For a perfectionist, particularly a type A perfectionist, the word excellence has a nice ring to it—a seductive ring.
You say I should pursue excellence? Sure! I’d be glad to. In fact, I’ll do more. I’ll insist on excellence—at every level, in every realm.
Yes, for me, excellence easily becomes a trap. What should be a quest to bring glory to the Lord by striving for excellence turns into a quest for personal glory by insisting on perfection.
And that’s just the beginning! For the past several weeks, I’ve been jotting down observations of what exactly it means for me to turn excellence into idolatry.
Confession is good for the soul…and perhaps helpful to others with a similar bent. So here it goes:
1. Sometimes I care more about productivity than becoming Christlike.
The opportunities that God gives me to accomplish work for Him are not—and have never been—His priority for my life. God’s priority is to transform me into the image of Christ—not for me to accomplish great work at any cost (including irritability and plowing over people).
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.—Romans 8:29
2. Sometimes I am more interested in my schedule than in divine appointments.
Being a type A perfectionist tends to put you in a perpetual state of hurry. It can be quite inconvenient then to cross paths with someone who has needs which you did not schedule. I believe excellence demands a schedule—and godliness demands that a schedule is only a tool, not an idol.
Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.—John 4:35
3. Sometimes I focus more on completing my list than being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
But what if I got my list wrong? Or what if the Holy Spirit wants to change it? A list—like a schedule—must be only a tool, not an idol.
Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.—John 4:34
4. Sometimes I see all interrupters to my priorities as my enemies rather than as people to serve.
Okay, it’s true—I’m selfish, and I want to get my work done. But what if the greatest fulfillment and most lasting work comes by setting my list aside and serving you?
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.—Philippians 2:4
5. Sometimes I see people as projects rather than as the work of God.
I absolutely love investing in the lives of young Christians. Getting a front row seat to seeing God’s work in an eager, tender heart is the most exciting work I know. But I can easily cross a line from delighting in God’s work in a heart to making a mental checklist for that heart and working to finish the “project.” When it comes to discipleship and relationships, it is mine to invest, and it is God’s to conform.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.—Philippians 2:13
6. Sometimes I see my own spiritual growth as a checklist rather than as a needlist.
Spiritual disciplines are vital to spiritual growth, but they are not—as I sometimes slip into seeing them—the sum total of or the answer to spiritual growth. Like the young Christians God gives me the privilege to invest in, my own spiritual needs must be answered by God’s grace.
Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.—Colossians 1:29
7. Sometimes I set goals with a temporal rather than an eternal perspective.
If you want to hold a goal-setting contest, I’m in! Actually, I’m pretty sure that with two and a half single-spaced pages of goals for 2014, I already have a head start. But if the heart behind my goals is perfection, the goals are nothing more than ego builders. If I want to excel because I want the adrenaline of accomplishment, my goals are temporal and temporary—no matter how godly they may appear.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.—1 Corinthians 9:25
8. Sometimes I care more about my glory than God’s.
Ouch…that one hurt to confess. But it’s really the summary of the confessions above. There is such a thing as the idolatry of perfection. Perfectionism is consumed with self. Excellence is consumed with glorifying God.
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.—1 Corinthians 10:31
Schedules, lists, priorities, goals—they’re all important to excellence. But they’re all easily sabotaged by idolaters. May we who live with a desire to excel be driven by a passion for God’s glory!
Are you a type A perfectionist? What confessions do you have to add to this list?