The Pressure to Perform

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If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. – John 8:36 (NIV)

I once knew a man who was very active in the church, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, and serving on committees. A former music teacher, he often filled in when the choir director was out of town. And when a new Christian school was launched, he donated his time to give instrument lessons and form the fledging musicians into a band.

Arden was a man I looked up to, but not because he was so involved and had such a dynamic personality. He challenged me to think, to dig deep and analyze why I believe what I do. He didn’t offer pat answers to the questions of life or spout Christian clichés and platitudes that miss the mark and don’t satisfy.

And he loved God. He didn’t have to say it, you just knew it from how he lived his life. Nearly every time I saw him, he exuded energy and was bursting with joy.

Then one year we almost lost him. Doctors determined his heart was weak and, without a transplant, there was nothing that could be done. So Arden spent many months at home, resting.

I missed him. I missed his energy, his ever-present smile, his outspokenness, his way of getting me to think and not accept things just because someone said so.

But God worked a miracle because Arden eventually returned to church and was able to do much more than doctors had predicted. I asked him when he returned if the recuperation time at home was difficult for him.

“Weren’t you just itching to be busy?” I asked.

“No,” he answered. “I could truly relax because there wasn’t any pressure to perform.”

The pressure to perform. Arden passed away several years ago, but I never forgot that statement. I use it to gauge my motivation for doing what I do: Do I teach Sunday school because it’s expected of me or because I love to teach, I love God and His Word, and instructing others fills me with satisfaction and joy? Do I write a weekly column, produce a daily radio program, and speak to groups to feed my ego and glorify myself? Or because it’s a way of telling others about the God I love? And because I believe teaching, writing, and speaking are callings from God?

Do I go to church every Sunday because it’s expected of me or because I want to worship God with other believers? Why do I try to set aside a quiet time everyday? Because that’s what was told I should do or because I hunger and thirst after God?

The list goes on. Sometimes the introspection reveals that instead of seeking after God, cultivating a relationship with Him and serving Him out of love, I’m merely playing at religion.

God’s Son died to give us freedom – freedom from sin and from the shackles of religion, from the pressure to perform.

He longs for a growing relationship with us. We cultivate this relationship, first, by seeking Him, then by serving Him.

“You will seek Me and find me when you seek Me with all of your heart,” He tells us (Jeremiah 29:13). We seek Him when we talk to Him (prayer); when we read, study, and think about His Words to us (the Bible) – and it doesn’t have to be a read-the-Bible-through-in-one-year thing; and when we are still before Him, listening in the quiet for His voice.

Then, we serve Him by serving others, using the talents He’s given us to reach out to a hurting world.

Don’t succumb to the pressure to perform. Seek a personal relationship with God first, then serve others with a heart full of love overflowing – just like Arden.

Help me, Lord, to truly put You first in my life. Free me from the shackles of empty religion to grow a loving, fulfilling relationship with You. Amen.

Read and meditate on Galatians 5

(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

The Potter and Me

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But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?” Has the potter no right over the clay?—Romans 9:20-21(RSV)

I once saw a pottery-making demonstration. I watched, fascinated, while the potter’s deft fingers formed a pitcher from a lump of ugly brown clay.

“Have you ever encountered stubborn clay?” I asked her afterwards. “You know, when the clay won’t let you do what you want to do with it?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, nodding vigorously. “When the clay is too wet or when it’s too dry.”

When the clay is too wet, she explained, it just flops around. The solution is to place it on a porous surface, such as concrete, and let the excess water drain out. Clay that’s too dry, she went on, is too stiff and cracks. Adding water and letting it permeate the clay should solve the problem.

Either way, the potter has to wait until the clay is ready and the texture is just right before she can begin to fashion it into the vessel she envisions.

“Have you ever had clay so stubborn that, no matter what you did, it still did what it wanted to do?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said, selecting a rectangular, concave dish, greenish gray in color, from the display and holding it out for me to see. Raised designs in the shallow bowl adorned the center.

She had intended to make a vase, but the clay wouldn’t rise up into the walls. So, not wanting to waste the clay, she fashioned the stubborn lump into the dish she now held before me.

I bought it. To remind me of my own stubborn self. To remind me that God has to knead me into the right texture before He can begin to fashion me into the vessel He has planned.

I am clay that is too wet when I feel defeated and discouraged. When I’m tired of fighting to move forward and I just don’t want to take another step. When I feel dwarfed by someone else’s accomplishments. When I think all my effort is for nothing. Or when I feel unappreciated and used and taken for granted and invisible. So I kind of flop down and don’t do anything.

I’m clay that’s too dry when I’m stiff-necked and refuse to obey, even when God’s will is clear. After all, His way may not lead to Blessings Highway, Happiness Lane, or Prosperity Road. So I resist. But the pain, disappointment, and heartbreak will mold me into what He wants me to be. But I don’t want any more pain, disappointment, and heartbreak. I’ve taken all I can stand.

“What disturbs us in this world,” Alexander Maclaren wrote more than one hundred years ago, “is not ‘trouble,’ but our opposition to trouble. The true source of all that frets and irritates, and wears away our lives, is not in external things, but in the resistance of our wills to the will of God expressed in external things.” (Joy and Strength, compiled by Mary Wilder Tileston © 1929)

If I continue in my stubbornness, God will still find a use for me, although it will not be what He originally intended. I don’t want that. I want His number one plan for me – because that’s His best.

So I’ll keep my clay dish in a place where I’ll see it everyday – so it can remind me that, as I am kneaded into the right texture and thrown onto the wheel of life, the hand of the Potter is shaping me into the vessel He has planned.

When I get impatient or discouraged, Lord, remind me that making a vessel is a multi-step process that requires time – and my cooperation. Amen.

Read and meditate on Jeremiah 18:1–6

(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.