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Striving for Excellence

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Pearl S. Buck said, “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word–Shovelexcellence.  To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”

It’s easy to get burned out when you feel incapable of doing your job well.  Everybody knows the drudgery of being the square peg in a round hole.  On the other hand, it feels good to do something well.  We can see the truth of Buck’s statement.  The difference between those who enjoy their work and those who don’t is excellence.

Excellence is far more attainable than most people realize.  The reason why we often fail to achieve it is that many of us have never paused to consider what it involves.  Excellence requires four ingredients:

1.  Knowledge. It is impossible to do anything well without knowledge.  Mechanics have to know cars, executives must be competent in business, doctors have to study medicine, cab drivers have to learn the city streets, etc.

When it comes to matters of faith, it is impossible to serve God without an understanding of his will (Eph. 5:17).  Many believers have taken on huge projects in the name of religion without first learning what it is that God really wants them to do for him.  These works may be impressive, but that doesn’t mean they are pleasing to God.

Consider what God said to his people through the prophet Amos:

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.  Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen (Amos 5:21-23).

We are stunned when we read that God did not accept the worship of his own people.  But the explanation is quite simple.  They were not worshiping with excellence.  That is, they took action without considering what God wanted.

2.  Diligence.  The most common word translated “diligence” in the New Testament is spoodah, which means “speed, eagerness, earnestness, energy, or promptness.”  Basically it means, “Do it now, do it right, do it well.”

It is important to know how to do the work–as I just said, knowledge is the first ingredient of excellence.  But if we lack spoodah, the work is never going to get done.  Along with competence, excellence involves the willingness to take action with eagerness, energy, and speed.

3.  Efficiency.  Some know what is to be done and have the energy to do it, but they have not paused to consider what is the best way to do it.  Sometimes it’s not how hard you work, it’s how smart you work.

4.  Scrutiny.  This may be the hardest ingredient to digest.  Once we learn God’s will and are enthusiastic about doing it and have set out to do it in an efficient manner, we must be courageous enough to examine it to see if there is room for improvement.

Too often we’re distracted by the flaws in others to see our own mistakes.  Paul said, “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor” (Gal. 6:4).  Have you ever felt pleasure at someone’s failure?  This is what Paul condemned.  It is fine to “boast” (the concept of boasting in the New Testament is similar to rejoicing), but let that boasting come from improvements in your own work, not feeling good because your work isn’t as bad as someone else’s.

Strive for excellence.  Work is a blessing when it is done right.