Professional Excellence as a Spiritual Testimony
by Dr. Woodrow Kroll
Excellence in the workplace and the business world has been a hot topic for years. The discussion has produced books with catchy titles, articles in journals and high-priced seminars, all designed to foster excellence. But to my knowledge, no one has searched the Scriptures to find a biblical path to excellence, and yet such a path presents itself in one of the most popular chapters in the New Testament-Philippians 3.
Former President of the Carnegie Corporation and Secretary of HEW under Lyndon Johnson, John W. Gardiner once lamented, “I am concerned with the fate of excellence in our society. If a society holds conflicting views about excellence, or cannot rouse itself to the pursuit of excellence, the consequences will be felt in everything that it undertakes.”
Long before Gardiner expressed his concerns, the Apostle Paul had similar concerns of his own, concerns for his friends in the church at Philippi, in northern Greece. In this beloved chapter he lays out what it takes to pursue the Lord, and everything in life, with excellence. Here’s what he sees; may we see it too.
The pursuit of excellence demands PROPER PRIORITIES v. 8
We all need business or ministry priorities. One of the early pioneers in the personal success genre of literature was Napoleon Hill. In his classic How to Sell Your Way Through Life, Hill listed five fundamental steps to success. The first was “Select a definite major aim as your life work.” That’s setting a priority. But for the born-again follower of Jesus Christ, isn’t there an even higher definite major aim?
In Psalm 42:1-2, the sons of Korah say, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Knowing God more intimately was their priority, even above their livelihood.
David echoes those sentiments in Psalm 63:1, “O God, You are my God; Early will I see You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.”
A quick prayer in the morning before you rush off to your day won’t produce intimacy. A three-minute devotional at the kitchen table won’t produce intimacy. John Aiken, the English biographer of the 18th century, has rightly said, “Nothing is such an obstacle to the production of excellence as the power of producing what is good with ease and rapidity.”
Don’t settle for “good enough” in your relationship with God. Make your relationship with Him your first priority and then watch how other things fall into place.
The pursuit of excellence demands MOTIVATION vv. 10-12
When Dr. Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile for the first time on May 6, 1954, he got his mind motivated to accomplish this amazing feat before he got his body conditioned to do it.
Jim Ryun, one of America’s all-time best milers, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas, and a friend by virtue of listening to me on radio for years, once shared with me a quote that has helped him in his career: “Motivation is what gets you started; habit is what keeps you going.” Excellence never becomes a habit until motivation kick-starts it into action.
Andrew Carnegie was right. “People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”
Let God’s Word be your motivational guide and the Holy Spirit be your motivational coach, so you not only have the right priorities but you are motived to chase after them.
The pursuit of excellence demands AGGRESSIVENESS vv. 13-14
In Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s Search for Excellence, they recorded eight common themes responsible for success in a chosen business. The first was “a bias for action, active decision making – ‘getting on with it.’”
Most of what is written today about aggressive behavior is negative. We read of aggressive drivers, aggressive nations against other nations, etc. But in and of itself aggressiveness is not wrong; it’s what we are aggressive about or our motivation for aggressive behavior that can make it wrong.
Golfer Tiger Woods claimed, “As a child, the family that I had and the love I had from my two parents allowed me to go ahead and be more aggressive, to search and to take risks knowing that, if I failed, I could always come home to a family of love and support.”
Being aggressive in business sometimes means taking risks. But if we are living blamelessly before the Lord, with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-5), our motivation is right, and we have calculated the cost, being aggressive is more likely to lead to success than being passive. Remember, excellence will never pursue you; you must aggressively pursue it!
The pursuit of excellence demands a HOLY PRIDE vv. 15-19
Again John W. Gardiner, who was on the cover of Time Magazine in January 1967, said, “”We must learn to honor excellence in every socially accepted human activity, however humble the activity, and to scorn shoddiness, however exalted the activity. An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
You may not be first chair in the orchestra or salesman of the year. In fact, your company may seem to be perpetually chasing the big guys; but if you are an example of the believer in your business practices, you need a holy pride in what God is doing through you.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Scotland. In the past boat builders along the Clyde River had an unsurpassed reputation for turning out magnificent ships. But this last century has seen a sad decline. One old gateman lamented: “Once iron men came in here to build wooden ships, today wooden men come to build iron ships.”
God needs iron men and women in business; God needs people who will let their light shine in a very dark world by holding to high ethical standards and yet having a holy pride in what they and their firm or company are doing.
The pursuit of excellence demands GOOD COMPANY vv. 20-21
Paul recognized his real “citizenship” was in heaven, but while he was a resident alien here on earth, he would carefully choose those he hung around with. He knew how much people around us have a tendency to influence us, either up or down.
So choose your business partners carefully. Choose your friends carefully. Choose whom you work for carefully. Pursuing excellence begins by pursuing God and then radiates outward to all you do. For the follower of Christ, excellence in any endeavor is not found in books, DVDs or seminars. It is found in the intimate pursuit of the Excellent One.
“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1).
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