Jonathan Anchen

What Excellence means to a Christian

Watching Michael Chang’s victories in the 1989 French Open, and then listening to his victory speech is an emotional experience. Michael, who is a fine Christian, was then a 17 year old boy, and few thought he had a chance of defeating giants like Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg.  He thanked the Lord Jesus Christ in his victory speech, saying “Without Him I am nothing”. He battled cramps and inexperience, yet hung in there and gave his best because he felt an inner voice urging him to go on, and to think beyond winning or losing. To me this is a great example of excellence. In all things Christians are to pursue excellence, because God has given us the opportunity to do our very best in those things. Our goal should be to strive to do the best we can, even if others around us who are paid more, are willing to do less than their best. The result of this mindset is stunning, and can result in very special results. When we are in the presence of excellence it can be an emotional experience.

The Bible teaches us that excellence is a virtue and that we should practice it at all times, whether you work in a call centre talking to customers on the phone, or whether you work with Apple on a project to design the next iPhone. Whatever you do, the Apostle Paul tells us to do it all for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).  This is probably not emphasized enough in Christian teaching today, and excellence is sometimes considered the poor second cousin of more well-known virtues like love, joy, forgiveness and service. Yet this is a teaching that touches every part of our day.

Despite all this we should not worship excellence as a virtue. This is because an inappropriate understanding of the meaning of excellence can lead to pride and even burnout. Sometimes the desire for excellence among Christians is not caused by a genuine love for God, but by a desire to exaggerate our own importance. The desire for excellence can sometimes result in pride, so it’s always important to check our motives. Is it really about God, or is it about you?

Burnout and stress can be another side effect of excellence. Persistent striving can be fatiguing, when we strive to excel to achieve our potential at work, or study. There comes a point where the desire to achieve unbeatable quality can cause stress in us, and also in those around us. I had a very successful boss who used to say that perfectionists cause stress in organizations. I have found this to be true. Many of us know what it feels to be overworked and fully understand how harmful this is to our health, our relationships, our professional abilities and to our spiritual lives. Work can become a punishing, depressing and often prayer-less existence. This is not the life that God has called us to live. The solution to this is to make sure that excellence is bounded by simplicity. You must focus on doing a few things and doing them exceptionally well. Focus exclusively on the areas where you truly feel called. Remember that the pursuit of excellence requires discernment, making difficult choices. We need to learn to choose between two good things, and then do that one good task 100 percent, instead of doing both tasks 60 percent.

Excellence is a process not a destination. It is not merely the goal getting a promotion, passing an exam or getting a good hike in your salary. If you understand excellence as a destination you run the risk of growing complacent when you reach your destination. It is better to think of excellence as a journey, a lifestyle. A final thought, God wants us to live excellent lives; and hold ourselves to the Bible’s standard of personal holiness. When you start fleeing from things which are immoral you will find that your life will change. You begin to see that God’s vision for the world is a lot bigger than your own little kingdom. You then look for opportunities to give to the hurting world around you, instead of expecting the world to give to you. In the words of Paul, you must learn to be excellent at what is good, and be innocent of evil.

— Jonathan Anchen
Harvest Times for Your Family April 2013/Volume 10 Issue 4