The Bible for Overachievers

The Bible can be a dangerous book for overachievers. When a God-loving, passionate, Type A person reads his or her Bible, every command feels like a personal assignment. This is incredible, at least for a while. Personal growth, evangelism, and discipleship abound as the overachiever tries to capitalize on every opportunity.

Usually, several predictable things happen:

  • The individual experiences spiritual growth.
  • The growth is very satisfying and motivating…sometimes intoxicating.
  • Other people notice and affirm the achiever; this too is motivating.
  • Opportunities for growth and ministry multiply and crowd out a balanced life.
  • Mild life disruption begins to occur but can be managed because of the person’s “high capacity.”
  • Opportunities for growth and ministry begin to compete with one another in an over-crowded life.
  • Life disruption becomes greater as the conflict is experienced in the individual’s spiritual life, which is now very core to their identity.
  • Frustration grows towards the church and those being served.
  • Cynicism grows towards other Christians who aren’t as committed to personal growth and ministry.
  • Personal growth and ministry mutate to having a cynical tone, being focused on personal achievement, or is abandoned.

This does not have to be the case, but too frequently, it is the case for achievement-oriented people.

Perhaps this is one dynamic that accounts for the seed that falls on rocky soil (Matthew 13:1-23). They receive the Gospel with joy, meaning they wholeheartedly embrace its message and cause, but allow their personal disposition to drive them to grow short-term fruit more than sustaining root.

But for the achiever, this all seems very unfair. They are “doing everything they are supposed to be doing.” They are, in any measurable way, doing it better than everyone else. But it’s not “working.” God seems to bless for a while, but then it doesn’t seem like even God can keep up with them. What’s happening?

The obvious answer is that their life is out of balance. The fact that an achievement-oriented person never hears God say “well done” or “rest” reveals they are practicing selective listening.

But that only pushes the question a little further. IF they are doing everything God commanded, and IF God designed life, then shouldn’t their life remain balanced?

That takes us to another question: what kind of commands does God give? There would seem to be at least three types:

  • “Do” commands (positive commands; pursuit of virtue and purpose)
  • “Don’t do” commands (negative commands; avoidance of vice and folly)
  • “Rest” commands (Sabbath and self-care commands)

All three are needed, but achievement-oriented people don’t tend to like the third category; reaching the world and mortifying sin feels like progress, but the latter feels lazy or weak.

But these three types of commands serve as a checks-and-balances function for one another, like the three branches of the United States government were designed to do. Each makes sure the other two do not dominate.

  • Positive commands in excess lead to pride and elitism
  • Negative commands in excess lead to legalism and a judgmental attitude
  • Rest commands in excess lead to laziness and ineffectiveness

But

  • Positive commands ensure that life has meaning, and we have a sense of progress in life.
  • Negative commands ensure that we don’t derail our lives with sin and folly that often seem appealing.
  • Rest commands ensure that we can persevere and finish the purposes God has given well.

So why is this post written to overachievers when the imbalance can be due to any of the three? Merely because I had to choose a primary audience.

The point of this post is that the Bible is written for the whole church, an audience that covers the spectrum of achievement orientation (and other dispositional differences), so it has commands that can seem to contradict themselves or maybe more relevant-important for one person than another.

Consider this example: It would be easy to call a professor hypocritical who tells some students to “relax” and others to “get it in gear” about the same test in the same class. But a good professor knows his or her students.

  • Some have test anxiety and will perform best if they place less importance on the exam.
  • Others are too invested in their grades and would benefit most from a more balanced life.
  • While others are too socially-oriented and need to remember they came to school to get an education.

The professor is not being contradictory; he is being personal in a corporate setting. That is how the Bible is written; it speaks to the individual needs of Christians as part of an address to the entire church.

That means our call is to:

  • Know ourselves well enough to identify our natural tendencies (strengths and weaknesses).
  • Allow others to know us well enough to speak to our blind spots.
  • Seek to obey the various types of commands that exist within Scripture in balance with one another.
  • Avoid the temptation to disproportionately focus on the type of commands that fit our personality or disposition best.

Know who you are and how that shapes how you read your Bible. God didn’t write a separate Bible for every personality type because the Bible isn’t a self-help manual, but the great story of redemption. However, your disposition will shape how you read your Bible. Understanding this will help you not derail your life with the best of intentions.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Brad Hambrick
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