Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Do you ever feel like you just can’t meet God standards? Patricia Saladin learned to put those feelings into perspective.

Patricia Saladin: What really God taught me was, “You know, Patricia, you will never measure up, but the love that Christ had . . . Christ loved them to the end. That’s the love that all of these women have, because it’s not your love. It’s Christ’s love.”

I mean, Christ’s record is what is in my account. So God doesn’t see me in my imperfections, in my weaknesses. Of course He knows. He knows that, but He sees Christ’s record in me. And that is something I repeat to myself almost every day.

Nancy: Welcome to Revive Our Hearts for March 2, 2021. I’m Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

So, do you cut your hair after you come back from the salon when you notice they missed one little spot? Are always telling people, “Your pie didn’t turn out quite right?” Do you spend too much time checking and double checking and triple checking that column in the spreadsheet? Oooh, I can relate to that one. Well, if so, you just might be a perfectionist.

Yesterday on Revive Our Hearts, we heard the first part of a conversation between Dannah Gresh, Amy Baker, Erin Davis, and Patricia Saladin. They’re talking about perfectionism. If you missed that discussion, you’ll want to go back and find it atReviveOurHearts.com or on the Revive Our Hearts app.

I want to encourage you to go back and listen because today we’re going to talk about spiritual perfectionism, how that same obsession with control and being flawless can show up in our relationship with God. 

It’s also rooted in the lie that we can earn God’s love and work our way to heaven. Of course, most of us would never say that out loud, and yet, don’t we sometimes live that way? Here’s Dannah Gresh to begin the conversation.

Dannah Gresh: I’m joined once again by Dr. Amy Baker. She’s the author of, Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up. Welcome back, Amy.

Amy Baker: Thank you.

Dannah: And also, welcome to Erin Davis, one of my co-hosts on Revive Our Hearts’ videocast, Grounded. Hey, Erin.

Erin Davis: Hey. So glad to be with you.

Dannah: And then, the voice of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth in our Spanish version of Revive Our Hearts, Patricia Saladin. Hello, Patricia.

Patricia: Hi, Dannah. 

Dannah: Or should I say, “Hola”? 

Patricia: Hola, Dannah.

Dannah: All right, my friends, here we go. Have you ever lived like you believe that you can earn God’s love? Let’s get honest. [Long pause.] 

Erin: Nobody wanted to go first! There was a bit of a pause there. I don’t think that I’ve lived like I can earn God’s love, but I sure have lived like I could lose it. And that’s the reverse, right? Like, if I’m not perfect, somehow I’ve stepped over some threshold and He won’t love me.

I have to remind myself very frequently that I’m not the one person the cross isn’t big enough for. It’s not me trying to climb some ladder necessarily to earn His grace, but it’s forgetting that I have it.

Dannah: Yes, you know Erin, when we wrote Lies Girls Believe to go with the LiesWomen Believe series that Nancy started years ago, we surveyed fifteen-hundred church-going girls between the ages of seven and twelve. One of the questions we asked them was, “Do you know God loves you?” 

They were very confident that He did, and I loved seeing that. Well, over ninety percent said, “Yes, I know God loves me.” But then we asked them, “Do you still believe that when you sin?” And, wow, did the number drop! 

It broke my heart to see that when they weren’t performing, they didn’t believe God loved them. It’s just what you’re saying. “I feel like I can lose it.” And I thought, We don’t really outgrow that, do we?

Erin: I haven’t.

Dr. Amy: I think one of the things that comes along with that is we end up determining that God can never be pleased with us. It’s not that we’re worried about losing His love. We doctrinally know that He will never abandon us, but we act as though He could never be pleased with us.

So when He gives us the grace to love Him or love others, we don’t take any joy in that; we don’t give Him any glory for it. We act as though there is nothing that God would ever enable me to do that would please Him.

And yet, God has said that He is well-pleased with His Son, and we are now in Christ! And so, that belief that God could never be pleased with me . . . well, first of all, the moment that I trusted Him, I am in Christ. So all that pleasure that He gets in His Son, that He would call down from heaven, “Hey, this is my kid! I am well-pleased with Him!”. . .

For those of us who have kids, we get what that’s all about, saying: “Ah, I’m so pleased with my child! This is my kid; I’m well-pleased with him!” He is well-pleased with His Son, and now we’re in Christ.

But the other thing is, I think when we don’t understand that God gives us the grace to do things that are pleasing to Him, we fail to give Him the praise that we could; we fail to rejoice like we could. Instead, we just focus on, “Well, this wasn’t pleasing, and this wasn’t pleasing, and I could never do anything that would please God.”

Instead of saying, “God, You just helped me right now! You just gave me the strength when I didn’t want to, to be gracious to that cashier at the grocery store when I just stood in line for half-an-hour, grumbling in my mind that, “Why don’t they have more cashiers here?! Can’t they see there are four people in line and they ought to open up another line?! (Just for me, of course!)”

But then when God gives me the grace, by His power and His Spirit, to look at that cashier and say, “Wow, you guys are busy today. I bet when you go home tonight, you’re going to be really tired. Thank you for what you’re doing for us.” That was God, and He ought to be praised for that. 

I ought to recognize that He is at work in my life and give Him the honor and glory that’s due Him. And it’s so easy not to. It’s so easy just to say, “God is never pleased with me!”

Erin: I was at a women’s conference several years ago. Picture three-hundred women in an auditorium, and we’re worshipping. And all of the sudden, the woman leading the worship who was at the keyboard stopped, and she said, “God’s not mad at you.” And there was like a collective relaxing of the shoulders. It affected me in ways that I was surprised by.

Now, does God get angry at sin? Absolutely. Is He a God of justice? Absolutely. But this is a room full of women who know Him, He’s the Lord of their lives, they were worshipping Him. And yet, I could tell, in the room there was this collective sense that He was disappointed with us.

I bee-lined to that worship leader later and asked, “Why did you say that?” 

And she said, “I don’t know. I was just leading worship and I was looking out at the crowd, and I thought, They need to know that God is not mad at them!”

I think it can be perfectionism in us that we can be His children, we can know Him, we can love Him, we can be living for Him, we can be worshipping Him. But like you said, Amy, we can just have that sense that He’s not pleased with us, no matter what we try to do.

That is not an easy load; it’s not a light yoke on our shoulders. I’m so grateful that God’s Word reveals to us that we do have the perfection of Christ, and He’s well-pleased with us, just like a parent is with their child.

Dannah: It feels good just to hear that, Erin. We could soak in that a little bit today. Patricia, what are your thoughts at this point?

Patricia: I know, because of what the Bible says, that nothing can separate me from the love of God. But what I have been growing in knowing and practicing more deeply about the love of God has to do with my desire, like Amy was saying, that I think I don’t please Him enough; I have to do more.

When you don’t really soak in that love and when you don’t really know all that He has given you and done for you because we are complete in Christ, then I always have this guilt that I am not measuring up.

For example, regarding women . . . You know all the women that we have in our churches and in our ministry; we are a women’s ministry. I always, always feel short. I mean, this is a secret, but I am not a very relational, multitude person. I am rather an introvert, and I like small spaces with few people. I always felt that I cannot measure up to all the demands of women, that women have.

This would show that I love them and that I love God, and because I cannot love everybody, then maybe God is not pleased with me. And, bottom line, that is a Pharisaical thought (we want to do things like the Pharisees: “I have to accomplish it.”)

What really set me free about the gospel was that passage in John 13 when Christ was there in His last hour surrounded by this group. He knew who they were, how everybody was going to leave Him alone. The Bible says that He loved them to the end, at that moment. And He grabbed the towel and He washed their feet. 

At that point what God really taught me was, “You know, Patricia, you will never measure up, but the love that Christ had, that Christ loved them to the end, that’s the love that all of these women have. It is not your love, it is Christ’s love.”

I mean, Christ’s record is what’s in my account, so God doesn’t see me in my imperfection, in my weaknesses. Of course He knows that, but He sees Christ’s record in me. That is something I repeat to myself almost every day because there is always a reason why I have to go back and say, “You know what? Christ is the perfect One! His record is on me! There is nothing in my record, so Satan cannot get me there. When my record is open and my accuser is accusing me, that record is clean, 100 percent—Christ’s perfection!” And praise God for that!

Dannah: And so, I believe that in my head, Patricia, but let me be honest and practical here. Sometimes I really live as if I don’t believe that. One of the ways that shows up for me is in my private daily devotions.

Now, we love when women get in God’s Word—that’s what we’re all about at Revive Our Hearts. Yet for me, sometimes it becomes a legalism where I’m crossing it off my list for the day and “earning” my place in God’s heart.

I didn’t really realize this until several years ago. One of my board members sat me down and said, “Something’s off. What’s wrong?” 

And I said, “I don’t know. Even in my time with the Lord, I just feel like I can’t fill up a page in my journal because I don’t have a thought.”

Now, years ago I learned that I am very kinesthetic when it comes to remembering what I learn in the Scriptures. So when I hear a message from a pastor, I need to write notes, or I’m not going to recall it. But if I write it down, I’ll never need the notes.

And it’s the same way with my time with the Lord in the morning. I’m not going to remember if I don’t journal it out, but if I do, it will be hidden in my heart. But I’d gotten to a place, without realizing it, that filling up that page in my journal was my worth. 

And so this board member said, “Dannah, I want to ask you for one month to back away from your prayer journal and maybe even back away from your Bible. Can you listen to some podcasts? Can you soak up God’s Word without you doing the work?” I started to twitch! 

I realized that I was believing that I could earn God’s love and that I could earn His approval for that day when, in fact, what you just said is true, Patricia. I could never earn it. The work was done by Jesus on the cross. 

I need to live in every aspect, including the way I read my Bible and journal in the morning, as if I believe that. Does this resonate with anyone?

Erin: Well, we’re certainly not the first to wrestle with this. I mean, Paul wrote often about faith and works. It doesn’t necessarily change how we do things; it’s a heart shift that needs to happen. Are you doing the things of the Christian life—loving your neighbor, reading your Bible, praying—in order to try to fill up a faith account? Or are you doing those things because you already put your faith in Jesus and your heart is overflowing because of the work He’s done in your life? I think that many Christians have wrestled with that; many more Christian will wrestle with that, and Jesus is the lynchpin who changes that. 

We are His! His perfection is ours. We wear His robes of righteousness because of His sacrifice, and so we’ve got to take it back to the gospel as often as possible.

Dannah: We’ve got to take it to the Scriptures, and here’s where it gets hard for me. Yesterday on the program, Amy quoted a verse, Matthew 5:48, where basically, God says, “Be perfect, cause I’m perfect!” And you can look all through Scripture and see a call to excellence. 

So where does that pursuing of Christ--and the excellence and the holiness He calls us to--crash into, and maybe cause us to be confused about the fact that the work is done at the Cross, that we rest in the gospel work of Christ. What’s the tension of those two? How do we hold it [that doctrine] well?

Dr. Amy: When you ask that, there are a couple things that came to mind for me. One is that, as we understand that all of Christ’s perfection has been put on our account. There’s nothing more that we need to do or that we can even do to add to it, because it’s perfect. We have that perfection on our account. I think that can give us a tremendous amount of relief.

But I think the other thing that it does is it now frees us up to do maybe even those exact same things, but now we do it with a different heart. So now, I want to do those things with excellence, I want to do those things well, because I want to show how beautiful my Savior is!

It’s not a task list that, “I’ve got to do this in order to to check something off my list,” or to try to avoid God being mad at me. I want to do it because, “Wow! He’s the best, and the fact that He would do all that for me! God, what can I do to just show You how much I adore You because of what You’ve done for me!” That was kind of my first thought.

I suppose that would go along with Ephesians 2:8 and 9, where it talks about not by works you are saved, but then verse 10 says He saved us for good works to do. So, He gives us, “Look, it’s all taken care of, but I saved you and now I’ve got things for you to do, I’ve got good works [for you]!”

And it’s like now I can do that! It’s like, “Yes! Thank You, Jesus. Thank You for entrusting me with this, for making me Your ambassador. Thank You for these good works!” It’s not, “Oh, no! I’ve got to do good works, and I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to get them all done!” It’s, “Thank You!”

Erin: Amy, I can see your face; our listeners can’t. But I bet they can hear it in your voice, how excited you got when that shift happened. When we talked about, “Yes, I can do them because of what the Lord has done!”

It’s a worship attitude. Scripture elsewhere says, “Work hard, as if working for the Lord” (Col. 3:23). I know how to work hard, and sometimes I work hard as if working for me. I work hard as if working for man. I work hard as if God’s love depends on me working hard. That’s very different than working hard as an act of worship to honor the Lord.

And like you said, I might be doing the very same things, but it’s a heart posture of, “Oh, Jesus! You have done so much for me, and I can do (fill in the blank—laundry, endlessly at my house) with joy as an act of worship. It’s not to try and be perfect, but because I’m so grateful, and I want to honor You with it!” It happens on the inside.

Dannah: It’s the second time, Amy, that you’ve brought up the intersection of resting and working, which I think many times we get wrong. Both times you’ve said we rest first, we learn from Christ, and out of that comes our work and our performance for His glory, for His Name. And I think many times we get that backwards.

I can’t help but testify that when my heart is in the right place in the morning when I spend my time with the Lord, I’m not in a rush. This morning I was in a rush, I have to confess. My husband decided yesterday he wanted to learn how to cook a turkey. Today my kitchen looks like my husband wanted to learn to cook a turkey. 

I had a hard time sitting at the feet of Jesus by my fireplace, because my kitchen was calling to me! I was obsessed with doing, and naturally so. Of course, I want my kitchen not to smell like and feel like greasy turkey.

But on the days that I really truly do rest, I spend the time with the Lord, I feel like He plants in me—the Spirit stirs in me—a desire to do things. They might not have even been on my radar. He assigns me those good works. They’re from His heart, because my heart is in the right place.

Dr. Amy: I think then it enables us to be able to go back to that messy kitchen, and the goal is no longer, “I need to get this kitchen cleaned up. It’s a mess! I want my counter cleaned off; I don’t want to feel grease every time I touch the counter!” And to be able to look at this as an opportunity to show love to my husband.

I think probably we would all say we are married to the most wonderful man in the world—I know I certainly would. I’m pretty sure if I claimed it only in my case you ladies would fight me for it. But now, that cleaning up the kitchen becomes an opportunity to just think about, Here’s how I get to show love to my husband today.

I can love him by coming in after he’s shown love to our family by wanting to cook a turkey and help take some of that load off of him by cleaning up.” Then it’s no longer, “Uh! He left the kitchen a mess, and now I have to clean it up because I need a kitchen that looks clean!” It now becomes an opportunity to get to show love, and I’m no longer mad about it.

Now, there’s joy that comes with that task, and so it is restful to do it, because I know that my husband is going to have his burden made lighter because of what God is gifting me with the ability to do right now.

Dannah: You’re preaching to me, sister, because I’ll tell you what, I won a victory this morning! I told my husband yesterday, “I’ll help you cook a turkey as long as I don’t have to clean up!” And then, he was running late this morning, and I’ve got to clean up when I get home from the studio!

But you know what I did? (This is a big Dannah Gresh victory.) I held my tongue! I was like, okay, it’s going to be greasier and stinkier when I come home in two hours, but for Jesus, and for the love of Bob, I can do that! That was a victory over perfectionism for me, I think.

Erin: Amy, I can tell sometimes when your “Christan counselor” hat comes on, because you keep speaking into the fact that often perfectionism raises its head in the ways we relate to each other. It’s an internal struggle that doesn’t stay internal. 

I imagine you have seen people in your practice who have wrestled with perfectionism, and it’s reared its ugly head—maybe in their marriage, maybe in their parenting, maybe in their relationships at church. 

Patricia, yesterday you mentioned to us that this is an area where you feel like the Lord has really done a deeper work in your heart. If He has done it in your heart, I imagine it has come out into your relationships. What are some practical ways you are fighting against perfectionism in your relationships?

Patricia: I think we will always struggle with this until the end. The Bible says we still have besetting sin. One thing that now is clear to me is, like Amy was saying I think yesterday, these emotions are like an alarm showing us something is going on, something is going wrong.

If what I’m getting is selfishness, anger, impatience . . . Now, I have to watch it. It’s coming out as I want to have my way. I don’t know if it was the perfectionist in me, or my desire to have my own way.

But for example, when I want to do something with our kids and Eduardo has to decide whether he has to work on the sermon for Sunday (he’s not finished, we can’t go, or whatever), I’m very good at making a point, putting pressure, trying to get things the way I think they should be, because I think it’s the best way to do it.

And God really surprised me, because I did what Dannah just said: I closed my mouth. (I think that’s a very wise thing to do many times, close my mouth!) But that time I wanted to bring pressure again, because I wanted to do something and go somewhere. But I said, “No, I’m going to be quiet.” And you know what? There was this confidence.

It was not just, “Shut your mouth,” and inside I was fighting it. No, it was close my mouth, “Lord, I’m going to trust You with this. I’m going to completely leave this to You and Your final decision. I‘m going to say the right thing, because I will trust that You will guide us in the right way.”

And I did it. I said, “You know, Eduardo, I think what you decide is best. What you’re doing is more important, really, than all the things I want to do.” I just left it there. I was like Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, be quiet, and I’ll be God”—that’s my translation.

And really, God surprised me, because at the end Eduardo surprised me and said, “Okay, let’s do it!” It was the way I wanted it to happen. But I could see what was rising inside of me, and I was able to put my trust in God.

That will not always happen that way because, you know, I am still Patricia. I am still the way God made me; I will always struggle. But God really showed me, “This is the best way! Just trust Me, trust Me.” And, in a way, love Him, love others.

Because what happens, I go back to love. Love God and love your neighbor. When what I want to do, what I’m trying to accomplish, my performance, it makes me not love God or my neighbor. I’m ignoring or hurting or being angry or impatient and full of stress and putting a lot of stress on others, because we want to do things the way we want. That is an alarm that our perfectionist is rising up.

Dannah: You know, Patricia, you’re stirring something in my heart, a conviction, as you talk about trusting God. Amy, I want to ask you this question: is it possible that a root of perfection is unbelief? That we are not trusting God when we are rising up to make everything around us go exactly as we think it needs to go? Are we at the root struggling with unbelief?

Dr. Amy: Oh, Dannah, I think that is very perceptive, because one of the reasons that I need to control things and I need to make everything around me just the way I think it ought to be is because I don’t have confidence that God is going to do good. 

Then it lands on my shoulders that I’ve got to make sure that we’re staying on budget, I’ve got to make sure that the kids are going to do what’s right so that they don’t get in trouble, because if they get in trouble, then their lives might be horrible, and I can’t have that for my kids! I’ve got to make sure that I do all these things right to satisfy my employer because, if I don’t, then I might lose my job, and God certainly couldn’t make good come out of that! 

I look at my life and I say, “Here’s what I decide is going to be good! This, this, this and this.” And then, I have to come up with my plan for how am I going to make all that turn out?

There’s nothing wrong with having plans. I don’t think any of us want to say there’s anything wrong with having plans or pursuing goals; those are good things. But the problem is the heart that’s driving me to do it. What happens if God wants to do something bigger in my life?

So here I am, trying to work my hardest so that I don’t lose my job and my employer is satisfied with me. What happens if God says, “I have a different way for you to show My glory and My fame, and we’re going to do that by allowing you to lose your job.”

Dannah: Wow.

Dr. Amy: And I act like, “That could never be good, and God couldn’t be working anything good out in it!” And so it is, I think, exactly what you said. It’s unbelief that God really wants what is best for me; that He is good and that He does only good. So, I have to actively work at that!

Dannah: Yes, me too! 

Well, my friends, maybe you need to actively work at it, too. God might be doing something big in your life, or He might be doing something small. For me, it’s a little small: I’ve got a turkey to go clean up. But I’m going to do it, pressing into my faith, and my belief that God’s going to use even something simple like that.

Nancy: Oh, Dannah! I love how real you and our other friends were in that conversation. I love just the reminder that when we trust the Lord, when we believe Him, He is faithful, and He is going to work in the big and the small parts of lives. 

Dannah was joined over these last few minutes by Amy Baker, Erin Davis, and Patricia Saladin talking about how our beliefs about God’s love directly impact our actions. They’ve given us some practical ways that we can change the mindset behind our striving for perfection.

I hope this discussion is giving you some insight into the roots of perfectionism and that you’ll stop and say, “Lord, what is it You want to do in my life in this area?”

Dannah: Nancy, that conversation truly gave me insights into roots of perfectionism in my life I didn’t even really know were there, and I’m still learning from that conversation weeks after we recorded it!

Friend, if you’ve been stirred or even convicted by this conversation today, you can read more in Amy Baker’s book Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up. It’s available in our Resource Center at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Nancy: I hope you’ll take time to order a copy of that book and to read it, and ask the Lord to continue speaking to you in this area of perfectionism, as He is speaking to me. I want to say how thankful I am that each weekday we’re able to offer our listeners content like the conversation you heard with these other women, talking about vital issues, issues of our hearts.

We’re able to do that because faithful friends donate each day to support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. If this ministry has been a blessing to you or to others in your life, would you consider making a donation today? You can do that by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Dannah: Thank you so much for supporting this beautiful ministry! Tomorrow, we’re going to wrap up this series with a conversation about perfectionism in parenting. Even if you’re not a parent, I think you’ll find this discussion really helpful and encouraging! Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you see your work as an opportunity to serve. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teachers

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many books and Bible studies including: 7 Feasts, Connected, Beautiful Encounters, and the My Name Is Erin series. She serves on the ministry team of Revive Our Hearts. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.

Amy Baker

Amy Baker

Dr. Baker serves as the Resource Director for Faith Church Ministry in Lafayette, IN. She is the author or co-author of over a dozen books and booklets. Dr. Baker is an ACBC certified biblical counselor; an instructor and counselor at Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries, and a Council Board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. Amy and her husband, Jeff, have two children.

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

Patricia Saladin

Patricia Saladin

Patricia serves as the Women's Ministry Director at her church and is passionate about bringing the message of biblical womanhood to Spanish-speaking women. Her longing is to see them know and embrace the truth that makes them free in Christ. She is also the voice of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Aviva Nuestros Corazones. Patricia is married to Eduardo Saladín, Pastor of Iglesia Biblica del Señor Jesucristo (Biblical Church of the Lord Jesus Christ) in Santo Domingo, DR, where they reside. They have three grown children and God has given them six beautiful grandchildren.