Three Taverns Church

Christian Performance Anxiety


Matthew 25:20-21: “The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

I wonder if God knew what He was starting when He gave us these two verses: Generations of Christians consumed with performance anxiety, trying to please their heavenly Father.

Maybe it’s just me, but when I read this parable I want to be the servant receiving praise more than just about anything else in the world. Now that I think about it, I’ve heard motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and other folks say the same thing. We, His disciples, want to use our time, talent, and treasure for the glory of God, and we want to be praised for it.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong or self-serving about desiring praise from God; Jesus explicitly says in several places that we will be rewarded in heaven for surrendering our wealth on earth. I doubt He would have admonished us in this way if we were not to want a reward from our Father. The problem for me (and for many of you too, I imagine) is not wanting a reward, but wanting God’s approval. The difference is subtle, but profound. Consider the differences in your emotional reactions as you read the following two stories:

  • A first-century man from Jerusalem hears about a radical Rabbi teaching in the countryside, and one day he decides to travel several miles to listen to this Teacher speak. The Teacher tells a story about placing trust in God rather than worldly wealth. The man is quite moved by the story and makes a sizable donation to feed the poor. As the man turns to begin his journey home, somewhat bewildered by his own generosity, someone behind him places their hand on his shoulder. He turns around; it is the Teacher, who reassures him that today he has stored up great treasure in heaven.
  • Another first-century man, this one from Bethlehem, has become a disciple of the same holy man from Nazareth. The holy man is different from any other Rabbi he has ever known; he speaks with authority and performs many miracles. Something inside the man from Bethlehem compelled him to give up his life as a shepherd and follow this Rabbi around the countryside. One day the Rabbi sends this man out, along with seventy-one other disciples, to heal the sick and tell of the coming kingdom of God. After the journey is complete the Rabbi speaks to the man from Bethlehem to learn about his trip; the former shepherd gives an honest, humble story about his trials and successes. When he finishes the Rabbi looks him in the eye and says, “Well done.”

I don’t know about you, but my reaction to these two stories is very different. To the first story I hear my heart say, “Oh, that’s nice. I’m glad I’ve stored up treasure in heaven…though I’m thankful just to go.”

To the second story my heart cries out, “Yes! That is what I want more than all the treasure in heaven or on earth!” I honestly don’t know if that is a healthy reaction or not. I am concerned about the danger of my heart-desire for God turning into an attitude that I must work for God’s approval. I worry that in reading Matthew 25:20-21 I, and many others, see ‘proof’ that we must work for God’s approval. Perhaps that is correct, but to me it feels performance-driven; it feels like perfectionism masked as piety. And it reminds me that when Jesus was baptized, before He had accomplished any part of Hministry, our Father was pleased with His Son.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

10 thoughts on “Christian Performance Anxiety

  1. I think we struggle with getting…understanding unmerited favor. I know I do. I this is at the core of “getting” it. Of even coming close to comprehending God’s love.

    If we love like God we earn praise in heaven. If we surrender all…

  2. You wrote, “We, His disciples, want to use our time, talent and treasure for the glory of God, and we want to be praised for it.”.

    Because God has shown HIS LOVE so profoundly to me FIRST, I am COMPELLED BY HIS LOVE to respond by using my time, talent and treasure for the Glory of GOD, with no desire for praise for myself. ALL the Glory and praise is HIS. I have responded with obedience and generosity out of gratitude for the Love that God has shown me FIRST! Even my love and generosity are actually HIS LOVE AND GENEROSITY flowing THROUGH me to others.

    I am not In need (seeking) of praise or approval from God because I know that He ALREADY approves of me and He has already said to me, “well done, good and faithful servant.”. HE LOVES ME!!!! He loved me before the world’s were made! He loves me! He adopted me and claimed me as His own child! And He thinks the same of each one of us!!
    Seek HIM and you will find ALL that you need! To GOD BE ALL THE GLORY!

    • Hi Ian, thanks for the comment; I have a few responses.
      First, it sounds like you disagree with me that Jesus’ assurances that we will be rewarded in heaven confirm that it’s OK for us to want that reward. Is that correct? If so, I’m confused…why would Jesus ‘dangle a carrot’ in front of us if we are not supposed to want the carrot?
      Second, and please don’t take offense at this, but your response seems a bit cliche. I’ve read things like this before (in fact my personal journal has an entry that reads very much like your response) but that was months ago…so I want to urge you to continue digging and see if you can come up with something a bit further below the surface.
      Third and finally, I need you to help me understand something (I’m not necessarily disagreeing): If God has already said to me “well done”, why would Jesus have told the parable in the first place, and why does the parable have a definite contrast between those who work for the master, and the lazy servant who does no work? It seems to me that the parable is not making a blanket statement about a ‘welfare state’ of God’s love where everyone gets a pat on the back for doing nothing…seems a bit more of a “there’s no free lunch” kind of story…
      Again, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the post!

  3. Just a quick reply:
    1. I agree with you that God surely wants us to receive rewards on earth AND in Heaven! Regarding your illustration of God “dangling a carrot” in front of us as our reward: my question to you is: what or who is the carrot that you chase after? Are we chasing after God’s gifts or after the Giver of gifts, God Himself? Are we trying to get God’s attention and approval because we need to earn it through the things we do?

    2. Regarding “a bit cliche”: I guess the words themselves might seem “overused” by Christians but how does a person explain in mere words the Truth behind these words that I am using to express myself? God’s unconditional Love is overwhelming!! I think that something is considered cliche when it is overused and has lost it’s impact on the listener. I’m sorry you feel that way. Even the Word of God can seem cliche to some.

    Revelation 4:8-11 describes the praises and worship of God in Heaven. “DAY AND NIGHT THEY DO NOT STOP EXCLAIMING: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come’. Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks…the twenty-four elders fall down before (God). They throw down their crowns before the thrown, exclaiming: ‘Worthy are you, Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power….”

    I am happy for you, RM, that you were able to experience and journal a time of elation with God. Are you saying that since you experienced and expressed in writing similar thoughts/feelings months ago, that that is something to move on from? Kinda like, “oh, yeah, been there, done that, bought the tee shirt…?” I challenge you to look beyond my “mere words” on the page and revisit and plumb the depths of the Ocean of Love that enthralled you and caused that similar journaling months ago.

    I will respond to #3 a little later. Gotta run!

    • I think your #1 is exactly the question my original post was asking, so it sounds like we are asking the same question and are on the same page. My fear is that it’s a fine line between chasing gifts and chasing the Giver.
      I also understand your #2 point…the biblical authors tried so hard to convey the Truth they were shown, and you’ve got to believe how frustrated they must’ve been. I’ll bet there were folks who thought Paul was ‘cliche’. Your counter-challenge to me has been heard and received…and I will be posting something today as a response.
      You have great comments and insight, thanks for stopping by!

  4. Pingback: The Day God Changed My Life « rabidmongoose

  5. Why do we Love God? I am reminded of 1 John 4:19 which says, “We love because He first loved us.” C.H. Spurgeon has a great sermon on this subject. A short and easy to understand excerpt can be found at, or you can google “because he first loved us+Spurgeon”. The following is a short sampling:

    “We love him because he first loved. us.” –1 John 4:19

    “There is no light in the planet but that which proceeds from the sun; and there is no true love to Jesus in the heart but that which comes from the Lord Jesus himself.

    “From this overflowing fountain of the infinite love of God, all our love to God must spring. This must ever be a great and certain truth, that we love him for no other reason than because he first loved us. Our love to him is ‘the fair offspring’ of his love to us….

    “Love is an exotic—it is not a plant which will flourish naturally in human soil, it must be watered from above….

    “As love comes from heaven, so it must feed on heavenly bread. It cannot exist in the wilderness unless it be fed by manna from on high…”

    Is God’s Love of you enough reward? What are our heavenly rewards? More than we can ever hope for or imagine. Perhaps they are all contained within God’s Love for us—the Love with which he already loves us.

    • Thank you for sharing that sample! I hope God’s Love of me is enough reward, but again I think that’s what I’m struggling with in the post: the idea that seems to be presented in the parable of the talents, that I should somehow want to earn the praise of my master.

  6. Reply to #3: above
    You asked, “If God has already said to me, “well done”, why would Jesus have told the parable in the first place?” You also asked, “Why does the parable have a definite contrast between those who work for the master, and the lazy servant who does no work?” Two good questions.

    Addressing the “well done” issue: As you mentioned in your initial post, God the Father spoke His words, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” before Jesus had begun His public ministry. His Heavenly Father was affirming Him. Jesus had already been obedient to His Heavenly Father in his private life up to that point as well.

    As I reread the Matt. 25 text that you refer to I see that this parable is linked to Jesus’ admonition to His disciples to “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matt.25:13) He is telling them to be prepared for the final accounting, the “final judgment” of their lives when Jesus comes back to the Earth from Heaven. And, of course, we definitely want God to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your Lord” at the final judgment! God is saying this to us every day, but do we have ears to hear it? This good and faithful servants were continually good and faithful so that they were always profitting for their master.

    Continuing—addressing your question “Why does the parable have a definite contrast between those who work for the master, and the lazy servant who does not work?”

    We are to spend our time on Earth doing the will of God to our best ability, day in and day out. To do this we must be “good and faithful servants”. The first two servants were called good and faithful BECAUSE THEY LOVED THEIR MASTER AND WANTED TO DO THEIR BEST FOR HIM. It was their love for their master that motivated them. The story does not say anything about the master telling the servants that they would get any reward for doing what he told them to do. Their reward was the master’s affirming words, more responsiblity (and influence) to fulfill the master’s will and desires, and to “enter into the joy of your lord.” These servants were interested in their lord’s interests. He was their LORD their provider of all things. They loved him. He was their everything.

    The third sevant was a wicked and lazy servant. He did not love his master. He feared his master. As 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” This servant did not even know his master, just as many do not really know God’s character. This servant said, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.” This servant was not serving his master. He was looking out for his own neck. This servant was afraid because the way he “knew” his master was an incorrect. HE WAS ACTING OUT OF FEAR OF THE MASTER, FEAR FOR HIS OWN LIFE, NOT OUT OF LOVE FOR HIS MASTER.

    This parable is a lesson of contrast. The contrast is between the servants whose actions are motivated by love of the master, versus the servant whose actions are motivated by fear of the master. The two profitable servants are so because their wills and desires are lined up with their master’s will and desires. The unprofitable servant’s will and desire is not lined up with the master’s will and desires. He is thinking of himself only. He is tormented by his own fear. He is not “good and faithful”. He is wicked and lazy as described in Matt. 25:48-49. And the master “will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.”—Matt. 25:51.(A word of warning to the hypocrites in the crowd!)

    Didn’t mean to be so lengthy. It is a rich parable, full of messages. I see MOTIVATION for our performance as key. If this passage is about earning rewards, why would the master give both servants the exact same reward? Much to consider. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  7. Ian, I think Francis Chan spoke at length, as well, about the last paragraph of your last post: the MOTIVATION for our performance. In “Crazy Love”, he talks about the need to ask for forgiveness, not just for the bad things we’ve done, but also for the good things that we do for the wrong reasons or with less-than-pure intentions. Ultimately, I think that what you and RM are getting at (and something that I struggle with) is that if we allow God to change our hearts, and if we begin to truly understand the depth of His love for us, we will seek to do the things that bring Him glory. And we will do it simply because that is what we were created to do. No other agendas, motivations, or intentions. Just pure love for the Creator and Giver of all things.

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