Thursday, January 29, 2009

Striving for Excellence

We are all so busy being good;
we have no time to be excellent.
Charles Jarvis
In recent months, God has impressed upon my heart the importance of using our God-given talents to serve Him with excellence. It's a good thing that God always manages to find ways to teach and encourage us, because with the ideas he puts into our minds comes a desire to follow through. Soon after God kept repeating the theme of excellence during our time alone, I came across Mr. Jarvis' quote (above) in a perpetual flip calendar on my desk. This statement rings true in most church-members. We love doing good, but sometimes we get so busy at it, we fail to follow God into the best he has in store for us.
I then ran across this story on the Jews for Jesus website: that I want to share with you. It is a little longer than most of my blog entries, but well worth it. This story written by the founder of Jews for Jesus, Moishe Rosen, tells the tale of a person who got so busy he had no time for excellence. I pray that as you read this story you understand that you are a man or woman of destiny. You have a call. Don't ever settle for anything less than God's best. Strive for Christian excellence in all you do.
He was a wise young man—a coal miner who became a lawyer by studying at night school. First he learned shorthand. Then he found work in a law office. Later, when his shorthand improved, he became a court reporter. He attended law school at night and passed his bar exams. Then he received a call from God for missionary service. He even knew the place—Burma.
She was the most popular girl in her class, but never took any of her suitors seriously. She too, had received a call from God. After high school she enrolled at a newly-founded missionary college in preparation for answering that call.
Each of them might well have been named "Most Likely to Succeed" by society's standards, but they both had other standards in mind. They wanted to serve God above anything else. They met at that missionary college. It was inevitable that they should decide to marry. Together they prayed and looked forward to their missionary service. They were married the day after graduation.
Before their appointment to Burma came through, there was a small complication. He weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces and was 20 inches long. When finally the appointment was made, her need to recuperate from an extremely difficult labor prompted them to postpone their acceptance for a year. But the next year brought a flu epidemic. It nearly took his life and did claim the life of their little son. The overwhelming medical bills caused another delay. To get out of debt, he became very much involved in his law practice.
The third year brought another baby. The new father, now a successful lawyer, was in the midst of a contested probate where a godly widow had left a huge sum of money to missions. Her ungodly children were using all kinds of legal maneuvers to keep that mission from receiving the funds. He felt he could not leave for Burma until the case was settled. He rationalized that he was fulfilling his call by serving as an attorney for God's work, and that the delay in going to Burma must have been God's will. That case took four years to resolve.
Once again he applied as a missionary, but this time only half-heartedly. He now had three small children, and with relief he accepted the mission board's notification: they could not use him in the field. Burma had been closed to missionaries.
His law practice continued to flourish. His monthly donations supported several missionaries. He served on the board of directors for several missions, and through his generosity several churches were started. I attended their 45th wedding anniversary celebration and heard that very attractive older couple declare their happiness and sense of fulfillment and their love for the Lord and one another. They were never to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. She passed on and he became frail in health.
At that time I was a young missionary and greatly discouraged in my ministry, thinking that I might better serve the Lord in some other way. I considered "tentmaking" as Paul had done. The idea had always appealed to me. Because there is an onus on being a missionary to the Jews, it would be so much easier if I could continue to witness but say that I was a shoe salesman or a teacher—anything respectable—anything but a missionary to the Jews, which was not at all "respectable"!
I shared my burden with the elderly lawyer because I knew and respected him greatly. That was when he told me a shocking secret—one he had kept from even his closest associates. He confided it to me because I needed to hear it, and I have never forgotten it. He said,
"I've had a happy life, but not a joyous one. I've made and given away a fortune. I have the love and respect of many, but I did not fulfill my destiny. It's easy to excuse myself by saying that circumstances dictated another call, but only in the last year of my wife's life could we admit to one another that we had chosen to do the second best. I am not unhappy, but I am not fulfilled."
Then he added something that helped me overcome my discouragement. He said, "I recognize that you are a man of destiny. You have a call from God. Don't do anything less than what He has called you to do."
He died shortly after that. He was a man who taught me many things. He was certainly a godly man. I can testify to that. He was happy and successful, but by his own admission, he had not fulfilled his destiny.
Some time back, I read Christian Excellence: Alternative to Success by Dr. Jon Johnston, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Discussing our success-oriented evangelical society, Dr. Johnston made a distinction between success and excellence. He described his own efforts to be a super-person, and how he had continually failed and concealed his failings. Then he had read a highly recommended secular book, In Search of Excellence. The book dealt with companies that did things right and made it big. As he read that book, Dr. Johnston realized that it was not describing excellence, but success.
He pointed out the differences. He said that success is cheap. Success might mean enjoying the acclaim of the crowd, having the keys to the executive bathroom and driving a Mercedes, but success does not necessarily last. Excellence, on the other hand, does. Excellence does not gain the applause of the crowd. Excellence does not produce popularity. Excellence demands more than success. Striving toward excellence requires striving to change one's character.
After reading that, I wondered if Dr. Johnston was not just playing word games. Wasn't excellence implied in success? If a person did an excellent job, then didn't he or she succeed? If a person received recognition for being successful, wasn't that success due to excellence? In our society that seems to be the case. Excellence, success and recognition seem to go hand-in-hand.
Then I realized what Dr. Johnston was saying, and it was an important lesson to me: in the Christian sense, excellence in serving the Lord is quite different. Christian excellence is motivated by a desire to please the Lord and to fulfill His purposes. Such endeavor is an act of worship, not to be applauded by human hands. Christian excellence entails offering one's best to God. It cannot be snatched away by lack of human praise or augmented by human recognition or earthly reward. It seeks only the Master's affirmation: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
I know from personal experience that Christian excellence can exist without "success" and without applause or fanfare. If you want to see excellence and godliness, come and sit at our Jews for Jesus mail table and read some of the mail we receive from friends and supporters. Sometimes the spelling isn't correct; sometimes the handwriting is scrawled and shaky and almost illegible. But I look at those pages and see the reflections of godly people. I see hearts of love and praise to God. I see overcoming strength and victory in the midst of illness; trust in the midst of poverty. That is Christian excellence.
Excellence is better than success. It entails pleasing God—fulfilling one's destiny as His child—godliness. Godliness does not lead us to strive for success, but to strive for excellence—to strive to accomplish God's purposes, thus fulfilling our highest calling as His redeemed ones. How we love to quote Romans 8:28: "…all things work together for good.…" But we must be careful to remember the rest of the verse: "…to those who are the called according to His purpose." And if you read the rest of that passage, you find that God calls us to be conformed to the image of His Son. We are not all called to be professional missionaries. We are not all called to be preachers. But we are all called to fill and fulfill a definite role within the Body of Christ. As those who have received the Spirit of Christ, we know what God asks of us, and we know when we settle for doing—for giving Him—something less.
That godly lawyer knew. He told me, "You are a man of destiny. You have a call." He didn't want me to settle for anything less. He exhorted me as one who had not fulfilled his own destiny. I, in turn, want to say to all blood-bought believers in Christ: You too have a destiny because you have a call, as does every believer in Christ. Your call is to do your part in accomplishing the purposes of our Heavenly Father. Once you realize this, you have the potential of excelling in the fulfillment of your destiny. And fulfilling your destiny will bring unmatched and lasting joy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Multitude of Anxieties

When I said, "My foot is slipping,"
your love, O LORD, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought joy to my soul.
Psalm 94:18-19
I am doing a topical study in my Sunday School class and my girls chose anxiety as our first subject. Our times of late have caused a multitude of thoughts in most of us, and many of them are not positive. Even the most optimistic are becoming depressed. When I read Charles H. Spurgeon's devotion on the verses above to a special sister going through a hard time she said, "How did Mr. Spurgeon know what is going on in my life?" This led me to share this excellent devotion with all of you. I pray you are blessed and choose to present all of your burdens to God in prayer and leave them there (Philippians 4:4-7). Soak in these words of wisdom from a giant of the faith.
Some of you are perplexed with a multitude of anxieties about your life. You do not know what to do. One plan was suggested, and for a time it seemed the best action. But now you have doubts. You are bewildered and you cannot see Providence's clue. You are lost in a maze. Indeed, at this moment, you are depressed.
You have tried various ways and methods to escape your present difficulty. But you have been disappointed and distracted. Your thoughts have no order; they drag you in opposite directions. The currents meet and twist as if you were in a whirlpool.
My perplexed friend, remember the children of Israel at the Red Sea. The sea was before them, rocks were on either side, and the cruel Egyptians roared in the rear. Imitate Israel's actions. "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today" (Exodus 14:13). You reply, "I cannot be quiet. I am agitated, perturbed, perplexed, tossed, and distracted. What shall I do?"
"In the multitude of my anxieties with me, Your comforts delight my soul" (Psalm 94:19). Turn your eyes to the deep things of God. Cease from anxious consideration of seen things, which are temporary, and gaze by faith on things that are eternal.
Remember, your way is ordered by a higher power than your will and choice. The eternal God has fixed your every step. All things are fixed by the Father's hand. He who loved us from before the foundations of the world has immutably determined every step of our pilgrimage.
It is a blessed thing, after you have been muddling and meddling with your anxieties, to throw your burdens on the Lord and leave them there.
Always listen!!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Trusting in God's Protection

. . . Whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.
Proverbs 1:33

Have you ever noticed that when God teaches you something (or sometimes in my case when I am teaching on something), he always finds a way for you to practice it right away? Last Saturday, God wanted me to practice what I preach. I spend a lot of time at our barn on the weekend which is 40 miles north of our home. I had told my husband, Greg, I wanted to go home on Saturday night, instead of spending the night because I wanted to put some beans and ham in the crock pot before church.

When I left to go home it was pouring cats and dogs as the old saying goes, and an unusual eerie feeling about riding home on the winding mountain roads in the dark and in the rain crept into my heart. All of those crosses where people have died, that I pass every time I go out there, kept flashing in my mind. Most of the time I am fearless. I will go anywhere, anytime, no matter the conditions, but Saturday night was different.

As I rode home, I prayed a lot. God reminded me of all of the verses that I had poured over all week for the lesson I was preparing to teach on God's protection. I remembered Charles Spurgeon's words on the passage above I chose to study (Proverbs 1:33). He said, "If God cannot save His people under heaven, He will save them in heaven. If the world becomes to hot to hold them, then heaven shall be the place of their reception and their safety." I decided right then to stop worrying and trust God with my life and the lives of my precious family. If I'm not here to take care of them, God will.

And when I really thought about it, what could be better than a quick trip to heaven? NOTHING!! Teaching my Sunday School Class early Sunday morning revealed the proof of God safely delivering me home. No cars hydroplaned over the line to smash me to smithereens like I thought might happen. Praise God! But no matter how God chooses to take me home, I trust his sovereign protection.

I am listening, Lord. I want to live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm. Thank You, Jesus!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The New Year usually causes us to reflect and refocus; reflect on how far we have come and refocus on where we want to go. God's word gives us the best place to focus by telling us to "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). In one of his New Year devotions, Charles H. Spurgeon gets right to the point by stating: "He who grows not in the knowledge of Jesus, refuses to be blessed" (from Morning and Evening, January 4). We all desire blessing. I trust making growth a top priority in 2009 will wash away the troubles of 2008 and bring a fresh start to our New Year.

When Jesus prayed for you and I in John 17 he said, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3) Knowledge of God is eternal life. God is speaking through these passages saying growth in grace and knowledge of Jesus has to be a priority every year, day in and day out. And with Jesus praying for us there is no way to fail in our attempts to grow.

How do we grow? We practice standing on the promises of God daily. To stand we need to know the promises, and to know the promises we should look them over on a regular basis. For his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Listening Hearts, let's pray a New Year's Prayer to start the year off right (Inspired by the same Spurgeon devotion mentioned above):

Dearest Lord Jesus,
Because your divine power has given us everything we need for life, please show us new ways to grow in grace—not in one grace only, but in all grace. Help us to grow in that root-grace, faith. May we all believe the promises more firmly than we have in the past. Let our faith increase in fullness, constancy, simplicity. May we also grow in love. We are asking that your love may become extended, more intense, more practical, influencing every thought, word, and deed in our lives. This will cause us to grow likewise in humility. As we grow downward in humility, may we seek also to grow upward—having nearer approaches to God in prayer and more intimate fellowship with Jesus. In your precious name we pray all these things. Amen.

Always Listen!