Living Life with God's Irrepressible Joy
Have you ever seen a dance execute an unimaginably difficult maneuver or seen a musician perform a difficult piece of music perfectly? Or maybe you watch sports and are always amazed how the professional players are able to get the ball across the field. No matter what you’re into—art, music, sports, or dance—there are people in those fields who can do everything perfectly. Why? Because they have practiced their craft for hours and pursued excellence and perfection in their chosen vocation.
These individuals garner our awe, and rightly so for they have devoted their lives to being the best. They become our heroes and we look up to them. But why do we lift these people up as heroes when their pursuits have been of things that are fleeting and temporary? Why do we strive for excellence and perfection in things like art, music, dance, and sports when at the end of the day these things have no eternal value?
It’s not that becoming proficient in a skill is wrong; it’s just that we are first and foremost called to be excellent in our Christian life. Before we pursue excellence in physical abilities, we must first pursue it in our spiritual life. And to excel, become proficient, and perfect at anything requires practice. Lots of practice. Countless hours of practice.
We are willing to devote hours of time to the practice and perfection of our chosen hobby or vocation. Are we also willing to devote hours of time to the pursuit of spiritual excellence?
Paul exhorted the Philippians to pursue excellence (among many things) and to practice the things that had been taught to them. He writes:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Our actions stem from our thoughts. Therefore, Paul’s exhortation to think about or dwell on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent is crucial. For our thoughts shape our actions and our actions form our character.
When Paul says “think about”, he doesn’t mean when you have spare time, or while you’re in the shower. This “think about” is intentional. The Greek word here literally means “to take an inventory.” We are to deliberately take inventory of these things and see whether we have them in our lives or are lacking them. It’s time-consuming and not something that can be done in five minutes.
Have you ever inventoried a store? It’s tedious, time-consuming work and the crazy thing is that it has to be done on a regular basis. Stores don’t inventory just once. They do it repeatedly and on a scheduled basis. Likewise, we need to take stock or think about our spiritual life in the same way, in a methodical, non-hurried, regular way.
The next thing Paul encourages us to do is to practice these things. What are these things? The things that are excellent, true, just, honorable, etcetera. These things require practice! Because we’re not perfect, it’s difficult for us to master excellence. We don’t get there overnight. It takes repeated attempts and failures and reattempts until we finally attain our goal.
So the question for us is…are we willing to practice excellence? Are we ready to take inventory of our spiritual lives, to ponder and think about the things that are true, just, lovely, and pure? When we come up short, will we give up or will we continue to pursue excellence?
We can never attain perfection in the Christian life on our own. However, through Christ we can get closer and closer until we reach that day in eternity when we will stand before the throne of God spotless and perfect. But until that day comes, God calls us to take inventory of our lives—regularly and methodically—and then to practice those areas that are not up to par.
So will you join me in the pursuit of excellence?
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
~I Corinthian 9:24-27