I was getting ready for bed one evening last week and suddenly felt an intense desire to spend some time in prayer. I wish I could say that my prayer life is consistently strong and that this happens often. Unfortunately, that is not the case all the time. I walked into the living room and began to spend some time in thought and prayer. God….what are you doing? What do want to teach me? What new aspect about your character do you want to show me? What deep theological truth do you want to reveal to me? After sitting for some time, this is what I heard God say to me….YOU NEED ME. I definitely did NOT hear God speak to me audibly. However….in that moment….I felt a tangible need, hunger and dependence for Jesus that I have not felt in a long time.
After reflecting on this experience over the next few days, I realized that God wanted to show me that my heart has been prideful and slowly wandering from Him for some time. I have moved back into a heart posture that I’ve struggled with my entire life….building an identity that is based on performance. Living my life trusting in my own abilities and not God. I have forgotten the words of Jesus himself in John 15:5……
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
I was reminded that the word nothing means nothing!
I’ve struggled with performance my entire life. Growing up, I was constantly driven by the fear of being average. In my brokenness, I felt that being mediocre meant that I would not be accepted or loved. I could not let anyone down. This played itself out in high school, college and into my professional career in sports marketing and sales. Being the best was the only option for me.
Now….performance was creeping back into my life. It was impacting my relationship with God, my marriage and the new ministry that God was calling me to. I thought that this area of my heart had somewhat been healed. However, God has been revealing that the performance seed that I’ve struggled with is buried much deeper in my soul than I wanted to believe. God is showing me again that building an identity based on performance absolutely kills joy.
Michael Jordan is one of my childhood heroes. He is arguably the most popular professional athlete in history. Last year, Jordan turned 50 and ESPN’s Wright Thompson wrote a very insightful article about Jordan and his insecurity. Wright said this…..
“Jordan genuinely believed his father liked his older brother, Larry, more than he liked him, and he used that insecurity as motivation. He burned, and thought if he succeeded, he would demand an equal share of affection. His whole life has been about proving things, to the people around him, to strangers, to himself. This has been successful and spectacularly unhealthy.”
As I read the article, I deeply related to Jordan’s struggle with performance and insecurity. Especially the piece about proving his worth to people and to himself. I’m reminded of how exhausting it is to live this way.
FINDING HOPE IN A LITTLE BOOK:
A few days ago, I picked up Timothy Keller’s book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. I actually read this little booklet a few years ago and it was very helpful in regards to killing performance and pride. As I re-read the book, I was reminded of some basic truths that I know….but have recently forgotten. I wanted to share with you some of the words that struck my heart:
>>> The normal state of the human heart is to build an identity around something besides God.
>>> There is something wrong with our egos. They are never happy. They are always busy….busy comparing, boasting and seeking fulfillment.
>>> Pride is by nature competitive. Pride is the pleasure of having more than the next person. C.S. Lewis says it this way…..
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.”
>>> If we feel that we have become somebody, there is pressure to maintain this performance. There is a standard that must be kept.
>>> Believing that your performance is linked to your worth is a trap. We will ultimately fail. We will let our families down. We will disappoint friends and spouses. We will fall short of our own expectations.
>>> Our egos are puffed up in a very unhealthy way. In order for our hearts to heal, they need to be filled up.
RESTING IN THE PERFORMANCE OF ANOTHER:
In the New Testament, Paul was a man that truly had a lot to boast about. By God’s grace, he reached a place in his life where his identity was not linked to his performance. In I Corinthians 4:3-4 he says this,
“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.”
And here was the truth that I needed to be reminded of. It is not about what I think myself. It is not about fearing what others think of me. It is not about performing. What ultimately matters is what God thinks.
The book reminded me that only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ am I accepted before I have to perform in any way. True Christian identity operates differently from any other kind of identity. When we believe in Jesus as our ultimate hope and affection, his perfect performance is credited to us. This perfect performance was displayed in his life, death and resurrection. And now through faith, it is directly credited to me.
God knew that I understood this truth intellectually. He knew that I even believed it. However, God wanted to take this truth to a deeper part of my soul….to remind me once again that it is his performance that counts. The cross of Christ is what counts!
About Eric Gravelle: Eric moved to NYC in 2003 and enjoyed a career in sports marketing. In 2009, God and His people changed Eric’s life when he got connected with a community of Christians that were passionate about Jesus. He is thrilled to have recently joined the Cru Millennials team through a official partnership with Apostles Church focusing on equipping.