Thursday, September 20, 2012

When Your Best Isn't Good Enough

Paul writes in Colossians 3:23,  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” 

That is a wonderful and LOADED sentence.  A good teacher (or even a bad one) could teach a five part series it.

PART 1: WHATEVER YOU DO (Are you mindful of how even the seemingly “little” things matter?)

PART 2: WORK (Are you getting better at “whatever you do?”  Do you “work” at what you do, or do you let other people and things dictate your path?)

PART 3: AT IT (The writer of Proverbs 12:11 observes, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”  Do you stay focused on the “IT” that matters most? Or do you work towards less important things?)

PART 4: WITH ALL YOUR HEART (There are few things more rewarding than knowing you’ve done your best.)

PART 5: FOR THE LORD (Who, ultimately, are you living for?)

I’ve been reflecting on this passage in light of a recent conversation I had with a parent of one of my piano students.

The student is consistently unprepared for their lesson.  They simply do not practice piano during the week.  And the parent explained it to me this way: “My child is so busy at school and with extra-curricular sports, that sometimes the most I can ask is that they just do their best at each lesson.”

And it struck me that it is at least possible that this parent may have “Part 4” down, but “Part 2” could use some attention. (And lest I sound arrogant, from time to time I would do well to pay attention to ALL five of these!)

Doing your best is good.  It is admirable. It is biblical.  But the Passionate Pursuit of Getting Better is ever better.

See, I can “do my best” on a test that I fail. I can “do my best” in a tennis match that I get crushed in.  I can “do my best” on Sunday morning to teach the scriptures, but still give an absolutely lousy message.

I can fail, get crushed, and do a lousy job on those things because Doing Your Best, in the moment, is not the same thing as working towards a preferred future.  Doing your best is only good enough if you’ve done everything possible BEFORE and AFTER the moment to GET BETTER.  

If I “do my best” on a test that I fail, but I never study for it, then “doing my best” in that moment is not good enough.  If I “do my best” in a tennis match that I get crushed in, but I never pay attention to the shape my body, mind and game is in prior to the match, then that isn’t good enough. If I “do my best” on Sunday morning to teach the scriptures with passion and clarity, but I only spend five minutes in prayer and preparation for what I will say, that isn’t good enough.

Paul, in Colossians 3:23, could have said, “Whatever you do, DO it with all your heart.”  But instead he said, “Whatever you do, WORK at it, with all your heart.”

Paul says, “With God’s wisdom and grace, get better at whatever you do!”

If you are a parent, read a book on parenting, talk with other parents, pray more for your kids, learn to be a better listener, develop greater patience. If your activity is making food, learn about the best ways to purchase fresher food and cook healthier, tastier meals.  If you aren’t good at meeting people, learn some tips for how to greet someone, remember their name, and engage in a friendly conversation!

Practical suggestion: Make a list of all the things you do with your waking hours.  And then consider how you can pursue getting better at them!

Don’t do it because you believe you will have more value if you do.  Your value to God and to those who truly love you comes not from what you do, but who you are (a person created in His image).   Don’t do it to win God’s approval (His love, grace and friendship is unconditional).  Do it because you simply understand that anything worth doing is worth doing “with all your might, as unto the Lord.”  Do it because you were created by God to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), and because if you do not grow weary in doing good, you will reap a harvest (Galatians 6:9).