out of the pit.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

Hope that flourished as I returned again and again to grace and let God work in my life for His glory.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-15)

When I struggle still today and feel the pull of the pit, I remember the hope that saved me years ago. Hope always returns and encourages me.

Confident Hope

Hope has a forward focus. It is remembering what I have been through only to remember again what God has done for me. This refocuses me on what He’s going to do in my life in places, people and events where hope seems dim or even absent.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Get Back to Grace

Abundant Grace

Do you speak words of hope or condemnation? What about your thoughts? Do you, like me, sometimes find your words and thoughts gravitating toward the negative and critical? If so, maybe you need to get back to grace.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

The grace I’ve abundantly received from Christ drives my own refocus on grace. He gives more than enough for me to give to others.

Focusing on Grace

In my experience, the journey back to grace involves being deliberate in my thought life.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

This refocus also means making gratitude a consistent habit.

“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Blossoming Hope

As you return to grace, you’ll discover hope blossoming in every area of life.

“Set your hope on grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13)

This happens as we realize what grace makes possible.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourself, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Getting back to grace means getting back to the Gospel of Jesus. Return there often. Let your hope be continually renewed. As you do, you’ll find your perspective towards yourself and others transformed. You’ll find encouragement and joy in abundance.

Respond or React

In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Matt James differentiates between responding and reacting. Below is a summary of what he says.

Reacting and responding may look the same at times, but they certainly feel very different from one another. In review of my most memorable times of reacting and responding, I definitely find this to be true.

When I think of those times when I’ve responded instead of reacted versus those when I’ve reacted instead of responded, some patterns emerge. Before delving into those patterns, understand that everyone has reacted when they should have responded. To do so is part of what it means to be human.

It’s those times, seasons really, when we seem to live in reactionary mode that are cause for concern. During these seasons, the following are usually true for me and need dealt with in order for me to move back into respond mode.

Busy and Overwhelmed

When I have too much to deal with mentally or physically, my overall quality goes down in pretty much every area of life. Often, this happens because of Decision Fatigue when there’s just too much stress for me to process life with any clarity and focus.

Off Track

Being off track is basically a loss of focus. It means I’ve stalled and am no longer moving forward. It means I need to get back on track before I’ll be able to be consistently healthy and productive again. Essentially, since focus determines reality, this is a time to Reset Your Focus.

Reacting instead of responding has become a sign that something is off in my life. I now use it as an opportunity to take stock and see where I need to adjust or even reset in some way.

Sometimes, it means I need to simplify again. Others, it means I’m letting my feelings instead of the facts dominate my thinking. Whatever the root cause, a time of evaluation — usually accompanied by resting — helps me see what needs adjusted.

Always, this process includes lots of prayer. At the source of this prayer during these assessment times in my life are a few key Scripture that I’d like to end with and to encourage for meditation.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Truth. Wisdom. Discipline. Discernment. (Proverbs 23:23)

Learning to Be Wise

Drawn to Wisdom

Some people seem naturally wise to me. Since they seem to always know how to act and what to say and do in every situation, I’m drawn to these people. I want to be like them.

A friend recently told me about celebrating her 70th birthday in between two major hospital stays. She said that what she’s realizing most of all these days is that so much of life is not in our control, but we can choose to become wise. In other words, she reminded me that wisdom is learned.

How to Learn Wisdom

The book of Proverbs talks a lot about wisdom. Here are just a few verses from chapter 9 that specifically talk about how to learn wisdom.

“Leave your foolish ways behind, and begin to live; learn how to be wise.” (Proverbs 9:6)

“Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more.” (Proverbs 9:9)

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Wisdom, then, is learned by focusing on it and by choosing to neglect foolishness. It’s learned by humbling yourself under Godly teachers. And, it’s learned by respecting and revering God.

Acquire Wisdom

No longer do I simply wish to be like my wise friends, though I still am drawn to them. I’ve read these verses before, but they’ve clicked for me in a new way because now I’m choosing to pursue to acquire — wisdom.

The word “acquire” helps me understand what this choice to pursue wisdom actually means.

“Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.” (Proverbs 4:5, NASB)

When you acquire something, you gain it for yourself through your actions and effort. You then possess or own that something. It becomes yours.

With that, I’m determined to do what is necessary to acquire wisdom. I want to possess it, to own it. Let it become a part of who I am, Lord.

A Passion for Seeking Wisdom

As Christians, we believe the Bible gives us all we need for right living. As God’s inspired word, it tells us all we need to know to love God and love others (Mark 12:30-31). The Holy Spirit is our partner in this and helps us understand and navigate God’s word (John 16:13).

Sometimes, though, the answers to life’s questions don’t obviously appear in Scripture. We know we need to pray and let the Holy Spirit work in us for understanding, but that understanding often takes longer than we’d like. We also have to admit that sometimes, even after seemingly endless study and prayer, the answer remains, “I don’t know.”

There are many clear answers in the Bible. Some answers aren’t as clear as we’d like. Either way, we know we have what we need to live and think as God desires. The book of Proverbs is a great example of this mix. Much of its content and application is clear. Others, not so much. Some, it often seems to me, is both. And there’s good reason for this mix.

The Pursuit of Wisdom

Take Proverbs 2 for example. My study Bible titles this chapter as “The Pursuit of Wisdom Brings Security.” Essentially, the chapter’s main ideas is that pursuing wisdom will lead you to the right course of action every time.

Here’s my summary of the first half of the chapter.

“If you receive my words and store them up… if you turn your ears to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding… if you seek insight as much as you seek the things this world values most… then you will understand how to respect God and find the wisdom of God… He will give you knowledge and understanding and success and protection. You will know every good path to take because wisdom and knowledge will be a part of who you are. Discretion and understanding will protect and guard you.”

What I hear God telling me is to make seeking wisdom through His word a habit. He’s telling me to let His Holy Spirit reveal wisdom to me through the Bible and through other people. When I do this, not just when I’m struggling but also when I’m not, He promises to show me the right steps to take just. He promises to direct my steps (Proverbs 16:9).

God is saying that we should expect to hear wisdom and gain understanding when we make seeking it from Him a habit. We need to look for it continually and make an effort to understand what He’s revealing to us (meditate on it). We must ask for insight and understanding. He promises to give it to us.

Application

If you’re still not sure how to get the wisdom of God and what it means for your life, read the entire book of Proverbs. While there are a lot of specifics in it, focus just on the directives specifically about wisdom. Consider listing them in a journal. I promise you’ll come away with a greater understanding of the wisdom of God along with a greater passion for seeking it.