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.

Pursuing Perfection, Part II

As we established in Pursuing Perfection, Part I, God wants us to be perfect. He knows that won’t happen through our own efforts, though, so He made a way for us to be perfect. Our own efforts won’t bring perfection. The world’s path won’t either. Only God’s way provides a way for perfection to become a reality.

You’re Already Perfect!Path to Perfection

Consider the following people’s lives. If you read the scripture reference, you’ll actually see these individuals described as “perfect” “mature,” having “wisdom,” “blameless” “righteous” and even “without blemish.” All of these get at the idea of perfection in the eyes of God.

If these individuals and groups of people – with their human frailties and significant mistakes – are seen as perfect (without fault) to God, why can’t we, even on this side of heaven, be considered “perfect” too?

How do we reach perfection?

“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.” (Edith Shaeffer)

If perfection is impossible, why bother? Why not coast through life with a “good enough” mentality? For two reasons. First, God tells us to strive for perfection. Second, He has provided a way for us to be perfect.

We can be perfect through…

  1. God – His grace perfects, confirms, strengthens and establishes us (1 Peter 5:10).
  2. Christ – He has already achieved perfection for us (Hebrews 10:14).
  3. The Holy Spirit – Our human effort blinds us to the process of perfection the Holy Spirit leads us through (Galatians 3:3).
  4. God’s Word – Imperfect hands + the perfect tool (His Word) = adequately equipped (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
  5. Ministry – Matures the body of Christ to perfection (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  6. Sufferings – Jesus, the author (perfector) of our salvation, was the perfect leader because of His sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
  7. Love – Drives out our fear, including the fear of not being perfect (1 John 4:18).

The Pressure is Off!

“Grace is God acting in our lives to do what we cannot do on our own.” (Dallas Willard)

God perfected us through Christ, and nothing we do can reach the goal of perfection. But, that doesn’t mean we just give up and coast through life.

Scripture clearly says that perfection comes through Christ; it’s instantaneous at salvation. But, it also say that it’s at the same time a progressive work in our lives. Pursuing Perfection, Part III gets at how that progression exists based on scripture.

DISCUSSION: How does your life change knowing that the pressure is off to be perfect because, through Christ, you already are perfect?

Pursuing Perfection, Part I

Defining Perfectionism

This topic pulls at strings deep inside my heart and mind. Not only does it represent a personal struggle, it also reflects a struggle I see in those I love too. Perfectionism creates a focus on self, and many – myself included – find this mindset difficult to shake. For this reason, this series will address this widespread challenge and look at the path to freedom from its dictatorship.

7-16-13 perfectAre you a perfectionist?

Consider the following definitions:

Perfect = complete or to complete thoroughly

Perfection = the state of being entirely without fault

Perfectionist = a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards

Perfectionism = a personal standard, attitude or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else

Still not sure? Read through the following signs to help clarify whether or not you’re a perfectionist:

  1. All or nothing thinking
  2. Critical eye (worse on self than others)
  3. Pushed toward goals by fear of not reaching then
  4. Unrealistic standards
  5. Focused on results instead of the process
  6. Depressed by unmet goals
  7. Fear of failure
  8. Procrastination
  9. Defensiveness
  10. Low self-esteem

Confession time: I said “yes” to all 10 of these. Clearly, a perfectionist mindset securely grasps my thinking. While this is a more widespread issue for me, many people are perfectionists only in certain areas of life. For example, my oldest son is a perfectionist with grades in school but not in other areas of life.

My Perfectionist Story

When I was a child & through high school, I lived life without much guidance or any focused plan. In college, I became a perfectionist. Why? Maybe I wanted control over my life, or perhaps I wanted to finally feel good about myself, or it could be I wanted others to acknowledge my accomplishments. Most likely it was a combination of these and other reasons.

Regardless of why it started, my battle with perfectionism eventually found its way into virtually every area of my life.

  • Perfect shoes – Guys don’t understand, but shoes matter.
  • Perfect purse/bag – So glad I have not kept count…
  • Perfect hair – A lifelong struggle still without resolution.
  • Perfect work – A missing comma is good reason to reprint & recopy.
  • Perfect friendship – Expectations of perfection resulted in lacking any longstanding friendships.
  • Perfect marriage – Being depressed over imperfection almost cost me my marriage.
  • Perfect kids – Always focusing on how to improve and forgetting to focus on progress.

I wanted perfection but at the same time knew perfection was impossible. I created a heavy burden for myself and others. I was not a fun person to be around.

The “Good Enough” Approach

At the other end of the spectrum are those with a “good enough” approach. They don’t even try because they know that perfection is impossible. So, instead of doing their best, they do enough to get by.

“So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot or cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16)

Doesn’t sound like just getting by really works well either.

The Impact of Culture

Perhaps you’ve seen the slogan, “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” in a Lexus advertisement. I want a perfect car, don’t you? For me, that means never having to buy another car or fuel it up again.

For sure you’ve heard the sayings, “Practice makes perfect,” and “Nobody’s perfect.” So, we practice to achieve something we can never achieve? Why bother?

Probably the best example of how our culture impacts perfection lies in the beauty industry. Products to make us perfect and then more products that made the old perfect no longer good enough.

Without a doubt, our culture pushes us to the extremes telling us to be perfect but at the same time keeping it well out of our reach. We are set up for failure. Unfortunately, Our own expectations plus the mixed message of our culture bring us only to frustration. Perfection remains painfully illusive.

God is a PerfectionistPath to Perfection

Both approaches – perfectionism and “good enough” – focus on our own efforts, and that’s not what God had in mind when he told us to be perfect.

“Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

That’s right, God wants us to be perfect. He is a perfectionist, but He can be BECAUSE HE IS PERFECT. But here’s the difference… God provides a way for us to become perfect. Our culture and our own efforts do not.

Pursuing Perfection, Part II looks at the only way to obtain perfection… God’s way.

DISCUSSION: Anyone else have any perfectionist confessions?