He Will Complete It

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Are you ever going to finish that meek book, Abigail? Give birth already. It’s been six years since you started.

Kate was blunt. But she was not the first one to mention my unfinished book.

Not Complete

Do you have piles of unfinished projects? I do.

A glance at piles of notebooks with unfinished drafts reveals I start a lot of projects I do not complete. Which, in the writing world, need not be a bad thing. Those idea notebooks belong in Jeff Goins’ bucket #1. Many are best left there.

There are also piles of baggies of bugs on the top shelf in the pantry part of half-finished 4H entomology project—only half the insects are pinned. But since it was my son’s 4H project, I’ll only take half the blame.

But my biggest piles of unfinished are mounting bedside. They are pictured bove. I counted. Of the 25 books there, I’ve finished 11—in fact, I’m re-reading a few. Still, that means I’ve only completed 44%.

But I rest in these words from Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books—a book that I did in fact finish.

Often readers don’t stop reading because they don’t have “permission” to stop. You have permission. The only book you should read entirely is the Bible. All other books must prove their value along the way. Don’t allow unfinished books to pile up in a mountain of guilt.

Tony Reinke, Lit!, p. 115

Side note: You do have permission. No guilt. You don’t have to finish that book.

What Is The Good Work?

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Those are Paul’s much loved words from Philippians 1 verse 6. But what is the good work to which Paul refers? Does it mean that every

Is it when an unsaved friend comes to church or when a family member watches The Chosen with you? Does that mean that he will be with you in heaven forever? Or even that my book will make it to print or your home remodel will finally get done?

To answer that we’ve got to see the Philippians 1 verse 6 in context. Paul had just called his readers saints in Christ Jesus. They were of the faith in Christ Jesus.

God finishes what he starts. He’s even called the starter and finisher, or perfecter, of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God “started” and gave us faith ( 2 Peter 1:1Philippians 1:29, and Acts 3:16). Since our faith in Christ is a good thing, we can be sure God will complete it.

In other words, Philippians 1 verse 6. The context shows us that the good work God will complete is the faith of believers. It doesn’t promise any less, or any more. Because he completes all of his good works.

Or Does He?

But what about Jeremiah’s field trip to the potter’s house? You can read about that in Jeremiah 18. Does God ever give a project up? Didn’t God show Jeremiah that he might just rework that lopsided pot? That the potter has the right to return the partly formed pot back into a lump?

He does. Which means that you might be asking, “So doesn’t that negate Philippians 1:6—that God always finishes what he starts?”

Actually, no.

Because Paul wrote those words to Christians, individuals, and “fellow partners in the gospel.” But the context of Jeremiah 18 is nations. When nations go bad, God declares the right to do with them as he wishes. (That’s not the point of this post, but if you want me to take it up, please do let me know.)

God reserves divine prerogative to let rebel nations them go their own way. The good work in Philippians 1 verse 6 is a work of faith, which is the gift of faith (Phil. 1:29). This means it is a work that God will complete.

The unbroken chain of Romans 8 relates: Whom God calls, he also justifies, and whom he justifies he also glorifies. No one falls out. The chain will be completed. The circle will be unbroken. The good work starts with faith and is finished when we—perfected and complete—see Jesus face to face.

God will complete it.

Why It Matters

It matters because we fail. We lose heart when we make the same mistakes and break every resolution by January 18th. It matters because perfectionism paralyzes some of us. We want to be perfect, but when we fail, we freeze.

But we can rejoice knowing that if we are in Christ nothing is wasted. Nothing includes everything now imperfect and incomplete. Because God’s ways, his word, and his works are perfect (Psalm 18:30, Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 12:6).

As far as I can tell, perfect means a thing can’t get any better. There is no improving on it. When God undertakes a work, it will be as good as it is possible to be. It will be finished, perfect, complete.

Everything will be pulled together. There are not any dangling, unseemly threads from God’s vantage point, from the top of the tapestry.

Take that to the bank next time you mess up. Or at least consider “The Talking Teacup.”

The Talking Teacup

I read about an American couple, both connoisseurs of pottery and fine China who celebrated their 40th anniversary in Sussex, England. There in a little antique shop, their eyes landed on a lovely teacup on the top shelf.

Here I beg your pardon for this uncharacteristic, Disney-esque twist.

As the man gently strokes the teacup, it begins to speak.

“You don’t understand, I haven’t always been a tea cup. There was a time when I was red and that I was clay. My master rolled me, then patted me over and over and over. I yelled, ‘Let me be!” But he smiled and said, ‘Not yet.’

Then I was placed on a spinning wheel. Suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy,’ I said. The master nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’

Then he put me in an oven where I’d never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me and I yelled and I knocked on the door. I could see him through the opening. He nodded his head as I read his lips. They said, ‘Not yet.’

Finally the door opened and he put me on a shelf where I began to cool. But suddenly he grabbed me again and brushed and painted me all over. I thought I would suffocate, the fumes were so bad. But he just smiled and said, ‘Not yet.’

He put me back into an oven, not the first one but one twice as hot, and I knew that I was going to suffocate. I begged and screamed, and all the while I still saw him through the opening, smiling and nodding his head, repeating, ‘Not yet, not yet.’

Work Complete

I was just ready to give up when the door opened and he took me out and he put me on a shelf. An hour later he came back and he handed me a mirror. “Now just look at yourself.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

He continued, ‘I know that it hurt to be rolled and patted but if I had left you, you would have dried out. I know that it made you dizzy to spin you around on a spinning wheel but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. And I know that it was horribly hot in the oven but if I had I not fired you, you would have cracked. I know that the fumes were awful while I painted and brushed you, but if I had not, you wouldn’t have hardened or had any color. Had I skipped the second oven. you wouldn’t have survived. Your hardness would not have held.

But now you are complete. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.'”

What His Grace Has Begun, His Strength Will Complete

“We are confident of this very thing: that He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.”

That last phrase is both encouraging and wee bit disconcerting, isn’t it? This process of becoming like Jesus, called sanctification, will be completed. But it won’t be finished until the day of Christ Jesus.

Which means strap in. Get ready for more rolling and patting and spinning and more fumes and fires. God is still working on us.

But it also means we can take heart. Because God will complete us. One day will look like our brother Jesus (Romans 8:29). We will be perfect. Perfect.

Bible commentator F.B. Meyer wrote,

We go into the artist’s studio, and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvas and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death.

But as we go into God’s great workshop, we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficient power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete.

The word perfect means complete. God is going to complete those things that concern you. He is going to complete that work of His Spirit, that faith, even if it be small as a mustard seed. But He is not hasty.

Jesus Christ will complete it, because he is the author and the finisher of our faith—our faith. He doesn’t promise I’ll get a single book written, project completed or bedside pile read.

But he will perfect that which concerns me. His mercy is more. He will not forsake the work of his hands.

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands
.

Psalm 138:8

Be Freed From Perfectionism

Sign with perfectionism crossed off.

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” 

G.K. Chesterton

Perfectionism Paralysis

Perfectionism paralyzes. For perfectionists, the perfect is the enemy of the good. According to productivity gurus, it’s also the enemy of the done

Because perfectionism is crippling. When the project looked great on Pinterest, but then the drive to make it match the pin made you freeze? Like when I a blog post and feel so overwhelmed by the thought of knocking it out of the park that I grab a bowl of popcorn and pour a cup of tea and dust those cobwebs in the corner and grab another snack and… well- the post never gets started, much less done.

We’ve all been there. In fact, I just left my last stop there about an hour ago. Now I’m soaking in the wisdom of just doing something. Namely, of imperfectly writing this.

Because when it comes right down to it, I agree with G.K. Chesterton that, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” And, honestly, as D.L. Moody once told a critic, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” 

Or as I often remark, “Something is better than nothing.”

Perfectionism Stifles Growth

But we’d best define terms. I’ll borrow Jon Bloom’s definitions of both perfectionism and excellence. They’re not the same.

What we call perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence, though sometimes the lines can blur. When we pursue excellence, we’re determined to do something as well as possible within a given set of talent, resource, and time limits. But perfectionism is a pride- or fear-based compulsion that either fuels our obsessive fixation on doing something perfectly or paralyzes us from acting at all — both of which often result in the harmful neglect of other necessary or good things.

 

His clarification is important. Children of the King are called to excellence, to working “wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23). The focus is God. But that is entirely different from a self-focused orientation that insists on flawless, likely motivated by fear or pride to win others’ approval.

In one area or another we all have an inner drive to excel. Whether running a faster mile, proofreading before sending, or becoming a better listener- we strive to do well.

Making good resolves is a healthy way to grow.

Perfectionism Or Healthy Striving? 

But perfectionism is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. Those who strive for excellence- and, dare I say for *perfection?– in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards.

I do this when I strive to make a batch of chewy chocolate chip cookies or teach a lesson that drives a point home or write in a compelling way that makes you want to read it. I enjoy this sort of striving. But perfectionism does not promote joy. Instead, it leads to discouragement, self-pity, and fear.

Though not overtly “Christian,” this article is insightful on the distinctions between paralyzing perfectionism and healthy striving. 

Perfectionism

  • Never being satisfied by anything less than perfection
  • Becoming depressed when faced with failure or disappointment
  • Being preoccupied with fears of failure and disapproval
  • Seeing mistakes as evidence of unworthiness
  • Becoming overly defensive when criticized

Healthy Striving

  • Enjoying process as well as outcome
  • Bouncing back quickly from failure or disappointment
  • Keeping normal anxiety and fear of failure within bounds
  • Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
  • Reacting positively to helpful criticism

Do you see the difference? Are you more of a perfectionist or a healthy striver? Your focus probably determines your answer.

Focusing on Christ leads to freedom. Fixation on self enslaves. 

Be Freed From Perfectionism

I struggle to rest in God’s grace when I am so aware of my failure, a friend confided. I can relate. I suspect every Christian who struggles with perfectionism can.

Can you rest in the grace of God when you miss the mark? In other words, can you know God’s love when your life is an imperfect mess? 

The answer is a resounding YES!  But only if our focus is right. Jon Bloom again, 

God has something far better for us to strive toward than our idealized imaginations of perfection, which only end up enslaving us.

Perfectionism’s subtle, but great danger is its self-orientation. Since it is a fear- or pride-fueled effort to win approval for the self, its primary focus is de facto on self, not God or others. In other words, perfectionism, even in the battle against sin, is not motivated by love or faith. And “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).

But God wants us to be free — free from the tyranny of pride and fear. He wants us to live in the freedom of knowing that he has our past, present, and future perfection issues completely covered.

 

Do you want to be freed from perfectionism?

Look For Growth

In our ongoing battles with failure and sin, we must know that God is not looking for perfect, externally performed behavior. He is looking for us to look to Him. He is looking for faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6) and for us to trust in his love (Psalm 147:11).

God is not concerned with our never falling, but at our getting up again (Prov. 24:16a). Our heavenly Father wants to see us grow (2 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 4:15, 1 Timothy 4:15).

Remember, growth implies we haven’t arrived. If we were already perfect, there wouldn’t be room for growth. But God’s call for us to grow also means we shouldn’t be not stagnant and stuck. Or paralyzed by perfectionism.

Because when God commands a thing, he also enables it. The God who calls us to grow, gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). And that God calls us to grow also means he knows that there’s room for growth. He knows. 

Can you rest there? 

There’s Grace For That

A friend and I tag that on a lot when we talk, and confess our sins to each other. “There’s grace for that,” we say. For my being late, again; for her overeating, again; for my hasty words that cut, again. 

That’s why He died. That is the gospel, my friends. If we were already perfect, Christ wouldn’t have died for us. He loved us and gave himself for us when we were dead in our sins. Perfectly dead.

That truth knocks the perfectionist breath right out of me. 

Because Scripture is clear: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5).  This is true.

This truth has power to demolish the lie that you can only please God and know his love if you are perfect. It is both humbling and exalting.

Because, as Timothy Keller so poignantly put it, 

We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. 

 

Maybe we recovering perfectionists ought to write that out and tape it to our bathroom mirrors. Then maybe we should to take a tour through the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11.

Commended for Faith, not Perfection

I did that with my Sunday school class yesterday. And it was so refreshing to see the very imperfect saints on the walls in there.

There’s Rahab the prostitute and Samson the proud who loved a prostitute, Jephthah the reckless and Abraham the liar, there’s Noah the drunk, David the adulterer, and Moses the murderer– just to name a few.

And all these, though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised (Hebrews 11:39). Do you see? These were not commended for being perfect. They were commended for their faith.

But perfection will come. In fact, the very next verse tells us when perfection will come. It will for the ancient saints when it comes for us (Heb. 11:40). We will be made perfect together in glory, when we see see Jesus face to face.

Until then, we press on in faith and love. But we do so with our gaze on the God who loves us so and has already made us his own.

And with Him in focus, and his grace, we can be freed from perfectionism.

Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12