Lurking within the theology of evangelical Christianity, a beast roams about looking for its next victim. Once within its sights, the animal wastes no time pouncing upon the helpless soul, strangling the life-breath out of it, and slowly gnawing on its bones. This creature is subtle, manipulative, and elusive.
I have heard the word uttered from pulpits and written in devotionals. It has been touted as a witnessing tool, sure to win wayward souls. It has seeped into the collective consciousness of the church, permeating leadership talks and women's ministries. And yet, this vague concept has led to more disillusionment and lack of joy than any worldly temptation.
When I first became a follower of Christ, I was just turning seventeen. I was a junior in high school. It was a beautiful time as I realized Christ's love for me and was filled with the devotion that comes from a radical, inner transformation and the experience of actually sensing God's presence in a very real and tangible way. It was an incredible experience.
I devoured Scripture and listened to Christian radio and sermons, awed by the new concepts I was hearing and understanding for the first time. It was a divine revelation.
New to Christianity, I wanted to be the best Christian I could be(and I still do). I pruned things out of my life that were destructive, I learned to forgive people who had inflicted deep wounds to me and generally lived in a happy state that I had never before experienced.
At some point, the concept of "excellence" slowly began to creep into view. When attending youth meetings, we would hear about how our good behavior and grades could be a witnessing tool to lead others, maybe even teachers, to Christ. They would be impressed by the difference between ourselves and those who didn't know Jesus and want to know more about Him. We should try our utmost to live excellent lives as a way to reach others. Well, of course, we wanted to lead others to Christ.
And so, this subtle message has begun to be imbued, in different methods and expressions, within countless forms. As wives and mothers, we are to raise our children in an "excellent" way. Our children should have manners and be obedient and respectful. Our homes should be warm, welcoming, and spotless. As workers, we should be diligent, hardworking, good employees. Our bodies should be physically fit and toned, because, after all, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. As believers we should have a specified bible study time, preferably in the morning , every day. Any excuses are merely temptations from the Enemy.
When your goal is excellence, your destination is usually failure. Despite what countless books and people tell you, there is no special elixir for an "excellent" life. There are certainly some good pointers out there that can help life run a little more smoothly, but nothing is going to brat-proof your kids. Dishes are still going to pile up, with food adhering to them like some sort of mutant superglue that was created in a lab experiment gone awry. Fights will ensue between spouses. You will gain those ten extra pounds from the Holidays. You will miss more morning bible studies than 8:00am classes in your freshman year at college. And, after all these unfortunate circumstances befall you, you will label yourself a failure in the greatest magnitude.
Attending church will leave you feeling as if you don't measure up, rather than feeling as if you worshipped the one true God. You will compare yourself to other Christians and wonder why they seem so spiritual and you're just trying to get to the end of the day without strangling your kids. All because someone passed along the devious lie that somehow you are supposed to be "excellent" in all you do.
The truth is that many places in Scripture actually do exhort us to be excellent. In fact, Colossians 3:23-24 reads: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
1Peter 2:12 reads: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us."
However, the concept of excellence is always linked to spiritual matters. We are to live good lives spiritually. We are to treat people with respect. We are to avoid evil. We are to love others. We are to excel in our relationships with others and with God. There is no expectation of material and physical excellence.
So, tune out the voices that have sneaked into your life through tapes, books, and maybe even your own church, whispering about three steps to a better life through time management and household organization. Focus on God and the people He's given you to love. The rest is just a hiccup in life that does nothing more than annoy and interfere in the life you really can lead.