Before Sunday worship service, I was talking to the Lord and He began to step on my toes. I needed reminding once again about The Performance Trap.
I first heard the phrase about 15 years ago. Let me share just four traps (my own specifics) that often snare folks within their own churches, me included. Somehow we think of the church as a sanctuary, free from traps. The fallacy there is that church is not a building or a service time. It's me! And Satan still prowls to steal, kill and destroy. So Sunday morning is prime hunting season for him.
As a military brat, I thought the word duty had a good connotation. However, in the Lord's work it's easy for me to "perform" solely out of duty, obligation. This trap snaps us when our emotions are out of whack sometimes. "I don't feel like going but. . ." Other times we perform out of duty when we're physically weak or sick. Now I'm not saying that we shouldn't overcome our emotional or physical struggles and serve God. We should but if duty alone becomes our habitual motive, it's a performance trap.
I go 'cause I gotta, shoulda, oughta. . .for the kids. But my heart's not in it. We don't usually carry the thought that far. But that's where God's looking, at our true heart motives.
#2 OTHERS, LORD, YES OTHERS
Those words from an old song pretty well describe this performance trap. We can use church to perform for the expectations of man. What others think of us or see becomes a priority. Church can become a strictly social or benevolent service. Sure. Ministry involves both.
Yeah, I gotta serve in the nursery 'cause I don't wanna let Mrs. Johnson down. This trap often comes camouflaged because in a sense it's for others. While our gifts do help others, that bottom line motive again must come down to love for the Lord. Then "even a cup of cold water in My name" becomes pure. Sadly, some churches actually use this guilt-tool to enlist folks into jobs, rather than allow God to call and equip them for ministries.
Satan loves to shift those 2 gears from pleasing Jesus to pleasing others, from God's approval to man's. Makes us feel good too when we serve others! Oops! Now that crafty one just shifted things into reverse, Makes ME feel good. You Others Jesus When we aright our priorities to Jesus Others You, we get joy. Joy is the result, a by-product, however, not a goal. It's not all about you, or even others!
People in the arts often and easily fall prey to this performance trap. It sounds good on the surface, "I just want to sing it perfectly for the Lord!" Problem is, there are no perfect musicians, but One. Perfectionism sets us up to fail eventually.
Excellence is a good goal. "I want to do my best for the Lord, the Perfect One." Scripture endorses "skilled musicians." Even then our best will fall short but He accepts our widow's mite when it's all we have to give, meager as it may be. As musicians we hear the wrong notes; as technicians we feel badly when the sound system screams feedback or the computer cues are missed. Preachers hate to trip over hard words. They practice what they preach (literally) to prevent mispronunciations. Makes us looks bad. Oops! There it goes again. I trouble sneaks up when everyone looks at our mistake.
Refocus on Him and they will. You're not perfect. He is! Perfectionism, even excellence, can even become a false measuring stick for success. God works in our failures and weaknesses as surely as He uses our best.
#4 ALL THE GLORY BELONGS TO ____________ (fill in the blank)
The most insidious performance trap is the one that actually uses the local church to promote self. It too can come disguised as service but the heart is about self-glory. Musicians are not the only ones prone to step into this trap. I've heard musicians say, "I got a standing ovation. . .they didn't clap today. . .10 people have asked me to sing again."
While the stage itself is fraught with traps, this trap snags background folks too. I knew a man who actually worked the congregation just before deacon election, "Be sure to vote for me!" When he wasn't elected he got mad, quit choir and eventually left the church. Another musician served for years with us but when he was not voted in as a deacon, moved to a smaller church where he could reach his goals for office. Hmmmm and being a deacon is about serving. . .
Identity being found in what we do, how long we've done it or how much we know is a common trap both on and off stage.
Churches applaud and laud the visible or long-time servants. This trap is no respecter of persons and can even plague pastors, Sunday school teachers or organists. It subtly subverts to prey on pride. Be careful accepting praise. Be careful heeding criticism as well. Both extremes root in self-focus.
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There are probably other performance traps. I'm most familiar, sadly from experience, with these four. Avoiding them is not a one-time effort. It takes a close heart examination almost daily.
If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.
You mean if I have a fight with Doug before church, but put on my best hypo-crite (under-mask) smile and play keyboard anyway, He won't hear me? Yep. Heaven will hear a cappella singing even while my fingers play the piano on earth.
You mean if I look at porn Sat. night then sing my solo Sunday, the Lord won't hear my voice? Yep. You have your reward when you hear someone say, "Great job! Loved your song." But for eternity, one solo turns into wood, hay and stubble.
You mean after all my study and teaching my class, just because I talked about someone, a little harmless gossip, the Lord doesn't count that Sunday school lesson in glory? Yep.
The Lord will not HEAR me. That covers more than our prayers.
I want Him to hear me, accept my praise and service. I want HIS approval. Then I want to one day hear His, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." Don't you?
Then guard your heart!