Have you ever watched a character in a milk commercial drink from a carton? The character lifts the milk to his lips, and the carton appears virtually weightless. After the character takes his drink, you wait for the swallow, but it never comes. The character offers an indulgent smile, yet there is not a drop of milk on his lips. Commercials try to creatively make the carton appear full, yet there is nothing in it. The effort used to put on this charade begs the question, “Why not just drink from a carton that is full?”
The sad truth is that we Christians do the same thing in our walks of faith. We tend to embrace the performance of our faith rather than embrace the Maker of our faith. We are diligent about managing our ministries, serving others and gaining biblical knowledge, yet we slack on knowing our God more intimately. We don’t do it on purpose. Our intentions are never to take our focus off of God and place it on our performance for God, but we do. We are so busy serving Him that we don’t have time to spend with Him. We fall into the performance-based spirituality, and our relationship with God takes a back seat.
Performance-based spirituality is one of the main plugs stopping the flow of the Holy Spirit. We forget that God is infinitely creative and has a plethora of resources at His disposal. We can never assume that we know how our steps of obedience are going to play out: “A man’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?” (Proverbs 20.24 NIV). Yet, without consulting God we get a spiritual performance (ministry, service, tradition, etc.) in our mind, and we work hard to achieve it – even if it costs us our time with God.
In this culture today we are very busy, and we complain to God that there isn’t enough time to spend with Him. However, our time is God’s number one desire. If we don’t give God our time, how are we expected to cultivate a relationship with Him? God would never ask us to serve Him in a way that prevented us from spending time with Him. In the book of Mark, a religious leader asked Jesus which commandment was the most important, and Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (12.30). If loving God is the highest commandment, why would God put us in a circumstance that conflicts with spending time with Him?
Today we have so many choices which force us to daily make hundreds of decisions. What should we watch, read, eat and wear? What ministry should we support? What online social network should we join? What ideology (way of thinking) should we commit to? What social cause should we embrace? What life purpose should we focus on? If we are not carefully walking in the Spirit, we’re going to be overwhelmed with choices and begin to second guess ourselves. We will become bogged down in a swamp of choice, and our purpose of reaching our full potential in Christ will be jeopardized.
There are thousands of great ministries, media venues, compassion campaigns and people doing a good work for God’s kingdom. However, if our spiritual walks are performance-based, we may find ourselves lost in a market full of good work vendors and no guide to lead us in the right direction. These vendors line our path and call out our names, trying to persuade us that their good work is an absolute must for our walk of faith. There is nothing wrong with these good works, but the Holy Spirit has to daily show us which ones we should carry and which ones we should let go. If we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct us, we’ll carry the same good works forever and pile on more until our views become blocked and our arms become heavy.
Moreover, if all of our time and energy is spent on spiritual-based performance and not on God, those good works become idols. God specifically says that He hates it when we cling to idols instead of trusting Him (Psalm 31.6 NIV). When we desire a relationship with God and strive to know Him more, our good works will be an outflow of the Holy Spirit working in us. We won’t have to worry about doing the wrong good works or doing too many good works because God promises that if we put Him first, He’ll take care of everything: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33). Our purpose in life is to have an intimate relationship with our Creator; everything else is merely the icing on the cake!
If you are feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin, take a few moments to have an honest discourse with God. Ask Him if there are any areas of your life that you have been “drinking from an empty carton.” He will show you. Give those areas over to God and let go of your idea of what your spiritual walk should look like. Choose to put knowing God intimately as your highest priority, and He will free you from performance-based spirituality. Make sure that in everything you do that the carton is filled with God’s spirit. In this way, you will ensure that you don’t waste your time and energy on an empty performance that leaves you feeling unfilled, tired and malnourished.