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Posts Tagged ‘Excellence’

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Years ago I read a story that still comes to mind now and then.

As I recall, an older church member (a woman of very high standards which she vocalized frequently), came to visit a young mother of the church—unannounced.

The impromptu hostess—we’ll call her Beth—invited Mrs. Perfect into her home, grateful that she’d straightened up a bit after her two older children left for school. The two younger ones were playing quietly with new Legos (How fortunate was that?), allowing the two women to chat.

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As they sat at the kitchen table, Beth considered the room from her guest’s perspective: table cleared, dishes done, counters not too cluttered or spotted. Whew.

Then she saw it: an orange peel on the floor—not a fresh strip from breakfast; more likely from last week. How did I miss that? Beth thought. One thing for sure: Mrs. Perfect wouldn’t miss it. It was in plain view from where she sat, too.

Suddenly, Beth experienced an epiphany. What difference did it make to her if this poor, old woman noticed the orange peel? Mrs. Perfect, however, would leave with a spring in her step because she would never allow such filth to remain undetected on her floor.

And Beth smiled to herself as the other woman prattled on about the upcoming bazaar.   I hope that orange peel makes her day. And Beth truly meant it.

God brings that story to my mind because I have to fight against perfectionism, too.

Obsessive man laying on grass, perfection

And the reasons? So others will be pleased with me, appreciate me, and admire my efforts. Notice: me, me, my.

Clearly perfectionism is a close relative of self-centeredness.  Oh, Lord, forgive me.

I pray God steers me away from such counter-productive expectations of myself. Instead, I want to strive for excellence.

Yes, there is a difference between perfection and excellence.

Perfectionists have the tendency to:

  • Set unreasonably high standards
  • Experience satisfaction only when those high standards are met
  • Become depressed over failures and disappointments
  • Be controlled by fear of failure and therefore procrastinate
  • Worry about disapproval when mistakes are made

On the other hand, those striving for excellence are likely to:

  • Set standards that are high but reachable
  • Enjoy the process as well as the outcome
  • Recover quickly from failures and disappointments
  • Keep fear under control with positive truth
  • View mistakes as opportunities for growth

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For the Christian, excellence should be our loving response to God, with the desire to please him.

And what might those responses look like, as we strive for excellence?

  • Ask God to reveal what his expectations are. Then invite him to work in us toward meeting his standard:  maturity (James 1:4).
  • Take pleasure in signs of spiritual growth, as we manifest the fruit of the Spirit more and more each day (Philippians 1:9-11).
  • Turn to him for encouragement and strength when failures and disappointments come (Psalm 18:25-33).
  • Keep fear under control with appropriate scriptures and uplifting devotionals (Psalm 118:5-8).
  • View mistakes as opportunities to grow in maturity and in our relationship with God (Proverbs 24:16).

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(By the way, when the Bible tells us to be perfect (as in Matthew 5:48), the words, mature and complete are helpful synonyms to interpose. Perfection is not within our abilities to achieve (Romans 3:23). We know it and God knows it.

Here’s what we can do:

“Strive toward holiness, yet relax in grace.”

–Philip Yancey

 

Isn’t that a wonderfully balanced goal?

Let’s remember: “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone [including ourselves] put a harness of slavery [to perfectionism] on you.” – Galatians 5:1 (MSG)*

*Words in brackets added.

Photo credits:  www.deeprootsathome.com; http://www.femhack.com; http://www.worshipmatters.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2).

What are your thoughts about perfectionism and Christian excellence?  Share your comments below!

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Today I submit a few tidbits you might find thought-provoking, maybe even helpful.

1. “Circumstances are like a mattress. If we get under them, we will suffocate. If we get on top of them we will rest” (Arnold Prater).

A pillowtop mattress (U.S. size "queen")

How do we get out from under circumstances? Most of the time we can’t pry ourselves out. The circumstances are outside our sphere of control.

But we can praise our way out. We can praise our all-knowing God who’s never caught by surprise. He has known from the beginning of time that this situation would arise.

We can also praise our powerful God with whom all things are possible. In the time it takes to say, “Be gone,” God can remove those troubling circumstances.  Sometimes he does.

But just as miraculous? The way he can uphold us—lovingly and continually–while the circumstances continue. I have known people carrying great burdens of health problems, family crises, and ongoing relational struggles. Yet their lives are characterized by joy and peace.

I’m thinking of one friend in particular who’s now with Jesus. You’d never know the heartache she endured to look at her. Lynn* was always calm, always smiling.

More examples?

Ava*, who smiled her way through breast cancer—the chemo, the surgery, the radiation, the uncertainty, the pain.

Debbie*, who lost her soul-mate husband to cancer, after forty-plus years of marriage. She has depended on Jesus for strength and peace—and continued to serve him with passion and joy.

Jim*, who hasn’t been able to find steady work after being laid off. Yet he maintains a positive attitude and a delightful sense of humor, knowing God will provide.

Neon

No doubt you know of people dealing with thick mattresses of circumstance. But they’re not underneath either; they’re resting in God alone (Psalm 62:1).

Oh, Lord, forgive me for moments of self-pity. At the first little petty thought, prick my conscience with remembrances of these saints who have learned to be content in spite of their circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

*(Names have been changed.)

2. “My mind is like a sieve, but at least it’s getting cleaned.”

tea strainer

I heard this comment from a pastor on the radio, and had to heartily agree. I can read the Bible and other Christian books by the hour. But ask me the next day what I read, and chances are I won’t be able to tell you much.

I can listen to Christian radio, but again, too little of what I hear sticks in my memory.

Such lack of retention used to bother me greatly until I heard this pastor shine a positive light on the problem. I may not remember all the information of a book or sermon, but the influence of the words has its purifying effect on my mind and spirit.

At least while I’m reading or listening, my mind is occupied by what is noble and right (Philippians 4:8)! And that’s a good thing.

Thank you, Father, for renewing my mind even when my memory fails me. Although I might forget the exact words, their effect gives me strength and perseverance. Thank you that “the unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130)—including this simple woman with a memory like a sieve.

3. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” (Aristotle).

What are some things that we repeatedly do that create excellence? Possibilities include: Bible study, prayer, praise, gratitude, self-discipline, singing praise songs and hymns, and uplifting conversation.

English: Personal bible study Português: Estud...

And what are some things that we repeatedly do that are not creating excellence? Too much screen time. Negative thinking. Gossip. Overeating. Self-indulgence.

Oh, Lord, help me strive for excellence in the choices I make. I want to have a positive impact on others and please you.  I don’t want to waste my life on trivial pursuits. Keep me mindful of this truth: Out of excellence will grow peace, contentment, strength and joy.

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