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

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

The Lone Tulip

 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. —Galatians 6:9 NIV 

I noticed it one spring day coming up the driveway after work: a lone, bright red tulip swaying in the breeze in front of the stone foundation.

“Where did that come from?” I wondered. I’d given up planting flowers—or anything, for that matter—because either the country critters consume them or our stubborn soil defeats their efforts to grow and blossom.

Then, slowly, a memory surfaced: About twenty-some years earlier, I’d ordered a hundred spring bulbs from a seed catalog and planted them in a stone-bordered circular flower garden in the front yard. My dream was to have some kind of flower in bloom all through the growing season. 

With the exception of the marigolds, though, few seeds I planted even sprouted, and what did struggled to survive. Those bulbs I planted with so much hope ended up in some deer’s stomach. 

But where did this lone tulip come from? In my sketchy memory, I thought I’d planted them all in the circular flower garden. 

“I must have planted a few along the foundation,” I reasoned.

I’m not an expert, so I have no idea how or why, after more than two decades, that lone tulip pushed up out of nowhere through the spring soil and now stood tall and proud in the soft spring sun. 

But I thought about that lone tulip and what it could mean. I thought of the seeds I’d planted in service to Him, hoping they would someday come to fruition. How many had sprouted? How many were growing in their faith? Thriving? How many were serving God? Of the ones I knew, very few. How disheartening! To think you pour your heart and soul into something or someone, and, like my failed flower garden, nothing grows. Were all my efforts in vain?

Sometimes we get too caught up in results, in numbers, in feedback. The business world tells us to put our efforts where we know we get results. But God’s service is not the business world. I thought of the greatest seed-planter in the Bible—Paul. He wasn’t caught up in the numbers game. He knew what his job was and kept his focus on that.

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow,” he wrote (1 Corinthians 3:6).

It’s hard being on the front lines of service. In this results-and-rewards-minded world, it’s difficult not to evaluate our efforts by the outcome. But God tells us not to look at results but to keep our eyes fixed on Him (Hebrews 12:1–4). 

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm,” Paul wrote. “Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

 When I’m feeling like I’m a failure in Your service, Lord, remind me that You are the One who makes my life’s garden grow. Give me the strength and fortitude to keep on planting, even if I don’t see the blossoms until eternity. Amen.

MORE TEA: Read and reflect on Psalm 126:5–6.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.