Our world adores excellence and rewards it. Yet, last week, I noted that, while excellence itself can be useful and worthwhile, our perspective on excellence can create problems. Excellence, at least in the sense of being better than others, is not God’s primary goal for our lives. We do not have to be better than anyone else in order to please God. His expectation for us is simple. Paul states it in Colossians 3:23: “ Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. . .” In other words, give God your best and do it for His glory, and He will be pleased. Your best may not be the best, but that’s irrelevant to God. I ended by saying that “all you have is all He wants.”
This may have sounded, to some, like an invitation to half-heartedness or laziness, and it’s sometimes taken that way. But that’s not the case. God’s bar for each of us may be reasonable, but it’s also a substantial challenge; one which requires stretching and growing. Let’s develop that idea.
What does it mean to give God my best?
1. Giving God my best will require trusting in Him, not myself
This is the paradox of Christian living; one which often takes a long time to learn. I myself struggle with it. While our effort is involved, our effort, by itself, is far from sufficient. Only God can show us what to do and give us the strength and wisdom to do it. As Proverbs 3:5,6 says; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. . .” Without fully leaning on God, seeking to give our best becomes a heavy burden, as well as a source of anxiety. In fact, without God’s help I can’t give my best. We’re not even sure what that best looks like without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2. Giving God my best requires immersion in His Word
The Bible doesn’t address all of our specific questions, like which job we should take, who to marry, or exactly how to use our time. But it sets the foundation for making wise decisions in all of these areas. By immersing ourselves in Scripture, we gain a sense of God’s heart and mind – what get Him excited and pleased, what advances His goals, and conversely, what may impress our world but is not especially important to Him. I often find that meditating on Scripture re-aligns my heart with His, when it has imperceptibly begun to slide into a more worldly perspective. This leads to the next point:
3. Giving God my best means primarily seeking His glory
If my main reason for excelling is my own glory, then my excellence will be tainted in God’s sight. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says: “. . .whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Notice the word “primarily” here. I don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy a bit of attention when we excel. I still remember how happy I felt when I won a prize for being the best Bible quizzer in children’s church. It’s natural to enjoy the spotlight. As we grow more mature in Christ, however, our own glory becomes a secondary issue. What matters most is that people are focused on God; that He receives the ultimate glory. He’s the one who deserves it and He’s the only one who can save them.
4. Giving God my best means staying focused on what matters most to Him
This is a broader version of the last point. Ask yourself: “What will matter most 100 years from now? Or 1000 years?” In other words, “What has eternal significance?” Which will matter most: that I was a best-selling author or that I led another person to salvation in Jesus? That I won a weight-lifting contest or that I became more like Christ in my character? God’s main concerns involve our eternal relationship with Him. Earthly achievements, great as they may be, which do not enhance our eternal relationship with God, are, in the end, irrelevant. Jesus said, in Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
5. Giving God my best means that I put out my best effort
This is a critical part of our whole discussion on excellence. Is God impressed that you’re first chair in the trumpet section? Or that you got straight “A’s”? Or that you’re a successful businessperson? Not necessarily. Life isn’t a contest with others. He compares us with ourselves (Gal. 6:3,4); with the gifts He’s given us (1 Cor. 12:7) and with the person He made us to be. Are we giving God our best effort (Col. 3:23)? If our best effort results in “C’s”, or in being seventh chair trumpet, God is pleased. A learning disabled person, who gives God their best, may please Him more than a genius who’s only cruising on ¾ of their potential .
6. Giving God our best involves a balanced focus of priorities
What good is it to get an “A” in one area of our lives if we’re getting “D’s” and “F’s” in other important areas? If I neglect my relationship with God or family in order to achieve excellence in some other area, is it worth it? Or, flipping it around, if I have great devotional times, does that justify mediocre job performance? Remember that the earlier verse says “whatever you do. . .” God has given us a full range of responsibilities and though some may be more important than others (like loving God), they all matter. This leads to our last point:
7. Giving God our best sometimes involves a willingness to settle for less than excellence
If I’m to maintain the overall balance just described, I won’t always have the time or energy to reach my full potential in a particular area. Yes, I have the talent to be the top salesperson, but I also have a family that needs me and they take up time I could be using to sell. Yes, I’m a gifted teacher, but they called me Sunday morning to fill in, and there’s no way I can prepare a lesson up to my usual standard. Or maybe I’m asked to take a position that I don’t have much talent for, but no one else will do it. “If I can’t do it well, I won’t do it at all” sounds good in theory, but it’s not always practical. Less than excellent, is often still better than nothing. And the good news is that God can and will use our best, whether or not it is impressive by human standards.
If you are capable of excellence, and can do so with reasonable balance in other areas of life, by all means, aim for the stars. God uses top performers as well as more average people. But whatever your gifts and potential are, seek to build and grow them. Our best can become better over time. Give your best, for the glory of God, and God will be pleased.