Following Jesus is more about direction than perfection.
Perfection believes that it must be so noble, so excellent, and so achieved that there is no room for improvement. It has done everything to full satisfaction. It has completely accomplished something.
Done. Check it off the list. But there are two dangers here.
What is perfection?
First, our idea of perfection is relative—like a child scribbling with crayons and presenting the masterpiece to mom, beaming with a smile that says, “Isn’t this the best?” Well, it’s no Picasso, but mom loves it anyway.
The perfect way to grill steaks. The perfect evening. The perfect performance this quarter. The perfect lab results. All these are relative based on perspectives, ranges of expectation, and moving targets.
So, what you think is perfect might not be that great to somebody else. Or to Jesus.
I’ve made it! I guess I’m done.
Secondly, approaching the Christian life with a perfection mindset means that you operate with an “either/or” mindset. Either you’re perfect or you’re not. Either you read the Bible every day (pat on the back, good Christian) or you don’t (kick in the pants, bad Christian). Either you sin or you don’t. Either you achieve spiritual maturity or you don’t.
And when you believe you’ve achieved, that you’ve arrived and made it in your spiritual life, you tend to operate with the graduation mindset. You’re not looking back, like you need to repeat fifth grade. That’s done. You’re moving on. You’ve graduated.
At that point, people put that particular area of their spiritual life on auto pilot. They check the box and pay attention to something else. What happens? Inevitably they find that perfect achievement doesn’t remain perfect very long.
It’s like trying to drive with cruise control in rush hour traffic.
Want to make progress in your spiritual life? Then give up perfectionism, which is not as holy as it appears. And make the journey your destination. Focus on direction, not perfection.
I love the appearances of Jesus to his disciples after he rose from the dead. The only One who is perfect, Jesus Christ, couldn’t wait to spend time with his imperfect, slow to believe, sleepy and often selfish friends.
And when he appeared to them, he didn’t award them gold medals of perfection. But he loved and forgave them, met them in their messes and mistakes, state with them, and spoke perfect promises to them that strengthened them to take spiritual next steps.
Did you notice how Peter, who tended to believe he had arrived in areas of his spiritual life, showed progress over perfection? From his fishing boat, Peter “jumped into the water” (John 21:7) when Jesus appeared on shore.
He didn’t wait to walk on water as he did before (though he stumbled and sank). He didn’t call out to Jesus, “Is that really you?” He didn’t hide in the hull of the boat, embarrassed that he had denied Jesus 3 times. All of this is the ongoing “both/and” of the Christian life.
It’s real to us. And acceptable to Jesus, by his grace and mercy. If we’re willing to let Jesus into our direction, which is sometimes slower or more detoured than we’d like, he is willing to give us a wonderful gift. His perfection, which is by faith. We don’t achieve it. He already did.
We just follow. And sometimes we jump. Jesus is there to lead. And to catch.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, I want to be perfect, to have what it takes, to be the person who doesn’t need fixing or make mistakes. But then I wouldn’t need you because I’d be my own savior. And that doesn’t work. Your perfect work saves me, Lord, and you are my only Savior. I need you. Amen.
Further Meditation: Compare the first miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5:1-11 with the miraculous catch of fish in John 21:1-14, after Jesus had risen. What are some comparisons? How do the disciples show progress?