We all desire excellence. Food. Clothing. Art. Literature. Education. Our athletes and technology and science and medicine compete in order to appease our chorus of cries for excellence.
Culturally billions of dollars and millions of words have been written to define, describe, encourage, advance, and instruct excellence. The goal is to reach the individual who cares. The individual who would reach within herself and pull up and out that little piece of uniqueness, that over and beyond exertion, that beyond commitment commitment, and shine just a little brighter than her peers. That is what it means to excel. Right?
Until this week, I thought that for us who are Christian women, excellence could be defined by this above described individual effort coupled with a recognition that we are daughters girded by the strength of Christ: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
This week, I read a wonderful little book entitled Resurrecting Excellence by L. Gregory Jones and Kevin R. Armstrong and was reminded that while excellence includes personal work effort, dedication, commitment , and use of our gifts and talents, true excellence cannot be contained in singular performance. The highest purpose of excellence is loving others and loving others involves giving, community, reaching outside self:
But earnestly excel with the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3).
The greatest example of love, is Christ. He lay His life down for others to be reconciled into peace with God. He didn’t just give His life to save others for a future life in heaven, as wonderful as that is. Jesus saved us so that we might excel(live the gospel) on earth. He saved us to excel in our homes, our workplaces, our relationships. With His gift of life came the capacity to move outside ourselves and excel through love. For the Christian who reads the Bible, Jesus’ formula for excelling is found in Philippians:
Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-7).
How does it all fit together? Excellence? The Mind of Christ? Loving Others? Emptying Oneself? Many, many books by scholars much more brilliant than I have been written to answer these questions, but I offer these simple thoughts:
- As you seek to excel, be sure that you are motivated to help others at least as much as you are motivated to be your personal best. As you train your mind and body or work your way through the ranks of your career, keep ever before you ways that your life is serving others through the work and hobbies you employ and enjoy. Choose work and hobbies that serve others.
- As you lead, be an ongoing servant: daily serve by smiling, opening doors, offering advice, giving credit to others for their work, offering genuine compliments; financially serve by donating to worthy and charitable causes; culturally serve by volunteering on boards and committees and foundations who can use your gifts and talents.
- Find ways to serve anonymously.
- Serve/give without judging or controlling. Drop coins into a homeless cup without worrying about how they will spend the money.
- Offer your extra food and clothing to the needy instead of selling them on EBay or Craig’s list.
- Take an elderly friend to lunch. Babysit for a frazzled couple to give them a night out.
- Say please, thank you, and other words of kindness.
- Take care of yourself so that you are able to focus on serving. Rest. Eat right. Laugh. Cry. Grieve. Celebrate.
- Be sure to be involved in a local church and serve the Body of Christ and your community with them.
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’ Hungry not only for bread — but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing — but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks — but homeless because of rejection.” ~ Mother Teresa
I will not die but live, and proclaim what God has done. Ps 118:17.