Monthly Archives: April 2014

Our Best

What kind of things – and how many of them – are on your “to do”
list for today? Most likely, not much extraordinary will be listed there.
“Finish the report. Grade last week’s tests. Return that phone call asking
for clarification on the project.. Clean the house. Do the yard work.
Prepare for that church mission project. Help the kids with homework. Call
Mom and Dad. Do the workout I didn’t do yesterday.” Same stuff, almost
every day. Nothing to get excited about.

One approach to getting a “to do” list done is to devote just
enough time and energy to each item to be able to check it off the list.
Obsessing with crossing things off the list can lead to tasks – even the
truly important ones – receiving less than our best attention. But don’t
some of the commitments deserve higher quality efforts, to be completed to
the very best of our abilities?

I am not advocating perfectionism! Priorities for expending time
and energy are important. Each thing we commit to do comes with a cost of
our time, energy, and resources. What of yourself do you put into getting
even the routine things done?

I came across a striking statement some time ago that speaks to
the importance we assign to tasks and how we value efforts to accomplish
them:

We must learn to honor excellence in every socially accepted human activity,
however humble the activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the
activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an
incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing
because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy
because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good
philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
(“Excellence,” John Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for
Lyndon Johnson)

Often, the trap of expediency and the sameness of routine may cause us to
accept less than the best effort, especially if it means getting the whole
“to do” list done.

I have to remind myself in such times that the Bible does speak
to the issue. Right in the middle of my favorite chapter in the New
Testament, Paul calls for a frame of mind that anticipates the best:
“Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is
any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these
things.” (Philippians 4:8 NRSV) With a mindset of excellence guiding our
outlook on everything we do, Paul says, simply and comprehensively,
“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV)
Even the most mundane task can be done with our prime motivation being to
follow Christ. Paul also says, “And whatever you do or say, let it be as a
representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to
God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17 NLT)

Cultivating a quest for excellence that we might apply to each
day’s tasks can prepare us for those unexpected but life-changing endeavors
that present themselves to us to be done. Striving for excellence in all
things doesn’t require us to do everything with super-human effort. It does
mean that we invest true passion for doing the very best with all the gifts
God has given us. Learning to summon the best of our thoughts, words, and
deeds to accomplish a goal in one area of life can equip us for other tasks
that can bring glory to God and can help others. That is one reason why
sports analogies are so prevalent in motivational commentaries. Winning
athletes learn that the elusive “110%” of focused, dedicated, passionate
effort is crucial. Paul even employs athletic imagery to encourage
Christians for passionate spiritual training and service: “All athletes
practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away,
but we do it for an eternal prize. {26} So I run straight to the goal with
purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. {27} I
discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.” (1
Corinthians 9:25-27a NLT)

One notable example of marshalling a passion for a excellence is
Andrea Jaeger, the teenage tennis phenom of the 1980’s. Turning pro at age
14, Jaeger celebrated her 16th birthday with a win in the French Tennis
Open, becoming ranked number 2 among women tennis players in the world. In
1984, at age 19, she suffered a career-ending shoulder injury. In her
autobiography, First Serve: Following God’s Calling and Finding Life’s
Purpose (HCI, 2004), she tells of the sense of God’s calling to help
children with cancer, even while she was passionate about winning Grand Slam
tennis tournaments. When her tennis career came to an abrupt end, Jaeger
donated all of her millions of dollars of tournament and endorsement
earnings to start a foundation to help children in hospitals and their
families.
She has joined with 12 world’s-best athletes – who, together, have raised
over $500 million for charities – to form “Athletes for Hope.” (See
http://www.athletesforhope.org) Jaeger says, “God has a calling for
everyone.” The passion we have for our primary occupation, she says, “might
be a steppingstone to another purpose. When you think of athletes, you
think of them fine-tuning their muscles. Every single person, God calls them
to fine-tune their hearts.” She says that passion, such as athletes have for
their sport, needs to be passed on to other callings in life, as we serve
God and do good for others. The slogan, “Pass on the Passion,” has become
the bumper-sticker phrase for Athletes for Hope. They seek to encourage
ordinary people to use the best of their abilities and interests in service
to their communities. At least for Andrea Jaeger, a committed follower of
Jesus, it’s a thoroughly Christian approach to life.

As often happens for me, these thoughts raised an old hymn text
in my memory. I learned it as a “Junior” in Sunday School (5th grader). Its
message evaluates my efforts often. The hymn, in essence, calls for us to
examine our “to do” lists, our sense of calling, our areas of particular
success, and our passion for serving God and others, and to do it all to the
glory of God. We are called to live in conscious service and praise of God,
doing “Our Best”:

Hear ye the Master’s call, “Give Me thy best!” For, be it great or small,
that is His test.
Do then the best you can, not for reward, Not for the praise of men, but for
the Lord.

Wait not for men to laud, heed not their slight; Winning the
smile of God brings its delight!
Aiding the good and true ne’er goes unblest, All that we think or do, be it
the best.
Refrain:
Every work for Jesus will be blest, But He asks from everyone his best.
Our talents may be few, these may be small, But unto Him is due our best,
our all.
(“Our Best,” S. C. Kirk, 1912)

Doing everything perfectly is not usually an option. Giving our
best as we serve God and the needs of others faithfully certainly is.

-J. Edward Culpepper

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