Sometimes, I get to the end of a week, take a look at what I’ve done, and feel completely unsatisfied with my progress. I see too much distraction and laziness, too many poor choices. So I look at the next week, think of all the things I can do to be better in the next few days – and then at the end of the week, I find myself in almost the same spot as the week before – unsatisfied.
Do any of you relate to this?
Personally, I find this cycle frustrating and exhausting. I don’t feel like I measure up to what I think I should be. It’s funny, actually, because I’ve never really considered myself a major perfectionist, but maybe I’m more of one than I think. But even if I’m not a perfectionist, and even if you aren’t a perfectionist, I think that we all still get frustrated with our imperfections.
Frustration leads us to a level of discontent, which isn’t a bad thing. It can motivate us to make changes. But if we start beating up on ourselves, there’s a problem. A huge problem.
The fact is, we won’t be perfect in this life. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times in the future. This earthly life is intended to be one of progression, not perfection. So what does that progress look like? How can you know if you’re progressing toward Christ?
And, most important, what role does Christ play in our progress?
Parable of the Talents
Let’s start with a story. Jesus gave this parable, the parable of the talents, when He was teaching His disciples about the kingdom of God, so it’s a good one to look at when talking about eternal progression. You can find the full parable in Matthew 25:14-30 (KJV), but I’ll just summarize it here.
There was a man getting ready to travel far away. Before he left, he called three servants to him so he could give them money to take care of while he traveled. To the first servant, he gave five talents, to the second he gave two talents, and to the third servant he gave one talent. Then he left on his journey.
The first servant went to work and added five more talents to the five he already had, and the second added two more talents to the two he had. But the third took the one talent he’d been given and hid it away.
Eventually, the traveling man returned and asked his servants to come and show him what they’d done with his money.
The first and second showed him their gains, and the man blessed them for their efforts. The third servant told the man that he’d hidden the money away and had gained no more talents. The man was disappointed and told the servant that he’d lost the privilege of caring for the money. The one talent was taken from the servant, and the servant was cast out.
This is a parable I remember my dad talking about when I was growing up. Dad always emphasized the importance of stewardship – that when you are given something to care for, you need to give it your best effort. Otherwise, you’ll lose the chance to be a steward over anything.
In this case, let’s look at the talents as our lives. We’ve been given the chance to progress and become more than we were before this life. We’re stewards of our own lives. So what does our progress need to look like if we want to show God that we did our best to take care of the gifts He has given us?
Making Progress in Your Life
Progress is sometimes confused with becoming perfect, but like I said earlier, we won’t become perfect in this life. That comes later. But we can still grow and become better.
In the parable of the talents, the servants were all given different amounts of money, while you and I have been given different lives. We have different situations, problems, families, trials, abilities, and more.
At the end of the parable, the first and second servants come to their master with increase. Sure, the first brought five new talents and the second brought only two new talents, but the master welcomed them both. He didn’t compare them to each other; instead, he compared them to where they started. Both had improved what they had been given, so they each received more from their master.
The only servant the master had a problem with was the third servant, the one who did nothing with what he was given. Hiding away, staying in the comfort zone, not willing to try new things or make mistakes – in other words, not growing or improving – is what will disappoint God.
Don’t take this too hard. We all have times when we hide to avoid new experiences and mistakes. The key thing is that you don’t live your entire life that way. Instead, step out of those habits and make changes.
The thing God wants you to do most is to be better than you were. You don’t need to be the best, you don’t need to be perfect. You just need to take a step or two forward.
The other night, when I went to read my scriptures, I wasn’t very eager to sit down and read. At that moment, I had to ask myself why I read my scriptures. What reason did I have to keep coming back?
Honestly, a big reason for me to read my scriptures right now is just that I know I’m supposed to. And I don’t really consider that the best reason. But for now, it’s a reason.
I could stick to this reason for the rest of my life. And then, at the end of my life, I think God would be disappointed that I never tried to find greater joy in the scriptures, that I didn’t ever try to read so I could get to know Him better, or because I love Him and want to hear His words.
I think that’s what the key is. Look at your reasons for doing something. See where you’re at now, then look at the possibilities.
We should never beat up on ourselves for not being as good as we think we should be. And when I say to look at the possibilities, I’m not saying to look at how awful you are compared to what you could be. What I am saying is to look for small actions you can take, just one step, that will bring you closer to God.
I chose to assess the possible/current reasons for reading my scriptures this way: good, better, and best.
A good reason to read my scriptures: It’s a habit on my to-do list. That is a good reason, even if it isn’t the best reason, because I’m still doing it. And that is a starting point. If I can be in the habit of reading my scriptures, I’ve already made progress.
A better reason to read my scriptures: I need the strength of God that comes from reading. At this point I’d be seeking something personal from the scriptures. Reading is no longer a checklist item, it’s something I really want to do.
The best reason (in my opinion) to read my scriptures: I love God and choose to believe Him. Reading isn’t only a habit, and I’m no longer reading for personal benefit. I’m reading out of a desire to be obedient. I’m searching and coming closer to God.
I don’t know what you’re reasons are for doing the things you do. But I suggest taking a good look at those reasons. I think our reasons for doing something can show us where we can progress – and where we already have progressed.
The great thing I discovered about this “good, better, best” assessment system is that it works for most things in life. I also tried it with things like exercise and getting enough sleep, and I still found it to be a good assessment. What’s more, is that I found it helped me to recognize the reasons that connected back to God. Each “best” reason I came up with showed me that God is central to my progress.
Rely On Christ’s Promises
Christ’s Atonement is what makes our progress possible. The fact is, we can do as many assessments as we want, we can make as many changes as we can, but without Christ, that progress won’t be enough.
Christ lifts us and challenges us. He’s the one who shows us how to progress in the best ways, and someday, after this life, He will be the one who makes us perfect.
So if it feels like you’re carrying a heavy load, if you’re frustrated and don’t want to move forward, if you’re suffering in any way, rely on the promises of Christ:
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30 (KJV)
As partners with Christ, we can progress to the kingdom of God. With Him, we can do what we most need to do, learn what we most need to learn, and become strong where we are most weak. Christ’s promise is one we can rely on and prove to be true each day when we choose Him first.