The expectations of men these days are both exhilarating and soul-crushing at the same time.
"I’m grinding when you’re sleeping," tweets one prolific writer and entrepreneur.
“Wake up! No one is going to save you. No one is going to take care of your family or your retirement. No one is going to 'make things' work out for you," exhorts another.
Billionaires are transforming the way we buy groceries, drive to work, or even go to the moon. They are extolled as superheroes, the "Iron Men,” of our times.
The commitment, passion, focus, and "hustle" they display can be good characteristics for a man to develop, especially when compared to sloth, aimlessness, and passivity. However, these same attributes that typically mark one as a "high-performer" can also mask a spiritual drought and simmering dissatisfaction with life.
While you're keeping your head down, driving hard and driving forward, you may realize only after it's too late that you've just scored for the other team (check out the associated football clip) while playing a game you didn’t sign up for.
Because we have bought into the performance premise, detecting there's a problem in the first place is especially hard.
That problem? Often — not always, but often — the pursuit of high-performance drains the soul.
In a show of His grace, Christ warns of this very risk:
And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? Matthew 16:26 (NLT)
This tension from living in a performance-driven world is not academic. It could be the most central battle we all face.
We just don’t know it.
The Ultimate Battle
According to Matthew 4:1-11, Satan tempted Jesus with three key levers of Performance.
The first one was Provision:
“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Every man feels the need and pressure to “provide” — even if they have way more than enough. So they work harder and reach for ever-higher levels of influence, sometimes in the name of providing "more."
The second one is Protection:
If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Much of our Performance is just to protect what we have already. This could be status, influence, ego, or just income. Without making a fool of ourself. Without losing to a competitor. Without getting fired.
Performance, especially in these demanding jobs, is fueled by the need to protect oneself. The threats don’t just come from real-life aggressors in the workplace. They can come from within yourself, such as a fear of failure, or the ghost of the unrelentingly critical father.
The third is Position:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
In a high-performance role, being higher-up in the hierarchy — gaining Position so other “bow down” — may mean greater span of control, a larger budget, increased public visibility and recognition.
If we dig deep enough, the high-performing jobs that we take on to support our families, to keep ourselves employed, and to give us influence at work also open us to the temptations that go against the very grain of Christ’s purpose.
These three lures of Provision, Protection, and Position are inescapable if you're living in the real world, especially one where the achievements of the successful and driven surround you and your own workplace demands performance.
On their own, Provision, Protection, and Position aren’t bad.
And that’s what makes us all so susceptible.
What Would Undermine the Gospel?
Who could truly dispute a desire for more provision, protection, or position?
In fact, one could easily make the case that pursuing these three things are actually Godly. “God wants me to provide for my families instead of leaving them destitute. God couldn’t expect me to lose, he’s my protector. Gaining position will expand God’s Kingdom.”
If you had to pick a strategy that would defeat the Good News of God’s unmerited grace, what would it be? I would imagine such a thing would be subtle, widely encouraged, and seemingly virtuous and Godly.
To dangle the lures and rewards of being a high-performer. Very subtly, you could change:
Your self-worth would increasingly depend upon achieving more and more.
Imperceptibly, you would slowly begin to evaluate others by their performance. You may even consider how much they help you reach your own goals.
Soon, you may begin to equate your acceptance from God with how well you perform, serve or give.
None of this would be overt or deliberate; but if you were to let enough of the world’s beliefs go unchecked, these thoughts will take root subconsciously.
The underlying belief is the opposite of Christ’s freedom from performance for acceptance.
So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? Galatians 4:9 (NLT)
In the next session, I’ll talk about what it could look like facing the performance mentality head-on, being in the world but not of it.
Most men understand conceptually that freedom from righteousness before God is not dependent upon works. At the same time, the world still abides by those: if you don’t perform, you don’t get rewards and praise.
We can’t change those expectations. No one can go to their managers and ask for freedom from performance. No one can build a company without delivering results for customers.
But which world-view is winning the battle for your soul, your self-worth, your deepest priorities, and your most valued relationships?
I hope you'll embark with me on this teaching series — Mighty: Thriving in a High-Performance World Without Losing Your Soul