Walking in Excellence, Not Perfectionism

This is a guest post by Jessica Ellertson. She is a 25-year-old seminary student getting her Master of Divinity degree with hopes of continuing on in doctoral studies. You can find Jessica on Facebook and TwitterIf you want to guest post on this blog, check out our guest post guidelines.

Several weeks ago, I was speaking with an older lady at my church that I am getting to know a little bit better. I was detailing all the things I have been up to and she casually asked how I handled it all. Before I could give it another thought I said, "I try to remember to walk in excellence, not perfectionism." I know without a doubt that this thought was straight from the Lord and as I began to ponder it, I really began to like it! Because this has become a new life motto of sorts, I wanted to make sure that I really understood the difference between excellence and perfectionism.

Excellence is defined as having a quality of being outstanding. I would elaborate that excellence is doing what the Lord has called you to do with wisdom and vigor. It is embracing and walking in the plan that the Lord has laid out for your life. There is so much Scripture on excellence, but my mind always goes to Philippians 4:3 which says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Here, Paul is telling the Philippians to think of things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Obviously, excellence was important to think about!

While Scripture likewise affirms perfection, it is always perfection founded in Christ. Matthew 5:46 says,” You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfectionism, on the other hand, is a dangerous road because it is a refusal to accept anything other than perfection based on our own strength. In my own life, I have noted that I begin to act as a perfectionist when I am operating in disbelief, fear or worry. Perfectionism often results from a desire to control the tiny details because something else big in our lives is going wrong and we want to feel like we have control over something. Often the plan God has for our lives seems so big that we don’t understand how it could possibly work other than if we do everything exactly perfect. It becomes all about us and what we can do, instead of what God is doing in our lives.

In a world where there are many who face impossible standards and there is absolutely no room for error, walking the fine line between excellence and perfectionism can understandably be quite difficult. Scripture has so much to tell us about this topic, but the crux of the matter is determining who is at the center of our world. Is it ourselves or is it Jesus?

As I have begun to flesh out what it means to walk in excellence, I have come up with these questions to examine my motives on a daily basis.

  1. Is what I am doing ultimately bringing glory to God and not myself?
  2. Is what I am doing in line with God’s plan for my life?
  3. Am I finding balance between work and rest? Am I spending time with the Lord?
  4. Am I trying to take control of things that are really in God's hands?

This is really just the beginning of this discussion. A simple Google search will reveal articles upon articles written about excellence, perfection and perfectionism. Often the discussion will revolve around the various and possibly overlapping definitions of the words, but miss the main point, in my opinion. The Great Commission calls us to a work and Scripture repeatedly tells us that God has laid out good works for us to do. The reality is that we are called to action, but we must always remember that the work is never about us and is ALWAYS about bringing glory to Him.

Do you wrestle with perfectionism?