August 02, 2019
We’ve all been taught the value and practice of excellence. We were encouraged to always aim high and to do our best—whether in academics, extracurriculars, or even at home as we do chores for our family.
But why should we strive for excellence to begin with?
There are many reasons to be excellent. All the extra effort actually has its perks. When we’re excellent, we become the best version of ourselves. We set standards, reach them, and then feel pretty good. Being excellent also results in earning people’s trust and even their respect. It can open doors and opportunities for our careers. Also, practicing excellence makes the world a better place, in small and big ways.
But as great and as valid as those reasons are, they’re not unshakable.
On one hand, our attempt to be excellent sometimes fails. From time to time, we fall short of the standard—even those we set for ourselves—and this leaves us discouraged and disheartened. Because of this, we could end up looking down on ourselves or questioning our worth.
On the other hand, when our efforts to excel succeed, we could either feel a false sense of pride, thinking, “Wow, look at how much I have achieved,” or we can end up asking ourselves, “Okay, now what?”
Even the most excellent people can find themselves at the top of their game only to question the very meaning and significance of all their achievements—people like Michael Phelps and Freddie Mercury.
Could there be a more unshakable foundation for excellence? One that can keep us going despite setbacks and our own shortcomings?
When God becomes our foundation for excellence, we find a greater role, a greater reason, and a greater reward for being excellent. The Apostle Paul encourages us to be excellent for God:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Colossians 3:23,24 (NIV)
Having God as the foundation of excellence gives our excellence a greater role. All our efforts are no longer just about ourselves. Our excellence becomes worship to God. Worship doesn’t have to be limited to the songs we sing in church. When we decide that all we do is for Him, even writing the most mundane paper or working on the most demanding project become acts of worship to God—they actually please Him and bring Him joy.
In being excellent, we also reflect and become more like our Creator, who is excellent in all He does. Everything He created was good, and as we create and work with excellence, we become “imitators of God,” as Paul said in Ephesians 5:1. We were made in His image to represent Him and reflect who He is in this world. In our being excellent, we fulfill that very role and come closer to what it means to be truly human.
Being excellent also brings glory to God when we use it to point people to Him. It creates a platform of credibility and greater influence. People listen to the excellent. Giving our best has a greater role when it no longer becomes about us and how great we can be but instead, we use it to point people to a great God—a God who fulfills every longing and covers up every shortcoming. We saw this at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards when Chris Pratt used his acceptance speech to say that God is real and that He loves everyone. Another example is Philip Ng, Singapore’s richest person, who, in an interview with one of his mentees, talked about our need for a relationship with God.
Being excellent for God assures us that whether we see it or not, our excellence does make a difference in the world. Our strength, capacity, and influence are limited and the world is exceedingly broken, but when limited people place their limited efforts in the hands of an unlimited God, even the smallest actions can have eternal significance.
Our greatest reward though is not a changed world. Jesus explains in the Parable of the Talents that when we are faithful with what God has entrusted to us, He honors us and our hard work saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” This is the greatest affirmation we can ever receive. This is the “good job” we long for coming from the One person whose opinion truly matters. God honors our excellence. It matters to Him, and it is never in vain.
This is the greatest reason for excellence—that Jesus the Son of God, who knows all our shortcomings and our worst mistakes, who knows for a fact that we have all fallen short of the standards He set, would still choose to come down and bear the consequences of our failures. He died on a cross despite His perfect record and offered complete forgiveness, a total clean slate, and a restoration of our worth and honor.
When we truly understand what God has done for us and how much we are loved, we then can’t help but give our all for Him—not to earn our way to being accepted, but as an overflow of already being accepted. It’s now all worship and our way of showing people who He is.
It also keeps us grounded no matter what happens. If we succeed in being excellent, it leaves no room for arrogance because we know it was all only by God’s grace. If at times we fail, we are not crushed, because God makes up for all our shortcomings and He reassures us that our worth is unchanging in Him.
Having God as the foundation of excellence frees us from the tiring and endless pursuit of proving our worth. Instead, it allows us to begin the enjoyable pursuit of excellence that comes from a grateful heart that knows its worth, proven by the God of excellence Himself. We are worth dying for.
Truly, there is no greater reason to be excellent.