Friday, August 10, 2007

If you're gonna do it, do it well!

In my study lately, I've noticed there is a recurring theme in the Bible--not just in the Old Testament, but in the New as well, and that is that God desires excellence in His creation. The Proverbs 31 woman is called "the excellent wife"; Philippians 1:10 exhorts us to approve things that are excellent; 1 Peter 2:12 commands us to keep our behavior excellent. God holds Himself to these high standards as well. Isaiah 12:5 encourages us to "Praise the LORD in song, for He has done excellent things".

Why the focus on excellence? God's Word gives us a clear answer in Revelation when we're given a glimpse of what God wants from His children. Lukewarmness disgusts Him. He wants those who are zealous, pure, and "on fire". Not those who are content to be content. God doesn't like mediocrity, it would seem! He could have created a world much like early photographs--black and white. But He didn't. He blessed our world with a rainbow of color, shades and tones and highlights that leave us in awe of a "simple" breathtaking sunset; colors that mystify and excite our senses. He never intended for life to be dull!

I often tell my kids to go back and re-do something they've done sloppily, because to leave something like that says that they don't care enough to do it WELL. Proper grammar, tucking a shirt in all the way, making sure the dishes are done in a way that leaves no trace of the previous meal (eww!), penmanship...all these things speak very loudly about the effort we are willing to put into a task--and its importance as reflected by that effort.

Is our spiritual life any different? Does God want to hear us mumbling a half-hearted hymn as we "praise" Him? Is it of any value to Him if we give only the bare minimum of our talents in service? God gave very implicit direction during the patriarchal days to give Him the firstfruits of flocks and harvests, but Christians in today's fast-paced, high-stress world are far too willing to offer Him only what is left over after resources have been nearly expended. We use our talents to "our" advantage; our paychecks further "our" pursuits; we spend "our" time serving human desires instead of seeking first what God would have us to do and giving the firsfruits--the best, the most excellent of our gifts--to the One who they ultimately belong to in the first place.

For the last several months, I have been mentally meditating over what makes really successful families "tick"; what makes them so different from the rest of us "average" Christian families? In a word, EXCELLENCE. They don't settle for leftovers. They strive to be the best husbands, wives, mothers, children, siblings, and grandparents that they can be, but they give God ample room to work through them, and it shows! Just "getting by" isn't good enough for these families, and their zeal is intoxicating. The words "I just forgot" don't seem to be in their vocabularies, and the strength they receive from Christ oozes from every pore. They don't rely on self; they know that God is the source of all good things, including their wisdom and their very ability to do the tasks at hand. And LOVE--how they LOVE!!!

I spent the first seventeen years of my life in a family that vacillated between mediocrity and perfectionism. It's an odd combination, and it makes for a miserable existence. If you can't be perfect, don't try at all. Yet what is "perfect"? WHY be perfect, if it isn't God's perfection you seek? What reward does perfectionism have in and of itself? What a boring life, to avoid getting dirty at all costs--even if that cost includes shunning hospitality and the enjoyment of God's creation. How hopeless, to believe you are destined for nothing more than 'average'. I grew up seeing God's plan for my life as a set of rules I couldn't break, or I'd be doomed to an eternity of suffering. No one pointed out to me how wonderful this life EXCELLENT. It took years and years for me to see what true joy looks like, and to realize that I can have that for myself! What I never expected was the momentum that carries me now. I never had any clue that once I surrendered the "I've gotta get this done" of my own personal strivings and embraced the Lord's true purpose that I found the strength, the power, the "push" that I lacked all those years. Praise God that I don't have to be the author of my own excellence!

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