Esteemed faculty, parents, and students, I am delighted to offer some brief thoughts this morning to you on the topic of excellence. I believe in spiritual and academic excellence. Anyone who knows me knows I take what happens within the classroom and what happens within my quiet time seriously. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. I’ve wondered at times where this passion came from. A part of this belief comes from my mother. My mom taught me early on that you shouldn’t just be good, you should be good at it. You don’t just give 20 percent; you put everything you got into it. She did not have the privilege of graduating high school and, therefore, set high expectations for her children. My mom use to tell me that she wanted me to have what she didn’t have the opportunity to have herself. If she thought I could do better than a B, she encouraged me to do better than a B. She was not satisfied with the bare minimum and she did not celebrate mediocrity.
So what is excellence? Excellence is best described as doing the right things right – selecting the most important things to be done and then accomplishing them 100 percent correctly. Notice that I did not say excellence is being better than other people. Excellence is more about the quality of work and character you exude than being better than other people. In his book Rising above the Crowd, author Ben Harbour writes, “Success means being the best. Excellence means being your best. Success, to many, means being better than everyone else. Excellence means being better tomorrow than you were yesterday. Success means exceeding the achievements of other people. Excellence means matching your practice with your potential.” Learn this now, you don’t become better by pushing other people down or aside. You become better by doing your best and serving others. The pursuit of excellence is not about being better than other people. It is about simply being better.
So why should you care about excellence in the first place? It is easier not to. Students and faculty, it is easier to coast through life, barely getting by all the while making fun of everyone else for trying so hard. But, I don’t think that is good enough. Here at Crescent City Christian School, we desire to do our best because it is the desire of God Almighty that we do our best. Listen for a moment to the following commands. And these are commands, not suggestions.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31-31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
- Colossians 3:17-17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
- 1 Peter 4:11 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.
- Matthew 22:37-38 37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.
We seek to live, move, and grow in excellence because God commands us to do so. In fact, our excellence flows from His Excellency. Paul David Tripp writes,
Excellence is, in fact, a relationship. There is only One who is truly and perfectly excellent. He alone is the sum and definition of what excellence is and does. So the one who is excellent, in His grace, came to you when you were in a state of anything but excellence, and by grace offered you the promise of actually becoming a partaker of His divine nature. He then connects you to purposes and goals way higher, way grander and more glorious than you would every have sought for yourself… Your hope of ever being excellent in His eyes and doing what is excellent in His sight is found in your relationship to Him and in His grace that not only forgives and accepts but radically transforms. And He calls and empowers you to display His excellency and the excellency of His grace. It is only this excellency that has the power to free us from the false excellency of human pride and the mediocrity that results when we are okay with ourselves and our world just the way they are.
The Gospel leads us to excellence in every area. Jesus Christ did not come down here and wing redemption. He gave his all so we give our all in every area.
What areas should you be excellent in? Are there some areas where you can be lazy and some other areas where you ought to give your all? No. Excellence should not be limited to specific tasks. Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. If God calls you to be a teacher, you teach to the glory of God with everything you have in you. If God calls you to become an accountant, you do accounting to the glory of God with everything you have in you. If God calls you to dig ditches, you dig ditches to the glory of God with everything you have in you. You’re not just serving yourself or serving those around you. You work for the Lord. In college, I worked on the janitorial staff. I was a janitor for my college, but I was a janitor first for Jesus Christ. I scrubbed toilets, mopped the floors, wiped windows, and cleaned classrooms well because the Lord paid my paychecks. Whatever you put your hands to, do it well. Do it with excellence.
How can you grow in excellence? At this point, I just want to be practical in offering ways you can grow in spiritual and academic excellence.
- Trust in the Lord. The only person who can showcase God’s excellence to the world is someone who knows God through Christ. The Bible says that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.
- Pray, pray again, and then pray some more. You are hard-wired as an American to think that you don’t need anyone’s help and you are weak if you call on the strength, resources, and wisdom of others. Bologna! Last time I checked, no one walked out the womb perfect. You need God’s help to become better.
- Think, for the love of God, think. Everyone thinks but not everyone thinks well. You should give yourself over to learning how to think logically, systematically, and deeply about life’s deepest and most important topics. Use your noodle!
- Surround yourself with people who encourage you to be the best you you can be. Jim Rohn says it like this, “You are the average of the five people you hang around.” The Apostle Paul says it like this, “Bad company corrupts good character.” Surround yourself with people who press you forward. Don’t surround yourself with people who don’t care whether or not you grow and flourish. If your friends don’t care about you becoming better, get better friends. Become a better friend.
- Do not be satisfied with the status quo or mediocrity. Everything you do is a gift to someone else. You would not give a broken or damaged gift to someone for their birthday. Why then do we do it with our time? Why do we offer to others half-hearted broken and damaged efforts and actions?
- Learn and develop good time management practices. Ephesians 5:15-16 says. “15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We don’t want to waste time piddling our thumbs while sitting on the front porch of eternity. Create a log where you tag every hour of the day. You will quickly see how much time you waste.
- Listen to other people who know more than you and who have more wisdom than you do. Knowledge is having facts. Wisdom is being able to apply those facts well in God’s world. It is pleasing the Lord in all situations and walking in honor before all men. You get this from listening to God who has the most wisdom and also listening to others who have gone before you.
- Find a mentor and become a disciple. Jesus wanted to change the world. How did he do it? By raising up and pouring into other people. Find someone to hitch your wagon to who will lead you well. Find someone worth their salt and allow them to speak into your life.
- Take every season of life seriously. I’m not saying don’t enjoy life. I just agree with C.S. Lewis who said, “There’s a joy that makes you serious.” Leisure, fun, and down time are great but you got work to do. They aren’t supposed to take up most of your week. Get to work. Put your shoulder to the plow and labor. Work like it depended all on you and pray like it depended all on him.
- Watch your social media use. Social media is a great tool but it is becoming a hindrance. People use to become famous by creating and inventing things. Now people become famous by creating and recreating themselves. Never before has a generation so diligently recorded themselves accomplishing so little.
- Make your priorities a priority. Not everything is worth your time and effort. While people are limitless in value, worth, and dignity, not every task or calling is worth everything you got. Learn to determine what is best and not just what is good. The greatest enemy of doing what is best is settling for what is only good. Think and work through your priorities often. Get your life together.
- Ignore your feelings and get to work. Our emotions should be gauges and not guides. If you wait around to feel like working hard before you actually work hard, it will never come. It is easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action. Do. Act. Work. And the feelings will come later down the road.
Ladies and gentlemen, students and faculty, let’s give ourselves over to possessing and showcasing excellence in every area of our lives. God forbid, we waste our lives succeeding in things that don’t matter and failing miserably in things of eternal significance.