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.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.

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.

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)

Always Be Ready

The Questions Will Come

“Honor Christ, and let him be Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope.” (1 Peter 3:15)

When you live your life for Christ, others will notice. Many won’t say much, if anything. Eventually, though, someone will say something. They may not specifically use the word “hope,” but the asking will likely still be obvious.

“Why are you always so positive?”

“Why doesn’t anything get you down?”

“Why are you always so nice?”

Why do you help others so much?”

When the ask comes, you can bring in the word hope. You can tell them that Jesus changed your life and gave you hope.

Some won’t know what to say. They’ll likely feel awkward, and so will you. One of you might change the subject. At some point, though, someone will want to go further with the discussion. They’ll want to know why you believe the Bible and why the Gospel directs your life.

Are You Ready?

I trust the Holy Spirit to give me the words to say when I need to say them (Luke 12:12). But I also know God wants us to choose to prepare, learn and grow.

“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 23:12)

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

I’ve also learned through many mistakes that considering ahead of time what to say helps me tremendously in being confident when the time comes. As I considered this recently, three words came to mind that reflect this process in my life.

1. Examination.

This involves time spent reading the Bible and in prayer with the goal of getting to know God more and more.

2. Evidence.

As I learn more about evidence in areas such as science, archeology and history, my faith grows stronger. Fulfilled prophecy alone is a tremendous boost of faith.

3. Experience.

Remembering is emphasized throughout the Bible to teach us to acknowledge what God has done in our lives. We don’t want to dwell on our past, but we do want to praise him for how he’s transformed, protected and redeemed us.

Regular Review

When I think about these three words and place my own spiritual walk within their structure, I find myself more ready to talk about my hope. But this is something I need to review regularly simply because I am, hopefully, still growing and learning.

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.

Live Long & Prosper

Most people, even if they’ve never watched Star Trek, associate “Live long and prosper” with this iconic show/movie. More specifically, they associate it with one of the most well-known characters in science fiction, Spock.

Usually accompanying a Vulcan hand gesture, the phrase actually finds its origins in the Bible.

“Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy.” (Deuteronomy 5:33)

The Bible in Star Trek

Leonard Nemoy, the original Spock, had a childhood memory of visiting an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston, MA. “Live long and prosper” was given as part of a blessing along with a hand gesture similar to the now-famous Vulcan one associated with the phrase.

The gesture is actually the shape of the first letter of several Jewish words.

  • Shaddai — a name for God
  • Shalom — hello, goodbye and peace
  • Shekhinah — prayer that inspired the salute

Nemoy, mesmerized by the sound and look of the prayer, never forgot it. When a Star Trek script had Spock go home to Vulcan, Nemoy wanted to find a touching way to help further develop Vulcan sociology. He wanted a special greeting for the Vulcans and suggested the prayer gesture from his childhood. The gesture and the phrase took off from there.

“People don’t realize they’re blessing each other with this.” (Leonard Nemoy)

A General Truth

After discovering this connection between Star Trek and the Bible, I realized that the general truth it expresses is actually a thread throughout Scripture. Since, Repetition Means Pay Attention when it comes to Bible study, let’s look at a couple more verses expressing the same sentiment.

“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Number 6:23-27)

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother — which is the first commandment with a promise — so that it may go well with you and that you may be long-lived on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:3)

“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2)

Go Deeper

The thread of this idea of long life and prosperity does not end with the Scriptures we’ve looked at in this post. Far from it, actually. To help you delve deeper, check out the following links:

Active Remembering

When we “Don’t Forget to Remember” and live with “Purposeful Remembering,” we keep God’s activity and character throughout history and in our own lives fresh in a way that fuels our faith. This active remembering results in going well beyond recalling and to letting our remembering affect our lives in visible ways. Others will see the impact remembering God has on our lives. With that, our active remembering actually becomes a testimony.

What does this active remembering look like?

“Remember not the former things…” (Isaiah 43:18)

How do we know we aren’t just recalling but are actually letting our remembering affect our lives in an active way? Maybe a better question is, “What are the results of this active remembering?”

Don’t dwell on the past.

As I tell my boys when they make a mistake, “Learn from it and move on.” Too many people live in the past. They live with unforgiveness and bitterness. They tell the same stories over and over again, and a backward focus keeps them from moving forward.

While we want to remember God’s activity throughout our lives, we don’t want to dwell on our depravity — on ourselves — in any way. Instead, we want to focus on what God has done, and this then increases our faith about what He is doing and will yet do in our lives.

“…do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18)

Serve Him faithfully in the present.

This speaks to obedience. Serving God faithfully in the present means knowing and doing what He desires because we know from our past that He always does what’s best for us and simply asks us to trust him in that journey. Serving God faithfully right now also speaks to faith, which often grows out of obedience as we gain more experience living in His consistently full grace.

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

We trust God for the future.

Our culture says to create our own future. It says to take control of our lives. But God says to trust Him and let Him control our lives. He always outdoes anything we can think or imagine.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Not sure about you, but I can think of and imagine quite a lot. But as we remember His work throughout our lives, we’ll see that His way often took us through the impossible, that it often created paths through the worst terrain, and that we came out stronger as closer to Him as a result. And because we know He’s done it before, we can know He’ll do it again.

Active remembering helps us trust God now and in the future because He’s always the same, and we can count on His consistency of character. We know He is just, that He will honor His promises, and that He forgives endlessly when we sincerely repent and turn to Him. Remembering helps us know how to live our everyday lives, how to treat people & how to live our lives focused on Him based on His instruction for doing so in Scripture.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)