Perfection vs. Obedience

“God is God. Because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.” - Elisabeth Elliot

 For most of my life, I followed all rules without question. If there weren’t clear expectations or guidelines in a certain area, I would construct them myself. Constant responsibility and obedience were the only paths I knew that led to a sense of maintaining control and feeling loved. It was a wonder to me that you could have almost anything you wanted in this world by checking every box people wanted you to. Be quieter? Done. Ace every test? You got it. Keep a smile on my face? Easy. Don’t ever do X,Y and Z? I wouldn’t dream of it.

 Perfectionism is one of those infamous traps that drain you internally but lead to external “success.” Like an athlete hooked on a performance-enhancing drug, you know what you’re doing isn’t healthy, but you can’t stop now because you’re receiving so much praise for your exceptional behavior.

 I said I loved God then, but I just craved the structure of following Him. The Bible provided little more than an abundance of encouraging mantras that looked pretty on my iPhone lock screen and a list of commandments to follow that would help me develop all the qualities of a “good” person. I thought to myself that religion must be easy if all I had to do was live life by a set of strict rules. I did that anyway.

 Over a period of years, though, the high of perfectionism started to wear off more and more quickly. I felt shallow and disconnected, like my actions and words had no heart behind them. I soon realized that meeting with God and obeying Him out of obligation didn’t come close to filling me. It made me sick to think I might reach the end of my life, only to have checked all the boxes. There was always a whisper inside telling me there was more and that I was deeper than all of this.

 If you know me well, you can vouch for the fact that I trust few people fully – and almost no one as much as I trust myself. I prefer to be the responsible party in every situation, and I think highly of you if I allow you to take care of me for a change. The same proved to be true in my maturing relationship with God. I’d take a step toward His purpose for my life, and then I’d get scared and take a step back. I’d forge a new path on my own and watch it crumble under me. Eventually, as I grew in confidence in Him, I could run much further distances and take bigger leaps– this time actually believing I’d end up somewhere greater than I could have found on my own.

 Today, the motivation that leads me to a life of obedience is pure trust in and adoration for the Voice calling the shots. When you really love someone, their requests are not burdens but opportunities to serve them well. Their desires become your desires.

 Once you relinquish control and watch what God can do with the parts of your story you don’t know how to finish writing, you won’t be able to deny that He’s good. Sometimes, the places you are led to will be scary and hard, and you’ll be tempted to trade in what’s worth it for what’s easy all over again. Now, I am vulnerable and honest in situations I used to appear flawless and unbothered in. I wait longer for what is great instead of settling for what is average, even if it’s right in front of me. I make decisions and uphold standards that confuse the culture we live in, for the sake of staying true to who I am. I’ve had to move on from things and people I loved after sensing I’m being drawn in another direction. Before, I’d hit rock bottom when I failed. Now, I have a parachute of promise that in every circumstance the Creator of the universe loves me all the same and isn’t finished with me yet. That’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

 This journey is filled with growing pains but never regret. When it feels like it’s too difficult to go any further, I look to the character of Jesus. Although Jesus was one with God, He was also one with humanity. The greatest example we have of compliance to God’s will is Jesus’s “obedience to death, even death on a cross” (Phillipians 2:8). He begged God to spare Him. I can’t think of a more searingly desperate situation to be in, yet still His final words were, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” As He drew His last breath, Jesus reminded us all how deeply He trusted God, even in the darkest moment. That’s the kind of intimacy with and faith in the Good Shepherd that will lead us to lives of joyful obedience.

The same Voice that led Jesus in the transformation of the most hopeless day in history to the brightest one is leading us now. His directions are trustworthy, and I know the destination He has in mind is worth forfeiting anything else.

Author | Ellie Knight

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