“Luke, you work like, what, three days a week right?”
That was a question one of my non-believer friends asked a few weeks ago. I tried my best not to get irritated or defensive. I explained that, in reality, I work 5 days a week, 9 to 5, (or 8:30-4:30, but who’s counting?), not including the evening services and events that the student ministry and church, at large, host and coordinate. I then decided to go on a “humble” rant about how busy I am, and how I rarely get a genuine break, because student ministry has the tendency to be insane, ect., etc. I felt like a martyr. I wanted this guy to see how hard I was working in order to prove that ministry is a legitimate job… or maybe, if I’m being even more honest, I wanted to prove to this guy that I’m legitimately pulling my weight as a productive member of society.
I think we’ve all probably felt this way at some point in our lives. If we’re honest, we all feel busy, we all want to be as productive as possible, and we all want recognition. We feel a desperate need to justify and prove ourselves as being worthy of attention in a world that is constantly watching, yet cares so little, and we are willing to burn ourselves out for just a little bit of glory or success. Whatever your role – mother, father, small business owner, airmen, soldier, student – none of us are immune to seeing work and productivity as the highest virtue. Trying to measure up to this can be terribly exhausting.
Our world is obsessed with and driven by performance and productivity, and the church is not immune to it. David Zahl, author and founder of Mockingbird Ministries puts it this way in his book Seculosity: “In fact, some of the most toxically performancist environments exist inside the church, where anxious people frantically try to outdo one another in the good works department, whether those be acts of charity or acts of devotion or both–as if our spiritual resume was the ticket to God’s approval . . . Soon, God has ceased to be a good shepherd and turned into the Taskmaster-in-the-Sky, or worse, another name for the persecutor within.”
Is this really the way of Jesus? I definitely changed my friend’s perspective on ministry that day, but at what cost? Do we really want this world to see how busy we are all the time when Jesus was the One who told us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”? (Matthew 11:28)
How are we, as Christians, to portray the rest and peace we find in Christ to a world that is perpetually exhausted? I don’t think the answer is doing more work while putting up a facade of effortlessness and peace. (Yet that seems to be my go-to…) As followers of Jesus, we have a method that is so. Much. More. Glorious.
We have Jesus.
He is our rest, He is our peace. We don’t have to have our lives put together and performing at our top level. In fact, we will never meet the righteous standards of performance that will impress or match up to God and His standards. That is why He sent His only Son to do the work we could not do and die the death we deserved to die. He did all of this so that we might partake in the resurrection that we never deserved. Our best work is filthy rags when compared to Jesus’ – and that should bring us so much joy!
One of my good friends once told me that when you become a Christian, Jesus’ righteousness and your identity become synonymous. I love that. It means that we are no longer held hostage to this world’s performance-based systems of righteousness. Instead, we get to boast in our failures and weaknesses because it makes the grace of Christ that much glorious. It means that we are free.
I’m still wrestling with my performance-driven tendencies. However, I’m learning to truly rest in the grace of Jesus. I will boast in my undignified weaknesses because, sometimes, it is through my scars and stumbling that others can see my Savior the clearest. I still have days where I pretend I have it all together but, at the end of the day, I am a wretched sinner saved by grace, attempting to walk in the footsteps of the One who walked on waves and trampled death.
I am a prodigal son who is grateful to belong to a Father who wastes nothing, not even the darkest depths of my sin, in writing a story that ends in resurrection.
As we continue fasting this week, let us remember that we’re not fasting or working for God’s acceptance. The opportunity to be reminded of our dependence on God is a gift – not an obligation. He invites us in and allows us to rest in him.
Our God is good, and he’s not done with us yet.
-Luke DeMarco, College Minister