Made Perfect

Wednesday 10 August

Will van der Hart is an Anglican minister, experienced coach and emotional health expert. He suffered from complex PTSD and anxiety after exposure to the London Bombings terrorist incident in 2005. Will is passionate about equipping leaders to look after their own emotional health as well as empowering them to manage the wellbeing of those in their care. Will is the author of a number of successful books on emotional health and co-directs an international charity focussing on mental health and Christian faith: Here the New Horizon Media team bring you a summary of his message on Wednesday evening.

Galatians 1: 3 – 10 

I have been working in the mental health sector for about 17 years.  Tonight is the first time I’ve heard a testimony about psychotic illness from a main stage. That is a significant step forward.  I am thankful for Sharon Hastings’ testimony that unlocks shame and stigma and her book “Wrestling with my Thoughts”. There has been a changing conversation around anxiety and depression but still stigma about chronic mental illness.

Every day begins with that frantic struggle to get enough food and water into my children to set them up for the day. So many of our lives are influenced by slogans that say, “You are not enough.” We spiritualise those too. We feel we have not achieved the things that the Lord longs for us to achieve. Even when we go into the day trying to press into grace, we are still so overwhelmed by this desire to achieve more.

I wonder if the church in Galatians had similar problems to me? Paul always starts blantantly with an agenda.  He is straight in with the upfront agenda.  “Grace and peace to you…” . He wanted to remind the Galatians of the grace and peace that they had received from Jesus. They had forgotten the essence of what the gospel really means. Teachers had come among them to tell them that they had to work for grace. 

In London, we have small gardens so they sell you a shorter hose called a “London hose”.  In my London garden when I’m spraying the plants, my six year old likes to stand on the hose. The flow stops. My temptation is to believe that the water has been turned off at the tap. The trouble is that invariably either my son is standing on the hose or there is a kink in the pipe and the water has dried up.

We can believe that the Lord has turned off the tap on His grace. And so we try to work harder but in reality there is a kink in the hose. The grace of God is still fully available but it has stopped flowing among His people.

Paul tells the Galatians this different gospel is really no gospel at all. It is an anti-gospel. It was given in good faith by people who genuinely wanted the church to grow. Somewhere within us, we cannot accept that is it in enough to put our faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. We want to work for love, approval of God.

I was involved in the London bombings recovery response. I was a first responder and I saw things and heard things, I should never have seen and heard. I was a young priest with very extreme trauma and I had a breakdown.  My experience of the church was people saying I needed more sleep or others wanted to perform an exorcism. I needed psychological support to help me make a recovery.

It would be easy for me to gloss over that story and sound virtuous.  I could hide the fact that I had been a perfectionist who had been working far too hard for too long. Perfectionism was a core part in my own story. I needed God’s grace to find recovery.

We think we need to work enough so that the Lord will love us. We work FOR grace not FROM grace. So many preachers talk about grace but struggle to know if for themselves. Maybe you feel like you are the only person in the room who doesn’t belong (“If only they knew what I am really like…”)

Paul uses a word associated with cancer for this false gospel. It will move you away from receiving grace towards working for grace.  Perfectionism is a weighty taskmaster.  Perfectionism is not about excellence.  Excellence is 100%. Perfectionism says I can never do enough. I can never be good enough. I live in constant deficit.

People think perfectionism is a good thing in the church, after all we are called to be holy as the Lord is holy. We try harder, work faster.  Paul is says that this non-gospel is not how you are called to live. It isn’t good for your spiritual wellbeing or your mental wellbeing.

If we are ministering for grace, we are ministering for ourselves. If we are ministering from grace, then we are ministering for others.

Unless we can receive grace in all its fullness what have we got to give away?Grace is at risk so long as we continue to believe that we have to work for love. If we feel that we have to do better in order to gain God’s grace.

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought, if I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgement and blame.

Brene Brown

Our assumption can be that the people with the problems are the ones on Instagram taking selfies. But in church, we have our own set of judgements. What we look like on the outside have no bearing on the truth that Jesus Christ loved us and died for us. He has called us to be ourselves, and to receive grace. We need to let go of this other gospel. It terrifies me that I am coaching leaders in their 60s who still doubt God’s love. Many of us still believe that we have to do certain things to demonstrate that we are saved.

That doesn’t mean that we have to  stop doing anything but everything we do needs to come out of the grace we have received from Jesus.  In the world everyone is working for security believing that if they are successful, they will be secure. But success does not promote security.

If you are deeply secure in the love that God has for you and you will be successful in the ministry God has called you to. 

We are dependent on God but we think we have to do something to earn God’s love and approval. Because we have done something, because we’ve made an effort.  But God’s grace is freely given. We do not have to do something to receive His grace.

One of the weird things about perfectionism is the feeling that if we do something, something great is going to happen.  Many people are driven by self-recrimination, a harsh inner critic that berates them into action.  You can motivate people through fear but the best motivation is confidence.

I want to see revival in the church. I don’t think that is going to come from a church that is self-recriminating. Grace is already ours. We don’t need to add to it.  We need to be confident in what God has already done for us. God wants to liberate us from the internalised judgements of perfectionism into confidence in His grace. We need to be rooted in the abundance of God’s grace for each and every one of you.

What would it look like if the world associated the church with grace not judgement?  We are busy judging the world. They have not lost sight of morality. They are under condemnation.  We need to show them the perfect gospel of grace.  

When I was working in Kensington, I was cycling down the high street. I saw 500 posters about a lost cat called “Disco”.  The small print said, “elderly, 17 years”.  The first thing I thought about was, “how long do cats live for?”  A cat’s life expectancy is about 12 – 15 years.  Then it said “skinny” and “deaf.” This elderly, skinny, deaf cat was lost on a busy road on central London.  Maybe there is not much hope.  Maybe it is not lost, maybe it is dead

I felt the Lord ask me, “Who would seek out this cat?”  I answered, “You would Lord.”  He replied, “Yes and I would seek out you.”  The Lord was saying that despite being 17 years old, skinny and deaf, He would put up 500 posters to bring it home.  He would do that for you. He seeks and saves that which is lost.  He wants to welcome you back.

Matthew 11: 28- 30 (The Message) calls us to learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Grace is available to each and every one of us tonight.  Grace is something we already have.  

When my wife and I were getting married we entered a competition for a holiday. We found out we had won a luxury honeymoon to the Maldives but the snag was it was bed and breakfast.  I called the island and they did not have supermarkets and the shops and restaurants were way beyond our means. We said, this is such a blessing. We have to go so we filled one bag with our swimming costumes and the other bag with pot noodles and cereal bars. We went to this exotic resort staying in a house on stilts.  Every morning we would eat everything we could at breakfast.

We were living the dream but eating pot noodle and cereal bars for lunch and dinner.  We did buy a few snacks so on the final night I went to check my bill. There was nothing there. the manager told me, “You are all inclusive. You could have eaten at any of our five luxury restaurants all week.” Instead we had been eating pot noodle from Lidl.  It was our final night and we were flying home in the morning.

How many Christians are living on bed and breakfast in the kingdom of God when it is all inclusive? Why are you dining on pot noodle when the gospel is sufficient. Let us accept His grace tonight!

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