As I drove this morning I heard a story on the radio about the playwright, thespian and composer, Noël Coward. He had taken his good friend, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, then Queen and now fondly remembered as the Queen Mother, to the theatre to see his play, Blithe Spirit.
That night, the play was not performed as he had envisioned it. Embarrassed that his friend wasn’t seeing it at its best, he took matters into his own hands; after act one he demanded the lead role step down and replaced him with himself.
I’m sure the second act benefited from having Noël in that role, but what about the poor actor who was unceremoniously replaced? I wonder if it affected his future performance? If every time he got up he remembered that he’d been judged as not good enough?
God or Noël Coward?
Sometimes in life we can expect God to be a little bit like Noël Coward; as though He is up there watching us mess up our lines, and fall short of His perfect plan for us, ready to come and tell us our services are no longer required.
He is, after all, the ultimate creative. He called everything into being, knitted us together in our mother’s womb, and planned good things for us even before we were born. How can we ever make our performance good enough that He’ll not get fed up and pull the plug?
If we are not careful we can find that we project our own frustrations with ourselves onto God and end up with an image of Him that’s nothing like the truth. He isn’t counting our screw ups and missteps, making a celestial tally chart of our fluffed lines and missed cues, waiting for the moment He finally gets to give us the boot.
A lesson in character
There’s a beautiful passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church that describes love. It describes the love we should have for each other, but it’s reference point is the love that God has for us.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
When we miss our cue? When we fluff our lines? When we try so hard, so sincerely, and yet still don’t seem to get things right? God is patient and kind, and He keeps no records of wrongs.
What if we replaced the word ‘love’ in that passage with ‘God’? It’s using His love as the guide, and we know that He is love; so I honestly don’t believe we’d be incorrect to say:
God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. He does not dishonour others, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
There is no way the God we so describe would be waiting for us to screw up just one more time, waiting for an excuse to give up on us. He’s watching our lives with love. Seeing the good. Applauding not because we have been perfect but because we’re His children. He is our biggest supporter and our biggest fan.
Eliminate performance anxiety by faith in a better performer…
I wonder, if Noël Coward had went backstage during the intermission and encouraged the lead, given Him some help and built him up, how much better would the second act have been? That’s what God does. Instead of recording our mistakes to use as evidence to dismiss us, He’s encouraging us and showing a better way.
If you’re in a place where you’re waiting for the anger of God at your performance in life, can I suggest instead that you lean towards Him and listen out for the love, support and encouragement? That you put your faith in what Christ has done, not what you’re trying to do.
That’s the wonder of salvation, that in exchange for our mistakes and failings, we receive the perfection of Jesus Christ. Through faith, we have His righteousness imputed to us. When we fall into the trap of measuring ourselves based on our performance, we need to remember that is no longer how life works.
There’s no need for performance anxiety with God, because He’s not judging us on our performance, He’s judging us on Christ’s.