I am a perfectionist. I’ve always known this since I was a kid, the way I would line up my family’s shoes in size and color order, the way I would color code my closet by hangers, and the way I would persistently practice music until I hit every note on point. But as I’ve grown more aware of my idol of perfection in adulthood, I’ve noticed my perfectionist tendencies have carried over into my role as a pastor.
Having to lead people spiritually nearly everywhere I go is a tough job – especially when I’m trying to do so perfectly. I want to preach every sermon as clean and polished as I can. I want every meeting I lead to be well prepared with solid outcomes. I want every person I disciple and shepherd to think that I can meet all of their spiritual needs. Being the one people look to for guidance and spiritual strength means I am constantly fighting to be perceived as a spiritual giant, to have the answer to everyone’s questions, and to always be happy and holy in Jesus. (Even my lack of presence on this blog the last couple months has threatened the perfectionist pastor in me!) But I suspect that I’m not alone in my need to feel like a spiritual perfectionist.
Those of us in the church and serving, we want to show others that we are on a linear line of spiritual growth. Especially if we’ve been a believer or leader for a long period of time, we think we should be constantly growing, and always joyful in Christ. To show anything less would jeopardize other’s expectations of our “spiritual arrival.” We want our devotional life to be one of consistent growth as we learn more, read more, study more. We may even think that our passionate worship and outward expression of joy in Christ is enough to convince others that we are spiritually OK. Though such thoughts of spiritual perfection may come from a heart of desire for Christ, at the end of the day, they completely ignore the sufficiency of Christ.
Broken Confession, Not Perfect Worship
In the height of his reign as King of Israel, in the bliss of spiritual arrival, King David sins against God by sleeping with Bathsheba and killing her husband. If there ever should have been a spiritual leader for God’s people, it was David. If there ever should have been an accomplished spiritual perfectionist, it should have been him. And yet in his failure and sin, David comes to God with a confession of incredible need and humility:
“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:14-17
David realized that in his sin, he could not cover up his failure. He could not put on a visage of spiritual perfection. He simply brought his brokenness before a forgiving God. David found salvation when he realized that God was not pleased with perfect worship, but brokenness and confession.
I may not have committed adultery or murder like David, but God has placed a storm of events in my life to shed light on my weakness. In a manner of a couple weeks, I’ve had to juggle preparing for a funeral, confronting conflict, rebuking those in sin, shepherding individuals with broken families, all the while dealing with sin in my own heart. Through it all I’ve questioned how am I supposed to lead in such circumstances? How am I to stay spiritually and emotionally strong for others to look to? Though issues may not be resolved, God has been tearing down my idol and reminding me He doesn’t desire my perfection, but my weakness.
Freedom in Weakness
In my weakness to lead, God is revealed as the hero. In my weakness to solve issues, Jesus rises as the only solution. In my weakness to maintain perfection, God remains the only one who is perfect. Even in my losing battle to fight for joy in Christ, God is no less glorified. It is not my joy in Christ, or my success as a leader, or my ability to maintain balance in life that reveals God as powerful – it is my weakness that does so. If I were to be the perfect pastor to all, then what need would there be for the Perfect Shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep?
Because Jesus is made perfect in our weaknesses, because Christ was perfect on our behalf, and because God is powerful when we are helpless, we are free to be weak. We are free from the false belief that we can – and should – do anything. We are free from the expectation of others to have it all together. We are free to be OK as the helpless nobody. We are free to let Jesus be the Hero.
(PC: Michael Ryu. I chose this picture because of the perfection of those lines with the alignment of the photo.)