Progress, Not Perfection

angry_teacherHe was a powerhouse of a child, filled with energy, brains, and confidence: a little too much for his second grade self to handle at times. One morning he stepped on my last nerve. And I lost my temper.

It was more than unprofessional. It was damaging. Imagine being seven years old and having your teacher unleash her wrath on you. We were both shaken after the brief exchange.

I couldn’t let him leave for the day without trying to make amends. I found a moment to speak with him alone. “I’m so sorry,” I told him with tears in my eyes. “I was wrong for losing my temper. I was wrong to make you feel unloved. You are important to me, and so very important to God. Will you forgive me?”

He impulsively threw his arms around me, totally sympathetic to my struggle. “It’s alright, Mrs. Coleman,” he assured me. “I was being bad. You are supposed to straighten me out when that happens.”

It was the start of a beautiful friendship. Knowing his teacher didn’t pretend to be perfect and readily admitted her failures opened the heart of that precocious little boy.

If you are like me, your standard for how you live in front of others may be nothing less than perfection. Not an especially realistic expectation. But don’t despair, because in reality, it’s not perfection, but the demonstration of our spiritual progress that touches hearts. Paul’s first letter to Timothy emphasizes this idea. “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather show yourself an example of those who believe,” he told Timothy. “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.”

Paul wanted Timothy to be an example to the church at Ephesus. His greatest inspiration would not come through perfection, but through evidence of God at work, transforming Timothy into the image of Christ. His effective example would come in openly working to apply his faith to every area of his life, including learning from failures and in his humble dependence on God.

Not the pretty picture we would imagine an example should be! Transformation can be a messy business. But transparency through the process would best serve to encourage and instruct the body of Christ.

Years ago I heard of a Bible college president who urged his young preachers in training to keep themselves one step aloof from those in their congregation. Don’t let them see your faults, he warned them. In order for you to be an effective leader, you need to stay on a pedestal.

I was stunned, for this idea couldn’t be less biblical! The apostles themselves were very open about their weaknesses. Paul named himself the chief of sinners. Yet the Chief of Sinners led hundreds to the Lord and his writings are still being powerfully used in the lives of believers today. Peter’s impulsiveness and infamous denial are laid out for all to see in the gospels. But God used him to exhort and lead believers and to build His Church. Our testimony is not in appearing perfect. Our most effective witness is in the demonstration of our progress.

God reveals Himself through us as He moves us forward in our relationship with Him. Being candid in the struggle gives those around us an opportunity to watch God’s transforming power in action. It gives hope that they, too, can be used by God, even with their own imperfections.

Stop feeling pressure to be perfect. Embrace what you can learn and ultimately teach others in response to your failures. It’s the perfect opportunity to reveal a God who is alive and active in you.

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 

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About juliecoleman

Julie Coleman is an author, teacher, and speaker, focusing on Biblical study and women's ministries. Besides speaking at women's retreats and conferences, Julie has written two books - Unexpected Love and 15 Minutes a Day in Colossians.

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