Perfection – A Life of Wholeness

  • Perfection – A Life of Wholeness
  • Galatians 5:1; Galatians 1:6-7; Matthew 11:28-30
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • October 15, 2017
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10-15-17 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

Perfection is a game by the Milton Bradley company. The object is to put all the geometric pieces into matching holes on the board before a time limit runs out. Hurry up because when time runs out, the board springs up, causing all, or at least many, of the pieces to fly out.

I thought it might be interesting if we could have someone demonstrate the game for us today so I’ve asked _________________________ if (s)he would be willing to play the game for us today.

Wow ______________________ that is an amazing job you did of getting all of the right pieces in the right places in such a quick amount of time. Thanks for playing Perfection for us.

You know, if a child can make such quick work out a game like Perfection, imagine how fast an adult must be able to play the game. Hey, that’s a great idea. I think we’ll do that. (Pick an adult to play and set the timer for a short amount of time & hold microphone to the game.)

________________________ looked like (s)he was playing Perfection. I’m not sure what you were playing.

Just like many of the other games we are using in our series on the “Games of Life”, Perfection is a fun enough game, but the realities of a life lived in an attempt to obtain some sort of unrealistic ideal is anything but fun, yet too many of us find ourselves living just that way.

We know who it is that we think we need to be and we also know the gap that exists between who we are and that ideal.  We find ourselves trying to put all of the pieces in the right spaces to create the appearance we want others to perceive of us. All the time we are holding our breath hoping the pieces don’t pop back up at us. In our own warped way of thinking we consider this to be “perfection.”

At its very core, perfectionism is a counterfeit form of holiness. It isn’t about trying to be a high achiever. It isn’t about having goals for yourself. Many Christians wear perfectionism as a kind of mask that allows them to pretend that they’ve got it all together when nothing could be further from the truth. It is simply a facade we project for other people to see hoping that we might be able to keep them from seeing who we really are.

Many years ago one of my seminary professors, Dr. David Seamands, wrote a book entitled, Healing for Damaged Emotions, in which he outlined some of the symptoms of perfectionism. I want to share his list with you and ask you to consider if any of these things I’m describing could be descriptive of you.

  1. Tyranny of the Oughts

The chief characteristic is a constant, overall feeling of never doing well enough or being good enough. The feeling permeates all of life but especially affects our spiritual lives. It is expressed in statements like…

I ought to do better. I ought to have done better. I ought to be able to do better.

The three favorite phrases of a perfectionist are “could have”, “should have”, “would have.” Picture it as standing on your tiptoes, always reaching, stretching, trying, but never quite making it.

  • It is the student who takes a test and gets a 96, but then obsesses over the one question that was missed while thinking I should have made a 100.
  • It is the person who is striving to lose weight and steps on the scales to find that he or she has lost 5 pounds, but then thinks I should have lost 10.
  • It is the employee who receives several compliments on his or her job performance but can only think about the mistakes he or she knows have been made.
  1. Self-Depreciation

The connection between perfectionism and low self-esteem is obvious. If you are never quite good enough, you feel a continuous sense of self-depreciation. If you are never quite satisfied with yourself and your achievements, then the next step is quite natural – you make God into someone who is never really pleased with you either.

So God in the warped mind of a perfectionist ends up always saying, “Come on now you can do better than that.” If you are a perfectionist who is never pleased with yourself anyway, you reply, “Of course.”

You can try as much as you want, but you will always be in second place, never first. Since you and God always demand first place, that’s not quite good enough.

So back you go, at it once again, with increased efforts to please yourself and an increasingly demanding God, who is never quite satisfied. But you always fall short, you never arrive, but you must never stop trying.

  1. Anxiety

In this case, think Eeyore the Donkey from Winnie the Pooh. Remember how Eeyore always had a cloud hanging over his head. That is a pretty good picture of what “The Tyranny of the Oughts” and “Self-Depreciation” comes together to form. It is a cloud that follows us.

Once in a while, for a few moments, the cloud lifts and some sunshine comes flowing into our lives, but before you know it those same feelings of disapproval and condemnation return to pester you.

Why do those negative feelings return? Because the perfectionist has trained his or her eye to look for and see things that are wrong.

  1. Legalism

No one cares more about what other people think of them than a perfectionist does. Perfectionists are known to rigidly overemphasize externals such as Do’s and Don’ts, Rules and Regulations. For them, these become the standards by which they judge themselves.

It comes out as being overly sensitive to what others think and say. Since they can’t accept themselves and at the same time feel unsure of God’s approval of them, perfectionists desperately need the approval of other people.

A vicious cycle ensues because there are always more and more people to be pleased which in turn means more and more lists of do’s and don’ts.

Pretty soon a perfectionist finds himself or herself trying to be all things to all people which we know is impossible. That, in turn, results in one of two things – either depression flowing out of not being able to measure up or anger flowing out of the unrealistic pressures and expectations we feel others are trying to place on us.

Wrap all of those symptoms and their resulting outcomes together and perfectionism becomes what the Apostle Paul referred to as the ‘Yoke of Slavery.”

Galatians 5:1 (NIV) says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The yoke was a very familiar farm implement during biblical times that was either put on an animal to pull the plow or to join two oxen together. But Paul isn’t using the term yoke in that manner in this instance.

In the Old Testament, the yoke was a symbol of authority that was placed on the necks of conquered people as a symbol of their enslavement. It was something that was humiliating and destructive.

The good news of grace had broken into the lives of the Galatians, freeing them from that kind of a spiritual yoke. Here is what that good news was – the way to God is not the pathway of perfect performance.

This is the same good news that some of you need to hear and receive today. No matter how much you try, you can never win God’s favor. It can’t be done. That’s a good thing. Why? Because God’s favor, his being pleased with you, is a free gift of love that comes to you by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I know what some of you are thinking – that deal is too good to be true. If something sounds too good to believe it usually is too good to believe. The Galatians had to deal with this mental hurdle as well.

Galatians 1:6-7 (NIV) says, “6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

  • Maybe they started listening to a bunch of legalistic people from Jerusalem who said you had to keep all of the law, including the ceremonial law?
  • Maybe they listened to some of the people in Colossi who were into self-abasement and stressed regulations?

In the end I don’t suppose it really matters all that much who it was that the Galatians were listening too. What matters is that in their efforts to please and impress everyone, they ended up with a diluted, watered down gospel.

Instead of understanding that they had worth in simply being a child of God, instead of understanding that Jesus loves them unconditionally, instead of understanding that they were saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ what they ended up with was false gospel.

They reverted to a diluted mixture of faith and works, law and grace. The result was the same then as it is today when we mix law and grace. Immature and overly sensitive believers who become neurotic perfectionists who are guilt-ridden and unhappy trying to wear halos they were never meant to try to place on their heads who are trying to conform to the approval and disapproval of others.

There is only one ultimate cure for perfectionism – grace. Grace that is freely given. Grace that is undeserved. Grace that is unmerited. Grace that can’t be earned. Grace that can’t be repaid.

Dr. Joseph Cook writes that “Grace is the face God wears when He meets our imperfection, sin, weakness and failure. Grace is what God is and what God does when He meets the sinful and undeserving. Grace is a pure gift, free for the taking.”  I love that image of grace being the face God wears. Some of you here today need to learn to embrace that concept.

But the being healed of perfectionism isn’t a quick fix. Perfectionist have been programmed to accept unrealistic expectations, impossible performance standards, conditional love and a theology of works based righteousness. In most cases it is a mental state that has been curated and engrained over a period of many years

Most often healing for these kinds of hurts and dysfunctional thinking is a process. It takes place day by day believing, living and realizing that we can have a grace-filled relationship with a loving, caring heavenly Father.

If you are sitting there this morning and you find yourself thinking, “He’s talking about me. This is how I’ve been living. I’m a perfectionist.” Then I would like for you to hear these words from Matthew 11:28 as God’s invitation to you this day. “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’”

Isn’t that good news? You don’t have to live the way you do. There is a better way to live. Jesus continues on in v.29-30 saying, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

My yoke is easy. What does Jesus mean by that? Think of it this way. The yoke that Jesus has for you is comfortable because it is custom tailor-made to your personality, your individuality, your humanity.

My burden is light means that the Christ who fits you with a yoke will never leave you alone but will always be yoked with you as one who comes alongside to help you carry that comfortable burden and yoke.

No longer do you have to be a slave to fear, past hurts and impossible standards. You are a child of God and grace is the face he wears when he looks at you.

Most likely it isn’t shocking to any of you that I would say the things that I have said this morning. You expect to hear them from me because I am a pastor. So during this series on the “Games of Life” we are asking people from our congregation, who sit in the same seats you sit in on any given Sunday to share their personal stories believing that there is power in seeing and hearing how God has worked to bring healing to others who are trying to follow Jesus just like each one of us.

This morning I want to encourage you to turn your attention to the screen as Krista Bumstead shares how God has helped her on a journey from the yoke of perfectionism to the grace of God.