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Better than Doing Your Best,
I recently attended a fireside, where the speaker's topic was the Savior's "Sermon on the Mount." After presenting many insightful and uplifting ideas, the speaker elaborated upon the very last verse of Matthew chapter 5, which reads:
"Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
The speaker suggested that this single verse has caused more stress among Bible believers than any other; and in an attempt to relieve that stress, he gave the fireside audience a quick fix—he applied the old "lower your expectations" trick. Curiously, he suggested that what Jesus really meant by His perfection admonition was: "Do Your Best."
After the meeting, I approached the speaker and said, "If Jesus actually meant do your best, He could have communicated that idea directly, but he didn't, . . . He said, "be ye therefore perfect." The speaker was not moved, he insisted that "do your best" was the basic idea behind Christ's admonition to perfection.
For me, it was as if the Law of Tithing just got discounted down to 7 percent! It reminded me of the dubious ending to a romantic tale, where two dreamy-eyed lovers sail off into the sunset with this sour tag: "And they lowered their expectations, and lived happily ever after."
Obviously, if trying to "be perfect" brings stress, such a stress-inducing conception of perfection cannot be what Jesus meant; for following the admonitions of Christ will always lead to peace and contentment, when correctly understood and applied.
Let me explain why "doing your best" . . . is not good enough, and that being "perfect" is precisely what Christ meant.
The Two-Fold Nature of Being Human
To enjoy no-stress, peace-filled perfection, we must understand the two-fold nature of being human:
Our mortal existence is manifest as both "body" and "being" simultaneously. Being human means being physically embodied, AND through the mobilization of our Body, we express the emotional tone and intention of our Being. Here's an important idea to grasp:
The outward actions of the Body, compared to the inward
Body. Bodily efforts of human doings are constrained by the gravity of physical limits: Bodies can only jump so high and run so fast. Therefore, in efforts of physical performance, efforts of human doings, all you can ever do IS . . . "Do Your Best."
Being. In contrast, expressions of heart and soul enjoy what Victor Frankl calls "Inner Liberty," and as such, the heart is fully free to embrace . . . "Perfection" — as that immaculate standard is mediated by He who is Perfect.
Now before we all become "stressed out" by the seemingly unattainable Perfection Expectation, let's proceed one step at a time, line upon line; that is how Heavenly Father expects our perfection to unfold: You really only need to take the NEXT step . . . and learn the NEXT thing — it's that simple.
With a "one-step-at-a-time" approach to perfection, what seems . . . the impossible dream, is entirely do-able, and not just to the standard of "Best-doing" . . . but to the standard of "Yes-doing."
When correctly understood, the "be perfect" principle is a primary truth
When Christ invited,"be ye therefore perfect," he absolutely did not mean that we needed to achieve perfection in physical performances: Shooting the perfect jump shot, hitting the perfect 7 iron, bowling the perfect strike, sewing the perfect dress, playing the perfect piano piece, or running the perfect race. These physical performances have little to do . . . with the perfection that Christ invites us to.
The Conception of Perfection in the Old Testament
Consider the way "perfect" is spoken of many centuries prior to Christ's Sermon on the Mount:
"Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day" (1 Kings 8:61).
"Asa's heart was perfect with the LORD all his days" (1 Kings 15:14).
"All these men of war . . . came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king over all Israel: and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king" (1 Chronicles 12:38).
"And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee" (1 Chronicles 28:9).
"Then the people rejoiced, . . . because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the LORD"
"And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the LORD, faithfully, and with a perfect heart" (2 Chronicles 19:9).
"I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. . . . I will walk within my house with a perfect heart" (Psalms 101:2).
"Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore"
Inner Liberty to have a Perfect Heart through Christ
Because the heart enjoys the freedom of Inner Liberty, thus the heart is free to be perfect through Divine intercession. Christ was persuading a perfection of inward motive and emotion, . . . as opposed to a perfection of outward performances (and the impossible perfection of outward environment).
Jesus was speaking of the perfection of our hearts
Christ's admonition to perfection actually has two fundamental meanings:
1 - Faithful followers of Christ have a "general" aim and conception of their future perfection:
2- Faithful followers of Christ have a "specific," in the moment, opportunity to obey
Latter-day Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, calls the first conception of perfection: Infinite, and the second he calls: Finite. It is Finite Perfection that is the focus of this article, and it is this "specific" conception of perfection that is both do-able and stress relieving.
As articulated in the Old Testament, perfection is not about achieving magnificence in physical performance. Perfection does not require a "Go for the Gold" grit of mental determination; this mental mindset is precisely where stress IS spawned, . . . for we mistakenly imagine that "perfection" is attained though our magnificent efforts—rather than in His redeeming miracle.
So instead of the push of mortal will power, perfection happens in precisely the opposite fashion:
Instead of determined will power and best-doing,
Finite Perfection unfolds throughout mortal life within the following parameters:
1) It occurs in particular moments in time, as we perfectly
2) It happens by yielding to His power, and not
3) It happens by being made clean and perfect
In matters of heart and soul, . . . Yoda had the right Idea: "Do or Do Not . . . there is no Try!" You see, when the Spirit whispers sweet suggestions to your heart, you can reply with a perfect "Yes" and a perfect "Do," . . . to whatever the Spirit invites you to — in the moment.
This is the standard that is better than best. It IS perfection without stress: the do-able, in the moment, meaning that Christ communicated on the mount — along with the Infinite Aim of Perfection that is not attainable in mortal life.
When Perfection is conceived in terms of Do-Able, In-The-Moment Opportunities that are accomplished with His Help, . . . then we realize that efforts of "trying" are just a way of saying "No." Again, "do or do not, there is no try." At the level of heart and soul, "Doing your Best" . . . is less than a pure and perfect "Yes." A wise and loving Father in Heaven speaks to His children in personally and practical ways. His inviting voice will whisper specific, do-able impressions — as opposed to speaking in abstract and general terms.
Here are the applicable parameters as revealed to the Apostle Paul:
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but
This scripture establishes that our loving Father adapts His Divine expectations of us TODAY to the level of our ability and knowledge TODAY. In other words, the Lord does not present situations to us, that are more than we can handle; and when challenging situations confront us, God will faithfully make "a way to escape" . . . that is, if we say "Yes" to His all-wise whisperings.
Through His Redeeming Grace, we can ascend to perfection in the NEXT thing — as we hear and heed his individualized guidance TODAY, . . . In The Moment!
On the other hand, we are also free to dig a pit for ourselves and jump in that dark ditch; we can place ourselves in overwhelming situations through our own foolish choosing — choices that resist the gentle invitations of Spirit. In such moments of resistance and rebellion, God gives this disclaimer:
"I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say,
Hence, Paul's promise of "a way to escape" is revoked . . . as we resist His inviting voice.
Best-Doing versus Yes-Doing
Now, if you're still thinking: God may speak to me and direct a course of action, but all I can ever do is "do my best." The truth is, when God extends a personal and unique invitation to you . . . TODAY, then best-doing is a bad attitude, and Yes-Doing is the immaculate standard that is perfectly possible!
Remember, Moses didn't "try" to free Israel from bondage — they were delivered! And Moses didn't "try his best" to part the Red Sea — the sea was parted. Moses was an instrument through which the Lord accomplished many perfect miracles.
Think about these words which were also spoken by Jesus on the mount:
"But let your communications be, yea, yea; nay, nay;
The meaning of these words are essentially parallel to Yoda's Star War wisdom:
"Do or Do Not . . . there is no Try."
Responses of "I'll try" and "Maybe" fall short of a definite "yea, yea" or "nay, nay." In every specific moment that the Spirit speaks to your heart, you have a clear choice to answer on either side of a solid decision: Yea Yea or Nay Nay — Yes or No!
Obeying whatever Almighty God whispers to your soul has never been a matter of "trying" . . . but always a matter of "Doing," or "Not Doing" — a truth reinforced by this scripture:
"And it came to pass that I said unto my father:
Did you get that: "he shall prepare a way" that you can "accomplish the thing which he commandeth." And when you do it as He directs, . . . you have landed upon Finite Perfection — not because you are good, but because He is good (although there is goodness in being His willing servant, and in this, He is well pleased).
Life is Lived Specifically:
Paranoia is perpetuated as we ponder the prospect of perfect physical performance in response to all of God's Laws, . . . generally. But you see, life is not lived generally, . . . it is lived specifically!
When an accounting of Life is done in the aggregate, over a span of time, . . . we will ever fall short of keeping all of God's commandments (Rom. 3: 23). Falling short will occur from time to time, but the glorious news is that we can return to "perfection" just as many times as we deviate. A "perfection" that is completely do-able, . . . a perfection done TODAY in the here and now, . . . in the moment, and not in the aggregate.
It is within the "general" conception of perfection
Trying to obey all of God's Laws in one moment IS a recipe for stress, and IS the pathetic pattern I call "Paranoid Perfection"— an approach to perfection that fails to focus on the NEXT thing and instead . . . looks "beyond the mark." Therefore, Paranoid Perfectionists are easily discouraged at the "general" thought of how far they are from God's Infinite Perfection.
The mindset of Paranoid Perfection harbors the mistaken expectation that mortal "will power" must propel us to the mountain top, instead of realizing that it is through "yield power" and our faithful focus upon taking the NEXT perfect step with His help, that brings about our miracle ascent to the mountain top.
This is the way perfection unfolds: Perfect obedience in particular moments, in response to the voice of the Law-Giver as he directs you . . . on the NEXT thing to do. It's a "living law," . . . a law written in the heart (Jeremiah 31: 33). And in those moments when the Spirit whispers to your heart, that whispering will be a particular directive that specifically applies to the challenges at hand.
God's Plan of Life is beyond brilliant: Our Father in Heaven has individualized his expectations to each one of his billion-plus children. Thus, every moment in Life—at the level of heart and soul—we have the opportunity to be perfect in obedience to the specific Spirit invitations that are adjusted to our present ability. And according to his perfect promise, He will "prepare a way" for us to accomplish whatever he whispers—whether that task is parting the Red Sea or building an Ark.
More than four millennia ago, God was guiding those with willing hearts and minds into paths of perfection: "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations and Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6: 9).
Noah did not "try" to build an ark . . . he did it! He built an ark! He said "Yes" to God's command to build the boat; thus, in this particular thing, . . . he was perfect. And one step at a time, line upon line, Noah humbly received and acted upon the NEXT invitation of the Spirit voice, and responded obediently with a perfect heart.
Similarly, our loving Lord gives us challenging, but concrete, ark-like projects that are entirely and perfectly do-able today!
Yielding my will to Him who "maketh my way perfect"
This is "Perfection without Stress" as we rely upon the Grand Architect to design our lives: No-Stress Perfection happens as we "yield" to His Will instead of trying to "build" a tower to Heaven through the puny power of mortal might. The principle of "yielding" is expressed in the following passage of scripture:
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam,
Is it any wonder so many people are stressed out by the standard of perfection, . . . because they have misunderstood Christ's meaning by mixing pure truth with the inadequate assumptions of humanism and cognitive psychology: "If it is to be, . . . it is up to me." Which is a statement that is only half right, . . . with the other half supplied by God's grace, mercy, and redemption.
It is amazing what TWO can do, . . . when ONE of them is God.
Finite Perfection is attained through our complete and perfect obedience as God prepares and inspires the way, . . . for us to obey. In 1000 B.C., King David knew the key to being perfect: "It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect" (Psalms 18: 32).
Moments of pure perfection are possible and even probable for those who experience yet another expression of Finite Perfection: Being made clean through the blood of Christ! A cleansing that occurs through our sincere repentance and faith in the Savior AND by His Redeeming Miracle. This means that perfection occurs within a covenant.
When Christ makes us clean, we are made perfect in that redeeming moment!
When the Savior proclaimed the seemingly unattainable standard, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5: 48), in addition to establishing the ultimate aim of Infinite Perfection, Christ was also communicating a second aspect to Finite Perfection:
"Repent and come unto me, that I should heal you;
Being "per-fect" in this life, "as at this day," moment to moment, is about being obedient with a perfect heart, and it is also about being healed of "de-fect"—being made clean from the stain of sin.
Perfection in this life is not about being magnificent, accomplished, and complex, but about being simple, obedient, and clean! When Christ purifies us, we are therefore vessels capable of complete obedience with a perfect heart—in each particular moment, line upon line, one step at a time.
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Here's another article I've written about the topic of Perfection, entitled:
NOTE: The correct conception of perfection through "yielding" is further explained and
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