33. I Choose Excellence


Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State during the Nixon administration, tells of a Harvard professor who had given his students an assignment. After collecting the papers, he marked them before returning them to the students. At the bottom of one was written, "Is this the best you can do?" The student thought, "no," and redid the paper. He submitted it, but it was returned to him again with the same comment. This went on ten times till finally, the student said, "Yes, this is the best I can do." The professor replied, "Good. Now I'll read it."

Nobody is born excellent. Attaining excellence takes discipline and hard work. It involves doing something repeatedly until one gets it perfect, not just right. Then it becomes a way of living and guarantees success in our endeavors. The wise king Solomon once said, "Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank" (Proverbs 22:29). 

Well, there aren't too many kings still walking on earth — dear old Charles is probably one of the last — but there is another king greater than any other who rules the earth. His name is Jesus. Paul urges us to please him. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as (though you are) 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). However, when it comes to doing things for God, even those among us who generally take pride in our work, get shoddy. Have you noticed? Let us not be like this. 

Then, sometimes we believe the nature of the work does not merit the extra effort. Like plumbing, perhaps. However, to paraphrase John Gardner, if we scorn excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerate shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, we will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water. And that's so true.

The pursuit of excellence begins in the mind. Paul put it beautifully when he said, "Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

So, as we choose excellence today, let us think about such things, remembering yet another piece of advice Paul gave. He said, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

God bless you.


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