In Day 1, we learned how the performance-driven world is an insatiable and seductive false god.
Many men, even Christian men, including pastors and ministers, sacrifice their marriages, their children, their health, even their relationship with God on the altar of performance.
They are paying the wrong price for the wrong rewards.
They are making losing trades — trades that span all areas of life and may not appear to be poor decisions until many years later:
- The father who berates his son for not being “good enough”
- The son who pushes himself for the elusive approval of a demanding, but long-dead, parent
- The rising executive who rarely sees his wife and children in order to “make it” for their future
- The single guy who can't find a girl who “has it all” and so keeps open his “options”
- The bored mid-career guy who has stalled because he feels “he can't cut it” and just wants to get by
- The recent grad who numbs himself with video games as a way to avoid getting bruised and rejected at a more challenging job
- The pastor who blames his flock for not submitting to him as his church declines from 200 to 20
In a moment, I will paint a picture of a life free from performance-driven mentality. It's one that, through the Gospel, experiences Power, Purpose, and Presence.
Although the drive for performance often stems from work, the values bleed into a man’s non-work relationships with their spouse, friends, family, themselves, and even with Christ. It bleeds into everything, from one’s self-worth and purpose to how he spends weekends with his loved ones.
And no man is immune, regardless of profession.
Although the typical lures might be for more money, more power, or more fame associated with secular professions in finance, technology, or politics, the "spiritual" professions aren't any less affected. The levers of Provision, Protection, and Position can also fuel a desire for best-selling books, bigger audiences, and larger buildings. The performance-driven spirit in a religious leader devastates not only his own life, but the lives of many others.
Even pastors who don't confess their desire for traditional accolades can create their own performance metrics to appease this spirit of performance.
Even as his congregation shrank from 200 to 20, one pastor would still point to the number of hours he prayed in a day, his adherence to the Sabbath, and reference multiple seminary books read to bolster his legitimacy in leadership.
Although the church was crumbling, his quest for performance, albeit measured differently, closed him off from seeing the bleeding around him.
We can all create our own "performance metrics" to strive for, whether to beat ourselves up, or to bolster a false feeling of superiority.
Jesus warned the religious leaders who prayed in public for attention to prove their own righteousness:
“When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward."
The reward is an empty one: the praise of man. Yet this same reward drives so many men onto a high-performance track.
God corrected and rebuked King David for pridefully measuring his own success.
"And the anger of Jehovah addeth to burn against Israel, and an adversary [Satan] moveth David about them, saying, `Go, number Israel and Judah.' " (2 Samuel 24:1, YLT)
The false god of performance, in whatever arena of your life, asks for everything and gives you nothing.
To reach the highest levels at work may take everything from you, and the rewards you get in return are illusions.
Yet, failure to hit those goals can quickly turn into punishment: being fired, ridiculed, or ignored.
What is the opposite of this losing deal?
What trade can we possibly make where we offer nothing but gain everything?
The Only Winning Trade
The Gospel represents the opposite of the typical trade. The transaction of grace is one that could never happen based on the world’s expectations of performance.
Christ gives us everything in the Kingdom and we offer up less than nothing. Despite our repeated and inevitable failure to live up to the only performance metric that should matter -- righteousness before God -- Jesus takes that punishment fully upon himself.
By our faith alone, Christ gives us all the rewards through sovereign grace. He exchanges the burden of performance for true rest by sacrificing His life.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
Here’s the challenge: most men have difficulty translating something which happened long ago in the past and that benefits us most far into the future to change our minds in the present. The performance-driven man expects results and often invests and optimizes to get the maximum output for the least input.
The question of how to be in this performance world while not being of it eludes many.
What will make the difference?
A Different Reality
I will confess that I hardly spend time in the reality I am about to propose. But I have met men who do. And when I read Scripture, I realize this is the alternative life.
But until you know your destination and are grounded in Truth, you will be tossed by whatever blows your way:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. (Ephesians 4:14)
One Gospel-based reality is to live a life with Power, Purpose and Presence.
Most people define “power” as the world does.
This type of power appeals to the flesh. Especially at work, the lack of power relative to others often causes anxiety. On the other hand, the quest for more power can lead to burnout and damaged relationships.
But the Christian life is not a powerless one:
For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7
The power that one can draw strength comes from Christ, the one with the power of death itself.
Imagine being able to face down the challenges in life with this same type of spiritual power.
But power — even one based in God’s grace — is not sufficient.
When I get stressed in a performance-driven environment, it’s often because part of my identity is associated with the outcome: acceptance at work, financial rewards, or prestige.
Many men lose sight of who they are:
“For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” (James 1:23-24 NLT)
One way to anchor your identity is through clarifying your purpose, especially when trying to counter a performance-driven culture. For without knowing your true purpose, performance will fill the vacuum become your purpose.
Power and Purpose are both possible without the Gospel.
God's Presence, however, gives peace and rest amidst the tumult that’s not possible without a savior. It’s both the most overlooked and the most valuable of the three.
God’s presence can fill you tank in way no mere provision, protection, or position can:
That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:20-21)
The performance-driven mindset can easily miss just how draining the fleshly way of life can be. God's Presence, however, leads to change that refreshes the soul.
Now that we know where the new destination is, the detour from the performance-driven path, the question that remains is How?
If we can’t start with behaviors, what is the alternative?
I’ll share this in Day 3 of this devotional.
To read the full series, go to the MIGHTY page.