by David Orrison
We all battle with the performance system in our lives. We were taught from the earliest ages that success and failure are based on our performance. If you do your work well, you will be rewarded. If you perform poorly, you will find no reward and perhaps even punishment. Performance appears to be the key.
Since reward is positive and punishment is negative, it became very easy to interpret relationships in the same way. Positive relationships come from good performance; negative from bad performance. I am accepted if I do well; rejected if I do poorly. I am loved if I do well; “unloved” if I don’t do well. You see how the process works. We could refer to this as “performance-based relationship.” Many people understand that from their families.
Add to this the fact that I can never really know the thinking of another person and I am forced to try to keep these relationships while never knowing whether my performance will be good enough. Every time I think I have something figured out, something new comes along. Eventually this leads to depression and anger.
When we were introduced to God, the performance system was already in place in our lives and in the lives of those who told us about Him. The most natural thing was to infer that the same performance system was in the mind and heart of God. Almost everyone else in our lives was part of that system and they assumed God was also. In fact, they could see it everywhere in the Scriptures and decided that it must be right. That led them to believe some gross inconsistencies and to mistrust the heart of God. After all, we learned that the performance system in life is full of unexplained expectations, arbitrary pronouncements of success and failure, and manipulation for the personal desires of others. If God is part of that system, why wouldn’t we mistrust Him?
But the most damaging part of the whole system is what it does in us. If I believe in the system, I am doomed to failure, discouragement, and depression. I must measure up, but I cannot measure up. I must succeed, but success is always just out of my grasp. I must live by the highest standards, but my highest are never high enough. Eventually this leads to serious depression, even “self-loathing.” In this system there is no hope and there can never be. We know it in the depths of our hearts.
This is what I call “performance spirituality.” Your acceptance is based on the quality and quantity of your performance. In my experience, most Christians don’t know any other way.
Then, along comes Jesus. He knows that His people have been under a spiritual yoke, a bondage of expectations and failure. He loves us without expectations and woos us to Himself.
I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them. Hosea 11:4 (NKJV)
It was never His desire that we should place our hope in our own performance. The message of the gospel is for us to place our hope in His performance! He is the One who called us. He is the One who was offered for us. He is the One who died for us. He is the One who sets us free.
It shall come to pass in that day that his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil. Isaiah 10:27 (NKJV)
Now, I can’t stop there. I know that many people think that Jesus set us free so that we have a new chance to “do it right”. They teach that we are saved by His grace, as a gift, but that we are sanctified by our effort/performance. If we want to keep what He has given and grow in what He has given, then we better get to work.
Jesus knew that we would be susceptible to this. He knew that the performance lifestyle (or the flesh, if you will) would continue to pull us away from His love and His peace even after salvation. So He invites us to join Him in His yoke:
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light Matthew 11:29-30 (NKJV)
The yoke of Jesus is easy and light, not quite what most Christians have found to be the case in their lives. They think they have to pull their side of the yoke. It is still performance to them. But the truth is that they have never really taken the yoke of Jesus. If they had, they would have learned that He does all the work.
You see, the yoke Jesus invites us to share is a yoke of intimate relationship. We are allowed to participate in His work, with no burden of expectation. We are not responsible for results, just for walking with Him and even that is an easy and joyful part of relationship.
Over the years I have been so amazed at how the Scripture shows all of this to be true. Once you believe that God honestly loves you, that His only motivation toward you is love, you can begin to see that love everywhere. Once you believe that we were made to depend on Him and His gifts of grace, you begin to see how active He has been. Once you believe that all He wants is for us to live in relationship with Him, enjoying the love He has for us, that’s when the whole thing opens up. Everything is different from that perspective. You can see that Adam and Eve’s sin was in trying to do for themselves what God wanted to do for them. You can see that the Law was given to show them that they could never be holy on their own and to pull them back to Him. You can see that He is never disappointed in His people, never surprised by their sin, and that He never stops loving them.
Well, that’s probably enough, more than most will read. Obviously, this is the passion of my heart and the motivation of my ministry. I have seen and experienced so much pain from that “performance yoke” and, if I can help a few to find the way out, it will be so good. I would be happy to communicate more on this. God bless you as you seek His rest!
David Orrison has been a pastor for over 30 years with a sincere desire to help people know the love and grace of the Lord Jesus. He holds a PhD in Theology from Trinity Seminary. He has worked with pastors and other church leaders who have been discouraged by the expectations and failures of ministry. He has also helped parents, spouses, and young people who have been hurt by the legalistic teaching of what he calls, “performance spirituality.” His website, www.gracefortheheart.org, and blog, http://graceformyheart.wordpress.com, have been sources of encouragement and teaching for many. He is available for speaking engagements as well. He and his wife, Alice, have eight sons and live in Colorado.