"I will show you a more excellent way…" - 1 Corinthians 12:31
In her book, Overachievers: The Secret Life of Driven Kids, Alexandra Robbins documents an unhealthy culture of excellence and overachievement among middle and upper class American youth. Many compete feverishly for acceptance into prestige colleges while contending with illness, physical deterioration, micro-managing parents and emotional breakdowns.
"When teenagers inevitably look at themselves through the prism of our overachiever culture," Robbins writes, "they often come to the conclusion that no matter how much they achieve, it will never be enough." Sadly, those kids are right.
I'm not against doing things well. In fact, I'm something of a perfectionist. But when I look at the gospel's picture of discipleship, "excellence" is not a word that springs to mind. Jesus chose the least likely, least qualified folk for his inner circle. He hung with local scum. Many expected Jesus to be a triumphant, powerful king. Instead, he ended up on a cross, dying like a common criminal. Not excellent.
Why did Jesus betray our gold standard of excellence? Perhaps because striving for excellence puts the focus on what we're doing, what we're accomplishing, what our results are, not on what God wants to do through us which may, or may not, look anything like success.
In other words, if we think we have achieved excellence we are most likely patting ourselves on the back rather than praising God on our knees. Again and again, the Bible encourages us to pursue faithfulness, not excellence. Because excellence has little need for faithfulness and little need for God. Faithfulness is the more excellent way
Paul pointed to and it's my hope for you, and me, today.
Excellent One, help me to lower my goals from greatness to goodness, fueled by humble faith.
Matt Laney is a United Church of Christ minister and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince, will be available in April, 2018.