Like many people in America, I was raised in a strong performance-oriented environment. And in our society, rewards are generally based upon performance; do good and people will love and accept you. Fail and you'll be rejected. We perform in our relationships, our jobs, and in other aspects of life. Performance is about more than carrying out a task; it's about an attitude of doing something for the sake of approval, and is usually fear-based. There's nothing wrong with pleasing others when your aim is to benefit them, but when the goal of performance is to win others' acceptance because you fear rejection, it is not of God.
God once showed me that I didn't pray and spend as much time with Him as I really wanted to because I came to him wearing a hat of performance. Although my mind knew that I was fully accepted and loved by Him, my heart did not. And it seemed He said to me, "Why would you want to spend time with Me if you think I'm disappointed in you, or demanding something of you?"
Well, duh. Good point, Abba. I mean, none of us would intentionally be friends with a person who thought we were a letdown, would we? And yet, I think many of us come to God begrudgingly, because deep down, we're not really sure He likes us all that much or is pleased with us.
Or we believe that we have to say The Lord's Prayer just so, or read ten chapters of the Bible and have the perfect attitude before we can come and "do" relationship with God. That there is a certain way we must speak, act and be before God or He's going to withhold that blessing He's been trying to give us for years, but which we just can't seem to receive because we're not doing "it" right.
The Bible says, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise," (Psalm 100:4). Yes, God wants us to come to Him with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, but not because He's going to rain down fire and brimstone if we don't. I believe He gives us this command because He knows that when we come to Him with an attitude of gratitude and exalt Him for His attributes, it takes the focus off our flaws and our faults and places it instead upon His love, goodness, mercy, kindness, grace and other amazing qualities. When we meditate upon these qualities, it can help us to re-frame our beliefs about Him and casts Him in a powerfully positive light.
He is worthy of praise, and acknowledging who He is and the good things that He's gone for us helps to cultivate an attitude of reverence. He desires that we approach Him with a joyful heart of gratitude, but if we can't, or we don't...well, that's okay, He'll still love us anyway. But it's for our sake that He encourages us to do so.
In my moments of deep suffering from chronic illness, I have often come to God raging mad. I've sworn like a sailor as well-meaning but judgmental friends have told me to "get right" with God. But those of us who have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior are already right with God, regardless of how we behave. When Jesus died on the Cross, He took all of our sins upon Him; He became an atoning sacrifice so that we would no longer have to be "good enough" before God the Father.
So when we act as though we need to do, be or say things in a certain way before God, we are essentially telling God that Jesus' sacrifice was insufficient to atone for all of our mistakes. It seems humble to self-flagellate, but it's actually one of the subtlest and most insidious forms of pride there is. Jesus died a cruel death on a Cross; he was bloodied, beaten and battered, and ultimately, crucified, so that we could be reconciled to God, so it is impossible for God to be disappointed in us, because He sees us in exactly the same way as He sees Jesus. He may not like our behavior at all times, but He's not disappointed in us.
Trust me...I have to remind myself of this all the time. Or rather, God reminds me. Performance orientation dies hard, and God is still pulling out some ugly roots in me.
At the same time, the fact that we are perfect in God's sight doesn't give us a license to treat others, including God, however we'd like. I always go back and apologize to Him for my angry, bitter words, because I love Him and am grateful for Jesus' work on the Cross, and because I know I'm under the influence of a lie whenever I rage at him. But I think he can handle my bouts of anger. He knows I am human. The more difficult pill to swallow is the knowledge of the fact that He would love and accept me, even if I wasn't sorry. People aren't usually like that, so it's hard to fathom a God who is.
God once gave me a vision of myself screaming and yelling at Jesus in bitter anger, as I released years of pent-up rage toward Him. In this vision, Jesus stood before me, tears of compassion streaming down his blooded face, as I screamed, scratched and clawed Him with my words. He simply reached out His hand and touched my cheek as I pummeled Him and took the brunt of my anger out upon Him.
How many of us realize that God, that Jesus, responds with such love and compassion to our sinfulness? How many of us know that, even when He's not happy with our behavior, that He still loves us unconditionally? We can come to Him as we are, knowing that He receives us with open arms and will lovingly correct us whenever we do or say something that isn't advantageous for our growth or His kindgom, not wag a finger at us in condemnation.
His Word says, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1, NIV). Meaning, He does not condemn those of us who have received and accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God convicts us at times for our behavior, but conviction never brings shame, guilt or a sense of not being "good enough" before God. When we're convicted, we want to change our behavior in order to please God, because we know it will benefit us and Him, not because we fear His wrath or rejection. There's a great difference between conviction and condemnation.
In short, performance is based on a religious mindset of having to "do" or be something before God, because we fear His disapproval. Living in intimacy with God is based on a mindset of knowing we are totally accepted, loved and cherished by Him, simply for who we are and because of Jesus' work on the Cross. When we know we are accepted, we want to be with Him, because we know He awaits us with open arms, an expectant smile on His face, with an attitude of joy, and an eagerness for us to be with Him. We know that the things He will reveal to us are for our wellbeing and healing. That He has a plan to prosper us, not harm us, and to give us hope and a future.
This kind of revelatory knowledge only comes through the relationship with Him, though, so I encourage you to push past that nagging feeling that He's disappointed in you, and spend a little time with Him, and ask Him to speak to you. Know that as you do, He will strip the layers of performance orientation from you, and cause the light of His love to shine into your heart. Even if at first you sense no change, if you persist in listening to Him, that day will come when you realize that you no longer spend time with Him out of obligation. Instead, you actually want to be with Him, and you find yourself making room for Him in your schedule, because you know that nothing brings you greater joy than being with the One who delights in you, and the One who loves you lavishly, deeply and unconditionally, above all others in your life- no matter your hangups, hurts or behaviors.