Spiritual Growth

Silencing Your Inner Pharisee

She stepped up to the stage, bent over her guitar case and took her place on the stool in front of the microphone.  Clearing her throat as she averted her glance towards the floor, she said, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m a little nervous.”  From the first strum, I sat captivated.  Her voice was flawless and lilting in all the right ways.  She held her guitar with an ease that told me this was her solace and her passion.  I felt my tears welling up as I watched her tell a story with her music.  Every so often throughout the performance, her voice would crack just the tiniest bit and she would shake her head ever so slightly as if to say,
“Not good enough.”

When the recital was over, I made my way over to her and said, “I just wanted to tell you how beautiful your voice is and how moved I was – almost moved to tears – by the gift you have in your music.  Thank you for blessing us with it.  Oh, and one more thing.  I saw you shake your head at yourself on several occasions as you played.  You don’t have to do that.  You are amazing.  Please don’t ever shake your head at yourself.”  I was near tears again as I walked away from her – her mother standing behind her, silently mouthing, “Thank you,” to me.  It was a message she wanted to give to her daughter, but at this age, they don’t always want to hear it from mom.

photo by mariana vusiatytska


A Shared Story

I felt like crying because as I was telling her, I was telling myself.  Her self-rejection was all too familiar as I affirmed, “you don’t have to shake your head at yourself.” I know what it feels like to be shot down by critics.  We internalize those voices until they sound like our own.  Perfectionism is poison.  Jesus called it leaven – the yeast that goes through the whole loaf that we are to avoid like the plague.   

You don’t have to believe the lie: 
Not. good. enough.

I know that message and maybe you do too:  “Here’s the mark, and you missed it.”  Just whose mark is it we are trying so hard to meet?  Why is this standard always just beyond our reach?  Even when we achieve what it is that we thought would make us happy or gain us approval, it is as though a new mark takes its place. On we go, jumping ever higher, yet never quite satisfied with our own performance.  All the while we are missing out on the biggest piece of the picture: abiding in love. Then comes the greatest injury of all – we transfer our perfectionism onto God. 


Jesus and the Pharisees

This week I’ve been pondering the Pharisees.  Wherever we see Jesus interacting with them, we see them questioning Him (either directly or indirectly).  He responds by one of two ways.  Sometimes He turns the tables on them so they are left unable to corner Him.  At other times He calls them out, exposing their sins.  In no other encounters do we see Jesus in direct conversation rebuking people, saying, “Woe to you.”  He met many who would seem to warrant condemnation and rebuke – harlots, thieves, drunks and the adulteress.  What was it about this group of religious leaders that caused Him to speak out so often and so severely?

What is the sin of the Pharisee?  Basically, as I have searched through scripture this past week, I’m seeing the pattern of their lives –

  • Beautiful and put together on the outside, while covering sin on the inside; 
  • making a public show of their religious practices while neglecting their own inner life with God (abiding, love, mercy, and humility); 
  • Heaping rules on people rather than extending hope; 
  • Preaching works righteousness rather than grace and dependence.  

The Pharisee elevated himself based on his own works and then laid out a spiritual “to do” list for others.  In so doing, he blotted out any need for God.  It’s the tower of Babel all over again … “I’ll work my way to heaven.” 

photo by denny muller


A Greater Righteousness

Jesus made a statement about the Pharisees once to his disciples.  He said, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Here are the pillars of the faith – the Pharisees – those looked up to as holding the keys to the kingdom.  We are told that we have to be even more righteous than them.  At first glance it might seem that Jesus is asking us to do even more … if the widow tithed her little mite which was all she had, I start to think I have to give even more sacrificially than her. 

When is it enough?  How can I be sure?

We can try to perform for Jesus, hoping against hope that our giving, serving and doing is good enough.  Secretly, in the recesses of our hearts, we know it is not.  So we push ourselves to do more.  A mentality based on earning will turn us into religious workaholics – and sister, I’ve been there.

Into this frenetic striving, Jesus breathes peace.  What does it mean to be more righteous than a Pharisee?  Jesus shows us, and it boils down to two simple aspects of life with Him.  Above all else, our righteousness must not consist of actions divorced from our heart.  Our inner and outer lives must come together so that all our works are fruit which fall from the tree of our abiding, rooted in faith and nourished by grace and love. 

The Righteous Fruit of Abiding

Our works are fruit.  They do not earn us one thing.  They never have and they never will.  Consider Eph 2:8-10 

For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves.  It is the free gift of God, not as a result of works, than no one can boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. 

Yes, He planned for us to work.  Rather than producing salvation or sanctification, our works are a reflection and extension of our abiding relationship, revealing His work in us.  Any other work is empty and will burn off like chaff.  Why?  Because God wants YOU, not your works.  We might be satisfied keeping Him at arm’s length while we do all the good deeds of the faith, but He knows we need more than a job to do and a standard to live up to.  We need Him.    

photo by jez timms

 His Righteousness is Ours

Secondly, we remember that our righteousness is not our own.  On the cross, Jesus made the great exchange.  He took every sin we committed or will commit along with every sin committed against us upon Himself.   He gave us His perfect righteousness in trade.  I’m not just preaching to the choir here.  I am reminding myself and you of the essence of the good news of freedom.  It’s a done deal.  He did it already.  That righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees, it’s yours – free of charge to you, at full cost to Him, because of His great love with which He still loves you as you are right now.  Just take a bath in that truth.  Can you soak down into it until your soul gets all pruney with the goodness of it?  If it isn’t in your bones, it’s got further to go.  Let the gospel get into the deepest parts of your heart.  You are beloved – as is.  You are righteous now – in Him.  No works will achieve your heart’s desire – only faith and grace rooted in love. 


It Is for Freedom He Set Us Free

We all have our own inner Pharisee – that voice telling us to jump a little higher, to make the outside look good and never, never let them see us sweat.  We may try to check off the boxes on our own religious to-do list (praying in the morning and at meals, making sure we go to Bible Study, giving to the needy, being a godly wife and friend, and on it goes).  All those things are wonderful, but if they aren’t fruit, they are burdens which do nothing but separate us from God.  God aims to release us from these burdens and transition us from trying to “be good enough” to the place where we know in the depths of our soul that we are His beloved.

We didn’t earn His love and we can’t lose it. 

We can strive to earn the gift or we can open it, savor it, and like a little child, look up from this lavish provision and ask with all joy, “For me?” 

This week as you go through your life, notice the voice telling you, “You need to lose weight,” “Don’t let them see you struggle,” “You ought to say, ‘yes’ to that,” “You aren’t special” … and silence your Pharisee.  Jesus is always in the business of shutting down the Pharisees.  He speaks peace and grace where they speak law and works.

Hear Him saying, “Woe to you, you blind guides, you empty, whitewashed tombs”
… and then hear instead His beaconing invitation, 
Come unto Me, Abide, You are already My beloved.

photo by brannon naito

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  • Reply
    Kaylene Yoder
    March 21, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    Oh, my. I needed this tonight "don't shake you head at yourself" & "perfectionism is poison." Thank you for sharing at Grace & Truth!

  • Reply
    March 21, 2015 at 7:13 PM

    I'm so glad it blessed you. I need it too … over and over. I am so grateful you came by Hearts Homeward.

  • Reply
    Diana Rockwell
    March 22, 2015 at 6:42 AM

    Patty this is an amazing post. I shared it on my facebook. Blessings Diana

  • Reply
    March 22, 2015 at 7:15 AM

    Thank you so much, Diana. You blessed me with your comment and willingness to share. I pray it reaches women who need to hear it.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2015 at 2:36 PM

    Love this post! My inner pharisees are always trying to get the upperhand. I love your analogy to the pharisees and how God's invitation is always full of love. It is never demeaning. I am so glad you linked this up on The Weekend Brew.

  • Reply
    March 26, 2018 at 1:08 PM

    ‘Silence your inner Pharisee.’ It would be good to have this all over my house. Exactly what I’m Struggling through now. Want to be good enough, smart enough, able enough, right enough and realizing that I never will be but instead of trying harder I freeze up. Paralyzed from doing anything at all! Exactly what my heart needed to hear today. Thank you for sharing Patty!

    • Reply
      March 26, 2018 at 1:17 PM

      Oh, Emily! Thank you for this! I so appreciate you sharing how it feels to struggle through our own perfectionistic expectations. I wish we could sit together over coffee (or tea) and chat about this. I am grateful that this post ministered to your heart today. I visited your blog and our hearts beat for the same things. I look forward to getting to know you better.

  • Reply
    March 28, 2018 at 10:06 AM

    I’ve read this several times now, and I get something new out of it every time! “The Pharisee elevated himself based on his own works and then laid out a spiritual “to do” list for others. In so doing, he blotted out any need for God.” So much truth!! <3

    • Reply
      March 28, 2018 at 10:12 AM

      Jordan, Thank you! I knew we were kindreds when I read your discourse on “God never gives you more than you can handle”! So glad we found one another. Looking forward to reading more of what you write and to sharing our hearts for God with one another.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2018 at 6:31 AM

    This post really blessed me Patty and my 15 year old daughter. Funny thing is, as soon as I started reading it, I thought my daughter needs to read this… then as I read on and saw the first image I thought it was my daughter (she plays guitar)! We got a kick out of that. She worries about everything and is sometimes aftraid to try new things over fear of not being good enough. This post is something we both needed (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree so she comes by it honestly). Lastly, I feel honored that you enjoyed my little book enough to share it. Bless you!

    • Reply
      March 29, 2018 at 10:28 AM

      Teresa, I am so grateful that this touched you and your daughter. I can’t really say how grateful I am in words. It means a lot to me. I have a talk I give sometimes – it varies when I give it – about the uniqueness of each person. When we consider eternity, there never was and never will be another one like us. That makes us exactly how He wants us to be. We do have flesh to contend with – the form it takes varies in each of us – but beyond that we have His mark on us and His image, uniquely expressed through us. What gift can we give the world? What is it that only we can bring? It is to be as much of ourselves – fully our unique self – as we possibly can. I want a life without regret, though I will have many. I want to live in such a way that I left it all on the field. Sometimes that means more pulling back and solitude to be filled and honed by God. Sometimes that means stretching out past my comfort zone. What I know fully is that I need to press on to be more comfortable being fully me in Him. I hope your daughter hears that message and embraces it. Your book is truly precious. I want to share it with my boys and others. So grateful for your tender heart, Teresa. God is sweet to bring us together.

  • Reply
    March 29, 2018 at 9:29 AM

    Wow, Patty! I love this. This is such a constant struggle. You left me with so much to ponder. Thank you for this gift!

    • Reply
      March 29, 2018 at 9:53 AM

      Dawn, I know it is! I really was grateful for the conversation that spurred me to dig this post out of my “private” vault of old writings and revive it to go public. God knew it was timely. I’m so grateful it blessed YOU! Much love, friend.

  • Reply
    Janis Cox
    March 30, 2018 at 2:34 PM

    Beautifully written. I love the comparison of the Pharisees. I have to remember to be humble and gentle.
    Great reminders.

    • Reply
      March 30, 2018 at 3:19 PM

      Thanks, Jan. It’s something I’m glad to remember myself. Never comfortable, but always freeing. I see you as humble and gentle. Those are lovely traits. Bless you.

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