On Day 1 of this devotional, we learned that the performance-driven mindset can impact your soul and your most important relationships.
On Day 2, we explored how one antidote to the anxiety, exhaustion, and dissatisfaction that can come from performance-driven life is the Gospel. The alternate reality is a life filled with God’s Power, Purpose, and Presence.
Today, you will learn how to make this shift.
The Antidote to Performance is Not More Performance
Because of the performance-driven culture, a common tactic for those who yearn for life in Christ is to change behavior: pray more, fast more, attend more, serve more, give more. Doing so, however, exchanges one form of performance for another.
Seeking God’s power, purpose and presence through behavioral modification is the opposite of Christ’s message and mission. He warns against starting on the outside to experience internal transformation:
Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:26)
External behaviors may relieve some of the world’s pressures, but don’t really change a person. In fact, starting from the outside and expecting spiritual change on the inside can lead to frustration. Yet, it’s the most common approach. It’s how we have been taught.
The Apostle Paul paves the alternative in Romans 12:2:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
In other words: “Think Different” is the foundation to not conforming to the world.
While his guidance is easier said than done, it also makes sense.
Behavior Starts with Decisions
Changing from living for performance to living with God’s power, purpose, and presence starts with decisions.
If you worked late again, it’s ultimately because you decided. There may have been circumstances which make that decision far better than another. But you decided.
If you are in a dating relationship filled with conflict, you made decisions: not only the initial decision to date the other person, but the smaller decisions of how to react to the other person’s words or actions.
If you look at your investment portfolio after the market tanks and feel bad, poor, or anxious, you made a decision. You looked at the inputs and decided, “This is bad news. I am in trouble.” The resulting feelings came from that decision.
Alternatively, if you decide the following — “I’m going to stay the course. I knew there had to be a dip at some point. But I expect in 10-15 years it should be back up, if not better” — the resulting experience will be less anxiety and more peace.
Before you act, you decide. Before you feel, you think.
This is why Paul links transformation to changed thinking: “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
It’s the antidote to the copying “the behavior and customs of this world.”
So if the path to resisting the performance culture and living with God’s power, purpose, and presence starts with your thoughts and decisions, how do you go about doing so?
What is the way to improve one’s decision-making? How do you change your thinking?
I don’t have all the answers and continue to grow in this area. But for me at this point in time, the answer can be found in making better distinctions.
Good Distinctions Lead to Better Decisions
If I cannot distinguish between a cloudy, damp, overcast day and a sunny, warm, and dry one, I will not be able to effectively decide whether to bring an umbrella or not.
If I cannot distinguish between a colleague who is honest or dishonest, I will not able to make good decisions around business or friends.
If I cannot distinguish when I am being rude from when I am being gracious, I will not be able to make good decisions on how to behave towards others (and, as a result, will behave poorly towards others).
Thinking, and therefore acting, differently starts with making different distinctions. If we believe this, shouldn’t the central question be: “What are the right distinctions to make”?
For the one growing in Christ, the right distinctions are those that are possible because of Christ. The distinctions we need are the ones that help us separate flesh from spirit:
“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Hebrews 4:12 NLT
Based on this verse, the “word of God” cuts the deepest. Scripture reveals truths which help us tell the difference between “soul and spirit.” But “the word of God” also refers to Jesus:
He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the word of God (Revelation 19:13)
Christ, himself, is the source of distinctions. Our regeneration through faith in Christ should give us distinctions not possible without Jesus.
While God's big, existential decisions — sheep vs goat (Matthew 25:31–46), Good vs Evil (Genesis 2:16-17), wheat vs chaff (Matthew 3:12)— have eternal significance, our small, everyday decisions have immediate implications that add up to deeper, long-term change.
Distinctions Lead to the Destination
If a life filled with God’s power, purpose, and presence is the destination, distinctions are the GPS to get there. If going back to the world’s performance-based life is the wrong way, distinctions provide the course-correction.
The power of distinctions shows up its adaptability. For any given area, you can ask, “For this situation, am I X or am I Y?” where X vs Y is the empowering distinction. In mentoring relationships, I can ask the same question, picking the appropriate distinction for the scenario.
The question is both simple and deep because, to answer it, you need to know two things: what X and Y are, and how to distinguish between the two.
When mentoring, I have found three broad buckets always come up:
- Spiritual Health
Depending on the situation, the right distinction can help cultivate the new way of thinking. The distinctions fall into the three areas we talked about in Day 2: God’s Power, Purpose, and Presence.
Distinctions help us when we feel powerless, which happens often in high-performance situations. For example, if I am co-dependent in a relationship, or if I am feeling trapped at work, I may want to ask myself, “Am I starving or filled in this scenario?”
Often, I will discern that I am starving, and need to drill further into how Christ can fill me.
Here are three distinctions, each one based on Scripture, that can help you to develop power in the Spirit:
- Starving vs Filled
- Fearful vs Courageous
- Prideful vs Humble
Imagine you are exhausted, but unfulfilled, at work. The distinction that a mentor might make with you would be to explore why you are “driven” but not “called.”
That might lead to delving further into the word around discerning a calling as a Christ follower. It could also fuel conversations around the costs and causes of the drive.
Three distinctions which can help identify whether you are pursuing purpose or performance are:
- Driven vs Called
- Busy vs Building
- Fickle vs Foundational
Eventually the demands of performance catch up with you, and you will feel spiritual “dry.”
But how do you dig into it with more granularity? Where do you focus?
Three areas that can help to explore areas for a greater infusion of God’s presence are:
- Resentful vs Restored
- Distracted vs Deep
- Regretful vs Redeemed
Many men, for example, drive hard because of resentment, often towards their father. But without calling out this distinction explicitly, this root cause may never surface.
To read the full series, go to the MIGHTY page on this blog.