“What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.” (Hosea 6:4)
It’s difficult keeping up with the latest buzz words of contemporary establishment Christianity, although reading through Linked-In business posts is useful. It’s a given that, within a few years of a word or concept or fad being pushed through the seminar-speak sector, it will make it into the corporate religious community — hence, we have, “ownership of a project,” or “pursuing a goal with intention and excellence.”
“Excellence” factors strongly in present-day corporate Christian teaching, as in, “Strive for success in Christ through a passion for and commitment to excellence,” 13 words which many of you may be relieved to know are not, in that order, anywhere in the Bible.
What Does Success Look Like?
“Success in Christ” is itself a puzzling concept since one wonders, “What does it look like? Are successful Christians outrageously rich?” an idea that seems at variance with Matthew 6:24, the whole God and mammon thing.
Or are they powerful? — power being a concept that God uses extensively to describe Himself, but not necessarily His created sons and daughters.
How about, that they get their prayers answered, 80-90 percent of the time? This universal wish of mankind, to somehow “tap into” the mind of God and bend it to our will, goes back long before the prosperity preachers turned it into a cash cow. Simon the magician, in Acts 8, echoed the attitude of many false “ministries” today when he offered Peter and John money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
That did not go over very well.
“But God tells us to seek excellence,” misguided acolytes reply. “It’s in Philippians 4:8-9!”
Well, let’s look:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” While “excellent” is the term the NIV translators chose to use for the Greek word that also means virtue, the context of the verse should be a strong clue that what Paul is talking about has little, if anything, to do with the way our corporate culture interprets the word, “excellence.”
God is not interested in our ambition, our striving, our pushing toward a self-made goal, our accomplishments to which we point and say, “This is excellent! WE are excellent!”
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings,” we are told in Hosea 6:6, two verses after the Scripture at the head of this essay.
God’s wistful observation, “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears,” is an indication that what our Father looks for in His relationship with us is not what we, in our surface-level pursuit of truth, are too easily satisfied by: He is far less concerned that we have memorized huge chunks of Scripture as He is that we ask Him what it means, and wait for His gentle teaching.
He is unimpressed with our impeccable, well structured, public prayers and waits for us to go into our room, close the door, and commune with Him one on one (Matthew 6:6), honestly, openly, and humbly.
He knows that we often have big dreams and big desires and does not fault us for having them; He just wants us to put Him first, and trust that His fulfillment of the latter will be even better than what we can imagine. (“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” — Matthew 6:33)
But even in seeking first His kingdom and righteousness we stumble over our insistence upon man-defined excellence, convinced that, if things don’t work out the way we think they should, it is because we haven’t arisen early enough, prayed hard enough, stepped out into some ministry that we are uninterested in but the board of elders needs filled, spoken boldly enough, or stood up and announced,
“I pursue EXCELLENCE in my relationship with God!”
Just speaking the words and determining to do them is enough, we reason.
Love Conquers All
But Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (John 14:15), and when we tear away all the fluff, that’s ultimately what it’s all about, isn’t it — Love? Ours is too often like the morning mist, that disappears with the dew, but quite fortunately, the love of our Father — which is the true manifestation of excellence — is perfect, unconditional, merciful, eternal.
If there is any excellence worth pursuing it is this — the excellence of God — and this we find not by looking within ourselves and pushing ahead to be something that other people are impressed by. We find the excellence of God by looking for God — calling to Him, because He answers; seeking Him, because He allows Himself to be found; reflecting upon His love and grace and mercy because He delights in us, and wants to embrace us in that love.
It is God’s excellence, not ours, that matters.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I consistently marvel at the businesslike attitude of contemporary corporate Christianity, and encourage true seekers to leave the office cubicle behind and get out into the free, open meadow.
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The Misfit Christian (my book for believers who seek something better than conventional, corporate Christianity)