I can still remember coming home after taking the ACT exam my Junior year of high school and feeling dejected and uncertain whether I spelled my name right. I shared my disappointment with a friend and they asked a good question, “well . . . did you do your best?” I responded quickly with a depressed “yeah” and went home.
For whatever reason that simple question – “did you do your best?” – the same question that I had been asked 100’s of times for all sorts of things throughout my life, rattled and rattled in my mind that night. I couldn’t sleep.
Did I really do my best?
I could have studied more. I could have dumped my friends and devoted every waking hour to studying. I could have taken a practice test every Saturday of my high school career. I could have called up and solicited test taking advice from all of the people that ever scored a 36.
Nope. I guess I didn’t really do my best.
Seeking to do my best at one thing invariably means that I will not do my best at another thing. This applied to Jesus too. Jesus could have been more productive. There were more people to heal. He could have taught using PowerPoint slides in the sky for the visual learners. Jesus could have done more home visits of everyone in the community. Jesus could have invited more Pharisees over to his place. Jesus could have developed the first tennis shoes and replaced everyone’s sandals. Jesus could have spent more one on one time with Judas and kept him out of trouble. Jesus could have traveled more and taken his message to lands further away.
Jesus did not do his best at everything.
Because Jesus defined excellence as being perfectly where his Father wanted him to be and not as doing everything he possibly could.
Hear this clearly.
Faithful excellence is not doing “our best” with precision and perfection all the time.
Faithful excellence is doing the right things at the right times.
The misleading idea that we can always do our best comes from one of the go-to memes of Christian conversation, “do everything with excellence.” The sentiment has roots in the Bible, but like many cultural go-to’s of Christendom the catchphrase is a manipulation of the true biblical meaning. Instead of drawing people into acting according to God’s invitation, “do your best” is used to manufacture performance or to label things as “not done with excellence” if they do not fit our preferences.
The misunderstanding is a reduction of human beings to human doings. In God’s Word, though, we are not expected to do excellent things as much as we are expected to be excellent beings.
The Bible asks, “did you do it as if doing it for the Lord?” In your “doing,” did you love God and love others?
What if instead of asking, “did you do your best?” we asked, “were you faithful?” What if followers of Jesus actually (not pretend) believed that the way their child behaved on the ball field was as important as how they played? What if your integrity at work was as important as your advancement? What if how you treated another person in a disagreement was as important as whether you were right or wrong?
I get it. Our hearts want to scream . . . can’t there be both?!? My heart screams that too.
But let’s be honest. Look in the mirror.
Do we compliment our kids’ character or their performance more? Do we spend more time dreaming of our vocational achievement or our holy character? Do we aspire for more material possessions or contentment with what we have? Are we more likely to plan and ask God’s blessing or to be patient and wait for God’s leading?
If you are anything like me, it’s easier to be busy in the world than honest in my heart. It’s easier to keep trying to be the best at the world’s games than it is to toil at the Spirit’s fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The earthly prize isn’t as big and shiny, but it lasts a lot longer.