Ever have a friend who was not exactly a friend? I remember as a boy that I had a friend who seemed to take pleasure in hitting me or stealing my lunch or some other mean thing. Yet, I stayed with him because he was my friend, right? Why? Because I knew him and we were from the same town and we grew up with each other. We actually did a lot of things together from junior high through college. But, I have to admit, when we finally separated, I was relieved. I suppose I missed him, but not much. I don’t think he was really a friend.
Performance spirituality is so familiar to us that it is like a long-time friend. The idea that I have to work hard to please God, to get Him to love me and accept me, is a mean idea. It never satisfies. It never gives what it promises. It hurts. But I accepted it because it was what I knew. We were together in church, in the family, in the world. Performance spirituality, no matter how disappointing it was as a teaching, was an old friend.
Then I found grace. I learned that God already loved me, long before I could do anything for Him. I learned that my greatest efforts for Him were really me trying to measure up and He didn’t need them. I realized that performance spirituality, which was cruel and fickle, could never lead me to what Jesus offered me just because He loved me.
But it took a long time to forget my old friend. The words of performance, of measuring up, were the first to spring to my thoughts. I had to think about grace, but performance seemed to come naturally. Jesus called me to conform my thinking to His, to accept His acceptance of me, and to trust Him. I have had to learn a new way of speaking and responding and hoping.
When did the break happen? Actually the break that came between performance spirituality and me happened when I first understood what Jesus had done for me. As I learned more, the break became wider. There is a progress in this, but the break does grow. Sometimes I slip and act as though my old friend is still in charge, but then I remember and I can relax. Jesus is in charge now. My performance is not the focus.
The truth I know today is that performance was never really my friend. And when I think about it, I really don’t miss it.