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Keys to a High Performance Christianity (Part Two)

A Life Changing Perspective

“The greatest question in all of human life is summed up when we ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

Charles M. Sheldon, In His Steps

Read part one of High-Performance Christianity here.

Step 6: Perspective

My life changed dramatically when I honestly asked if my opinions were based on Jesus or popular Christian culture. 

Examine your past teachings and current convictions through the example of Jesus. Start asking, what would Jesus do in this situation, instead of what others expect me to do. Abandon stereotypes of how you think a Christian should behave and make it your goal to embrace what Christ would say or do.

Step 7: Authenticity 

One of the most fun parts of embracing grace is learning to accept yourself and unashamedly live comfortably in your own skin. It can be intimidating to do this in a church world of behavior modification. You cannot live authentically while trying to live up to the preferences of people. 

Honestly, I can’t guarantee being the real you will be celebrated. I have just come to the place I would rather be rejected for being who I really am than accepted but exhausted trying to maintain everyone’s expectations for me.

Step 8: Guard 

A grace-filled person knows to guard their heart. Be aware of the “old ways,” as I call them, sneaking back into your life. 

I have become an expert at apologizing to people I do not think deserve an apology. This is not being fake. It is guarding my heart against making other people my debtors. I want to set people free. I do not want to be their prison guard holding them captive until they ask me for forgiveness. That’s no fun for either of us.

Leaving your religious rut means leaving old perspectives and possibly past relationships behind as well. It will hurt when people misunderstand your new positive Jesus-oriented approach to life. You will have to protect your feelings from this. There will be those who give grace a bad name by using it as an excuse to sin. Do not let this distract you. Keep heading down your own path. You will also have to watch out for pollutants that can distract you from the Lover of your soul. Keep your wellspring pure and refreshing.

Step 9: Rest 

I used to think a restful day was a wasted day. I would feel condemnation whenever a day went by where I had nothing to do. At some point, I read a Japanese proverb that said, “He who rests is never tired.” Something clicked, and rest became a principle that supports two main ideas for me.

The first is the Sabbath. True rest is part of worship. It acknowledges my need for God. It causes me to humbly admit that even if I did work 24/7, I could never accomplish everything God has for me without Him. It also causes me to pause long enough to appreciate things, and therefore express gratitude to God. 

The second is longevity. “He who rests is never tired.” If I learn to recoup and rejuvenate, I will have more energy for the task at hand. I’ll be better prepared to do my best when it is time to work. I won’t burn out and can last longer in the race. Every marathon has water tables, and a runner that expects to win knows the importance of pacing. Rest is not laziness. It is humility, worship, and intentionality.

Step 10: Value

Get your value from who you are in Christ instead of where you are in life. Religious burnout will always fight to turn this around. It causes you to complicate things. Valuing your position in Christ over your performance for Christ forces you to keep it simple. If you seek to be close to God’s heart, then your heart will start beating like His, and you will live your life as Jesus did.

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Are You Tired of Being a Christian?

How to turn your exhausting religion into an enjoyable relationship

“If my activism, however well-motivated, drives out love, I am stuck with law, not the gospel of grace. then I have misunderstood Jesus’ gospel.” 

Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Depleted Yet Applauded

Have you ever met someone who is more interested in complaining about being exhausted than they are in receiving help? Burnout is the red badge of courage for some Christians. They would rather live depleted yet applauded than refreshed and balanced. A balanced life is not as attractive to them because it often goes unnoticed.  

What is the draw of exhaustion? It is where you find your justification to complain, compare, and criticize when you are stuck in a religious performance trap. It causes you to feel protected from criticism when you fall short. “How could I have done anything wrong? Look at how hard I work!” 

It also re-enforces your offense when you do not get what you think you deserve. “Why are they being promoted instead of me? I have cooked and cleaned while they have wasted time instead of working!”

Martha, Did You Know?

What did Mary know in Luke 10:38-42 that Martha did not?

A “Martha” measures her prayers, Bible reading, and serving. Her spiritual speedometer makes it easier to determine what she deserves and what others do not. The problem with this practice is you never really know what is going on with others behind closed doors. That is God’s business and not yours.

A “Mary” may seem to neglect some things, but she does not lose sight of the most important thing. Her reward is not in getting recognized, but rather in experiencing the pleasure of God’s presence. She usually ends up getting both.

It can be hard to see someone receive more for doing less, but that is not what this is all about. If things really were fair none of us would like what we got. 

I used to be a Martha myself. I took pride in having a hard time resting. I always felt I needed to be doing something. “I must be more committed than others,” I thought, “because I do not even enjoy taking a break.” 

This line of thinking should be a red alert on the dashboard of your spiritual life. It is not a medal of accomplishment you hang proudly around your neck. It reveals a restless soul that is not at peace.

The Performance Trap

As I have said before, you should value your position in Christ over your performance for Christ. When you over-emphasize performance, you end up getting less of it. Eventually, this leads to religious burnout. 

The Christian performance trap wants you to believe it is unspiritual to ever say no to spiritual things. The reality is, it is not spiritual to always say yes to more. It is more spiritual to say, “yes” to your priorities, the things God has asked you to do, and “no” to good things that take you away from those things.

Religious Formulas

Your good works should be motivated by your love relationship with Jesus and not a spiritual reward system. You make God your debtor when you work hard because you think He will bless you with what you want at the end of your labors (position, recognition, etc.).

Religious formulas like this can also influence how you pray and navigate problems. For example, “If I pray or do this, and have enough faith, then God will do that.” This mindset boxes God in to only what you can understand. It offers a easy fix to your problems that resembles a “get rich quick” scheme. The problem is, you inevitably become discouraged in your relationship with God when things do not work out the way you thought they would. 

All of this adds an unnecessary weight to your spiritual journey. 

It can be hard to follow the Holy Spirit day-to-day instead of trusting in things that bring immediate comfort. Checking off a box seems easier than checking-in with God. The box does not challenge us or require waiting. Even so, we should always choose a relationship with a living God over dead religious formulas. 

A Labor of Love

Exhaustion often begins with passion, zeal, and good intentions. You may be able to lift something you were never meant to carry, but you will drop it before you reach your destination. Lay down your heavy burden of burnout Christianity and take up the yoke of Christ. It is easy and light. It is a labor of love.

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Loosen Your Halo

How to start enjoying your Christian Faith

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Howard Thurman

Finding Pleasure

In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning tells the story of a man who goes to his doctor with a splitting headache. After further inspection, it turns out the proud man’s life is perfect. There really shouldn’t be any reason for his stabbing pain. That is when the doctor gives his final diagnosis, “It looks like your halo is on too tight.”

I used to have a hard time believing God took pleasure in me finding pleasure in life. This may sound confusing to someone who has never been in a religious performance cycle. Those with similar experiences as me will quickly know what I mean. Taking walks and enjoying hobbies can be difficult for someone who thinks they need to always be doing to be pleasing to God.

A halo that is too tight shines its light on sin so intensely it hardly brightens any other part of the believer’s life. 

The Voice of the Oppressor

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

A guilty conscience may appear to be spiritual sensitivity. It is actually closer to a focus on sin instead of God. Sometimes this unhealthy pattern is confused with the godly guilt that leads to repentance. 2 Corinthians 7:10 shows us the difference:

“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” 

 2 Corinthians 7:10

The destructive kind of guilt brings attention to your sin and leaves you there. Godly conviction is different. It alerts you to what is in the way of your relationship with God. It then offers grace so you can change. Condemnation brings repeated failure. Conviction breaks that cycle with grace. 

Enjoying Life

Christianity is paradoxical. You give so you can gain. You serve to lead. But is suffering a requirement to please God? I do not think so. Suffering and obedience are not the same things. Christians should be willing to suffer in obedience when it is necessary. At the same time, your obedience should more often bring delight than pain. 

Psalm 37:4 says God “will give you your heart’s desires.” The Holy Spirit places the right desires in your heart and also brings them to pass. He wants your godly ambitions to be seeds that grow into fruitful trees. When this happens, your thriving life will bring glory to Him and provide nourishment to others. 

Time to Tune In

Christians should not feel bad about feeling good and good about feeling bad. This jams the signals of your heart. We know God wants you to tune into your heart because He tells you to guard your heart above all else (Proverbs 4:23). If you should not be listening to your heart, then why is it so essential to protect it? 

Do not confuse guarding your heart with turning it off. While being led by your feelings is destructive, so is ignoring them altogether. The frequency of your heart gets scrambled when you equate feeling bad with being more spiritual.

Guarding your heart should include dying to your flesh, tuning out the wrong messages of the world, and ignoring the deceiver’s voice. These are all things that pollute your heart. You should “feel good” about protecting your heart’s desires, not denying them. If you are too busy finding things to feel guilty about, then you will not have time to dream for God. You will be on the sideline instead of bringing about the change He wants to see. It is time to tune into your heart and stop feeling bad about feeling good.

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Pursuit Instead of Perfection

“I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes.”

Bob Goff, Love Does

Pursuing the Perfect One

There is a difference between seeking the Perfect One and pursuing perfection. Christians should strive to be like Christ, but also have the humility to know Jesus is the only one who will ever be perfect. 

The path to religious burnout says you are on an uphill climb that leads to the peak of perfection. In actuality, it is a hamster wheel that never ends. 

The Imperfect Obsession

Perfection Christianity is centered on you instead of Christ. You can know if you are stuck in perfection instead of pursuit by asking, “Would I do the same good works if God were the only one who knew about them?” When receiving credit for what you do becomes more important than God getting the glory for giving you the strength to do those good works, then you have slipped into perfectionism. 

This mindset believes you deserve recognition for what you do, but there is always a good “spiritual” reason why others do not. “I don’t want them to get prideful if I praise them too much! Then they will stop growing. By the way, why haven’t they told me how awesome I am lately?”

This imperfect obsession will not allow you to rest and enjoy God. It causes you to do things that will get noticed and ignore the things He values that do not. You must continue to perform and reach for perfection to find meaning in your faith.

Missing the Point

Championing pursuit over perfection is key to sustaining a meaningful Christianity. Jesus simplified faith, but perfection complicates it. 

Discipline and rituals are good until they become substitutes for what they intend to protect. I like to think of my convictions as those bumps on the side of the road that let you know when you begin to drift out of your lane. They are great at reminding you to realign your steering but would make a terrible GPS system. If your standards turn your warm, loving relationship with God into cold hard religion, then they are missing the point.

You do not have to get rid of your spiritual guidelines or moral code to overcome burnout. The rules of the road keep us safe, but they are not the reason why we drive. The solution is neither becoming more disciplined nor abandoning rules altogether. It is returning to your first love and pursuing God heart.  

The Work of Love

Look at what Jesus said to the church of Ephesus about their attempt to be perfect without love.

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first…”

Revelation 2:2-5a

What are the works they did at first? It is the work of love. It is loving God and letting what you do for others overflow from that instead of maintaining a religious standard. Pursuit brings freedom. Jesus’ pursuit of us brought us freedom from sin (Romans 5:8). Our pursuit of Him will keep us free from religious bondage (Galatians 5:1). He wants you to pursue Him in response, not perfection. Who or what are you pursuing?

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Up Instead of Around

“Even the breath we use to worship God comes from Him.”

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Do You Like Me?

I liked to be liked. You probably do as well. We are this way because God created us to be relational. When this attribute goes to an extreme, it becomes less about relationship and more about building up your self-image. A focus on yourself usually comes at the expense of others. If wearing yourself out climbing the ladder of recognition ceases to work, you knock others down a rung or off the ladder altogether. When that fails, you de-value yourself because you do not appear to be measuring up. 

A person heading towards religious burnout will eventually replace responding to God’s heart with the approval of other Christians. They gain satisfaction from the appearance of doing better or achieving more than others. What is lost in this toxic cycle is God’s perspective of you and your brothers and sisters in Christ.

When you forget God likes you just the way you are, you turn His process of mercy into a system of performance. Everyone becomes measured by manmade standards instead of encouraged in their journey. This form of legalism causes God’s word to become a way to determine how far people have drifted away instead of a tool to bring them closer to Him.

The Path to the Top

A Christian caste system categorizes by labels instead of appreciating how much God values people. Those who meet your standards of a holy life are the ruling elite. Others who have yet to attain your regimen of performance are marked as abusers of grace. When you fall short, you hide it. When they fall short, their sincerity and even their salvation are called into question.

This is not what God intended. It is a path leading many to insecurity and burnout. Comparing yourself to others is a poor measure of your true worth and of theirs. 

If the top of the church food chain is where you want to be, do not look to be in front of people. Get behind them. There is more room back there anyway. This extra space makes it easier for you to be yourself. You will grow your influence by growing people. While everyone else is crowding the front, and contorting their lives around being celebrated, you will actually be living a life of meaning and purpose.

The more you get behind people, the more people will get behind you. One day, you may turn around and discover more people are behind you than ever would have been if you had given up your authentic-self in an attempt to take the short cut to get in front of them. Living this way gains people’s trust instead of just their attention. When you find your success in helping other people find God and their own success, you have uncovered the key to lasting influence.

Know Your Worth

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

– Ephesians 2:8-9

You cannot get to the point of deserving God’s goodness more than others. God already showed you how much you are worth by bankrupting heaven to purchase your salvation on the Cross. You never have or will deserve that fantastic gift.

Understanding this truth will remind you to look up instead of around for your affirmation. You will never determine your purpose by looking at the other tools in the toolbox. You must keep your eyes on the Craftsman to understand your design. God is the author and finisher of your faith. You can trust Him and his plan for you.

This blog is an excerpt from my new mini-book, Surviving Religious Burnout, is out now. You can order it at Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble.