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Breaking Free from the Performance Trap

When we get caught up in doing many things for God, we can easily slip into the mindset that our worth comes from how well we perform. If we stay in this trap, we will become exhausted as we fight against the reality that we cannot do everything in our strength. 

 

We cannot escape this trap alone; we need someone to help us. And the longer we stay there, the more disabled we become in our efforts to further God’s Kingdom. This trap is called the “performance trap.”

 

What Is the Performance Trap?

The performance trap poses a dangerous threat to believers. It threatens to isolate us from others, take the joy out of serving in ministry, and trick us into thinking we can do everything independent of God’s power. The performance trap says things like this:

 

  • I am the sum of what I do, so I should do as much as possible.
  • The more gifted and relevant I am, the more worth I have. 
  • I need to achieve and succeed to feel loved and accepted. 
  • What I do determines the value I have.
  • Only I can make this thing work.

 

The same measure you use to determine your worth will be the measure by which you lose your worth. If you use your performance to measure your worth, when you make a mistake, get overlooked, or fail to meet someone’s expectations, you will feel like you have lost relevance. This mindset can create devastating consequences.

 

The Consequences of the Performance Trap

In 2 Samuel 16, we see an example of a leader who fell into the performance trap. Ahithophel was King David’s right-hand advisor. When he gave wisdom, everyone listened. 2 Samuel 16:23 tells us that when he spoke, it “was as if one had inquired at the oracle of God.” 

 

Ahithophel had a performance problem. He was full of wisdom, but he determined his worth by the gift that he had, the ministry he had, and the service he provided. He fell into the performance trap.

 

If you build your sense of self-worth on your ability to perform, then when your performance is no longer needed, you will have a sense of a loss of self-worth. When Ahithophel learned that Absalom took another man’s advice over his, he was devastated. Suddenly, he lost his relevance. He built his sense of self-worth on his ability to perform. But when his talent was overlooked, he experienced a loss of self-worth. 

 

Ahithophel was caught in a trap, and he couldn’t get out. He ultimately took his life because he ceased to be relevant, so he saw no value in his life. He thought his value came from his gift. He felt he wasn’t worthy when his advice was not received.

 

Symptoms of the Performance Trap

There is a lie in ministry that says that if you serve more, God will love you more. Symptoms of believing this lie include…

 

  • Believing that ministry is a means to be accepted by God.
  • Thinking that faith is about relying on our performance rather than resting on God’s promises.
  • Making our services, gifts, and ministry the root of our identity.
  • Doing things for God instead of being with God. 
  • Striving to do more because you are desperate for God to give you something.

 

We can make our giftedness the reason for our existence and think that God is most pleased with us when we perform well. The fallout of that performance trap can be devastating. 

 

When you are being used, it can be exhilarating. When your advice is being taken, it’s validating. However, if your identity is rooted in what you do, you will feel irrelevant when you get overlooked, step down, or retire. When you stop feeling relevant, you will feel a ceasing of your worth.

To avoid this trap, we must know and believe the truth that leaders are defined by Who they belong to, not what they do.

Two men praying in church together.

Overcoming the Performance Trap

We must repent from the ideology that we have to earn God’s love. His love is a gift. When we are prone to think that we must perform and work hard, we should focus on finding pleasure in the fact that we get to partner with God in the work of the ministry. Scripture does not fail to remind us of where we would be without God’s grace and mercy. 

 

  • “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”—Hebrews 11:6

 

  • “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”—1 Corinthians 15:10

 

  • “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”—Galatians 2:20

 

  • “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”—Romans 5:1-2

 

What makes you significant is that you know Jesus. We don’t have to perform for God. Jesus defines us, and His sacrifice on the cross allows us to serve from a place of acceptance. We can close the performance trap when we operate from this mindset.

 

Takeaway

In what areas of your life are you caught in the performance trap? Your worth comes from your identity in Jesus, not from what you do. There’s a trap that’s been set for all of us. The invitation is to choose to walk away from the performance trap. Ask the Holy Spirit to close the trap so you can stop striving and rest on God’s promises. 

 

Looking for more leadership principles to apply in work, ministry, and relationships? Watch the messages and breakout sessions from our 2024 Leadership Summit to learn timeless leadership principles from the life of David.