What is a religious performance trap and how to get free
A religious performance trap is a cycle of gaining your worth and security as a child of God from what you do, instead of who you are in Christ. Some people may call it legalism, or being a modern day pharisee, but I see it as a pit that any well meaning believer can fall into.
Following rules may change your appearance, but only a love relationship can change your heart. The performance trap will wear you out, because it will ask more than God does, but gives you little in return. It causes you to become judgmental rather than to seek real justice. True holiness is rooted in your connection to God, not your commitment to rules or your religious performance.
So how do you know if you are stuck in a religious performance trap?
Here is part 2 of 10 Signs of a Religious Performance Trap: (Click here for part 1)
You feel good about feeling bad, and bad about feeling good – A guilty conscience may appear to be a sensitivity to God, but is actually closer to a focus on sin than God. There is a godly guilt that leads to repentance, and then there is a focus on sin that leads to a performance trap. Condemnation only brings repeated failure. Grace breaks that cycle, takes the focus off of self and puts it back on God.
You aim at perfection instead of pursuit – There is a difference between seeking the Perfect One, and pursuing perfection. Christians should strive for excellence, but also have the humility to know that there is only one man who has been or ever will be perfect – Jesus. The lie of the performance trap is that at the end of your uphill climb is a peak of perfection, when in actuality it is a hamster wheel that never ends.
You wear exhaustion like a badge of honor – If you have lost your joy, but not your sense of duty, that’s not necessarily a good thing. For those trapped by religion this exhaustion is normally where the justification to complain, compare, and criticize is found. I used to take pride in the fact that I had a hard time resting, and always felt that I needed to be doing something. This may sound spiritual on the surface, but reveals a restless soul that is not at peace.
The problem with prioritizing performance is that you end up getting less of it. Valuing what you do for Christ over who you are in Christ leads to inevitable burn out. The performance trap teaches that it is unspiritual to ever say no to spiritual things. It is not spiritual to always say yes to more. It is more spiritual to say yes to your priorities, and no to good things that may take you away from the best things.
You become discouraged easily – Burnout and discouragement happen when we make God our debtor. This is when we work hard expecting God to “bless” us with what we want at the end of our labors (position, recognition, etc.). The result is that our good works quickly wilt and whither away when we feel God didn’t keep His end of the bargain. In that situation, our good works weren’t rooted in the right motives and desires.
Your focus is on you instead of God – Simply put, it is God doing the heavy lifting around here, not you. It’s not that we don’t have a role to play. It’s just that the weight of the world just more properly belongs on His shoulders than ours. We sometimes over emphasize our own importance when we start to believe the entire world or our city is just waiting on us to finally get it together. We get to play a part in what God is doing. As long as we keep our focus on Him, instead of us, we become channels of His grace.
The key to discovering a high performance Christianity is to not focus on your performance at all. Instead, fix your eyes on the Lover of your soul. Grow in your love relationship with Jesus. You will always do more, produce more, and find more meaning in living out of a love relationship with God than you ever will be pulling up your boot straps and being committed to religious duty.