Wanda Alger

The Sin of Perfectionism

Author: Wanda Alger  |  Published in: Teaching  |  December 31, 2006

I have always had high standards for myself. Out of a heart to please the Lord I have always wanted to do and be the very best I can trusting that God would give me more favor and blessing as a result. I’ve always had the conviction that whatever we “do” for the Lord should be of the highest quality, integrity and excellence.

Though this is scriptural (I Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:23) it can also be a huge hindrance in our ability to follow the Holy Spirit. If we feel we have to get everything right the first time and don’t dare step out because it won’t be good enough – we’re in bondage. For many people who struggle with this mindset, there could be a deeper reason for these beliefs. It’s called Perfectionism. Some call it Fear of Failure.

Obviously no one can ever be perfect. That doesn’t stop some of us from trying, however! We take the scriptural admonition to “be perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and think that means in our performance rather than in the status of our heart. In this particular scriptural admonition, Jesus was challenging his disciples to look at the attitude of their hearts. He was telling them to have perfect love for others instead of being critical and judgmental of others.

Even so, we feel compelled to prove our worthiness or significance by striving to be the best or do the best. To be led by this motivation will usually end up making us feel discouraged, disappointed and exhausted! I quote from the book I’ve been reading lately called “The Worn out Woman” by Dr. Steve Stephens and Alice Gray.

“Perfectionists strive for the unattainable. They need to be first or best and try never to make a mistake, which they see as a sign of failure and unworthiness. Because of this, perfectionists are rarely happy. They frequently slip into depression and are often disappointed. Sometimes they’re so worn out by their own expectations that they fail to do anything at all.”(p. 48)

Wow! It doesn’t stop there, however. Read on:

“At the heart of perfectionism is fear – fear of making a mistake and being judged, fear of failure and rejection….At an even deeper level, perfectionism reveals a lack of faith. In a sense, perfectionism is really a way of playing God with our own lives. Instead of trusting God to keep His promise to redeem us and mature us, instead of walking in obedience, we try to preempt His work and get is right without His help.” (p.49)

When I read those words I knew why I have often been reluctant to take the next step in my own faith walk. Though my heart was in the right place, my focus was too much on my own performance rather than on God’s redeeming grace. In an effort to “get it right” I had missed the blessing of seeing God redeem and restore my blunders and mistakes. I was actually hindering the redemptive power of God in my life by trying so hard to get it right the first time and working myself sick to prove I could! The fact is, to admit failure and acknowledge mistakes takes humility and faith – a quality that many well-meaning Christians lack. We have embraced a mindset that urges us to succeed – at all costs.

God’s priority, however, is not success – at least not as we know it. He’s calling us to be faithful and obedient – not famous. He desires for us to trust Him. Even better – He delights in taking our mistakes and showing His redemptive power and ability to make all things new (Psalm 119:154, Zec. 10:8). He knows our hearts and will run to help us when we have acted out of a sincere desire to please Him. We simply need to come to terms with what it means to be corrected and shown a better way.

If we’re fearful, we need to confess our lack of faith and ask Him to give us courage. If we’re afraid of making a mistake, we need to confess our pride and allow Him to redeem our attempts. If we’re comparing ourselves to others and feel unworthy we need to get our eyes onto Him instead of ourselves. If we’re waiting for everything to be “just right” before stepping out we’ll stay stuck and never fulfill our destiny.

When God called Gideon to rescue his nation from the enemy, Gideon disqualified himself out of fear of failure. God simply told Gideon to “…go in the strength YOU HAVE.” (Judges 6:14). God will give us what we need when we step out in faith and start acting on His Word. He’s not looking for professionals and He certainly isn’t expecting perfection. He’s looking for someone who is bold enough to take Him at His Word and trust Him to sort it all out in the end.

He delights to make us strong in our weakness and secure in His grace. 2 Corinthians 12:9 states, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Begin to embrace God’s redemptive power and allow yourself to fail. Lay aside the perfectionist attitudes and learn to be wrong at times! It won’t hurt that much – only your flesh! It may actually free you from the bondage of fear and set you on a new path of self-discovery and appreciation for God’s love and grace to redeem every detail of your life. Trust me – it will be worth the cost.