By Mike Leake
Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges was one of the most life-changing books I’ve read. Paragraphs like this one brought me so much freedom:
“Living by grace instead of by works means you are free from the performance treadmill. It means God has already given you an “A” when you deserved an “F.” He has already given you a full day’s pay even though you may have worked for only one hour. It means you don’t have to perform certain spiritual disciplines to earn God’s approval. Jesus Christ has already done that for you. You are loved and accepted by God through the merit of Jesus, and you are blessed by God through the merit of Jesus. Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or any less. He loves you strictly by His grace given to you through Jesus.” (Transforming Grace, 73)
I was about three years into my first youth ministry position when I hit rock bottom (or at least it was bottom for me at the time—I’d find myself going a bit deeper into the well of depression a bit later). My identity was attached to my performance. If someone wasn’t happy with me I was devastated. I couldn’t take criticism in any form. I was insecure and miserable. I couldn’t handle the weight of my own sin. And I was going through serious doubts. Reading through Transforming Grace helped me to hop off this performance treadmill.
During that season the Lord engrained a principle very deeply into my being. My identity is firmly fixed in Christ and it is not wrapped up in my performance. As Bunyan said so many years before, “my righteousness is in heaven and it’s not dependent upon my good frames or my bad frames”. My standing with the Father is already settled. My record is established. I am in union with Christ and all that He has is delivered to my account.
This truth was a balm for the soul of Mike the disciple. But somehow this truth wasn’t impacting Mike the pastor. I knew that my relationship with God was settled. I knew that he was pleased with me as his child. But somehow I still went through seasons were I felt like a failure as a pastor.
Henry Blackaby defined spiritual leadership as “moving people from where they are to where God wants them to be.” I don’t necessarily disagree with this definition, but it meant that I was failing as a spiritual leader. Or at least that was how I saw it in those dark nights of the soul. In all of this I maintained that my identity was not attached to my performance, but somehow my identity was becoming attached to their performance. And it was killing me.
The failure of those I had discipled became my failure. Business meetings which went south reflected upon me as the leader. When the church stagnated, when evangelism was lax, and when change wasn’t happening it meant that I was failing. I spiraled into a deep depression—or maybe crippling anxiety is the better term.
Then Jesus caught me.
That lesson I had learned so many years before broke through again. Not only is my identity not attached to my performance it’s also not attached to their performance. I didn’t have to try to control my environment anymore. I just had to be faithful in loving Jesus through loving people and proclaiming truth. I am not in charge of how you respond. This has been an incredibly freeing truth for me.
I am hidden in Christ.
This is true not just as a disciple, but also as a pastor.
I’m simply an under-shepherd who is tasked with faithfully delivering the message of the Chief Shepherd. Period. I can’t shake people into responding correctly. Nor take credit when they respond rightly. It’s his church. Not mine. And that frees me to love and rest and stand in awe of His concern for His Bride.
My identity is fixed in Christ. My performance and their performance can never change that.
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Mike Leake serves as an associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Jasper, Indiana, and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Nikki, have two young children. Mike’s writing home is mikeleake.net. Mike is also the author of Torn to Heal: God’s Good Purpose in Suffering.