Monday, April 27, 2015

Mired in the Mediocre

Think of someone you have greatly admired, a person who has inspired you in positive ways to become a better person. What are some of the qualities of that individual, the traits that make (or made) him or her stand out in the crowd?

Several qualities might come to mind. But in thinking about people that have had the most positive influence on my life, one common characteristic is their determination to pursue excellence. They might not have done everything exceedingly well, but the things most important to them were carried out to the best of their ability.

When we're at work, are we willing
to say "good enough" is enough?
We recently saw young Jordan Spieth not only win the fabled Masters championship but also destroy tournament records in the process. Our hearts have soared listening to extraordinary musical performances, perhaps George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” or Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.” When we consider again Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, our thoughts become transported by thoughts of what could be. Then there’s the surgeon that thrills us when, after performing an extremely difficult surgery on a loved one, assures us everything will be all right.

In each case we’re beneficiaries – directly or indirectly – of men and women devoted to their crafts, unwilling to accept anything less than excellence in what they do. They took innate talent and then invested the time and effort necessary to develop and refine their skills.

Many of us, however, have no idea what that is like. Ours is a time when most people opt to be observers of excellence rather than participants in it. And there’s a reason for this: Excellence is hard; mediocity is easy.

Why put in countless hours practicing on a piano, mastering finger techniques and dexterity by performing monotonous scales over and over, when we can buy a CD or flip through the TV channels and find music to our liking? Why endure the tedium of perfecting fundamentals of a sport, repeating the drills until they become second nature, when we can just occasionally visit the course or court, have some fun, and then relax with a “cold one”? Why do all that hard work indeed, when we can settle for “good enough”?

Because when we witness outstanding accomplishments – an athlete excelling at the sport of choice, an educator inspiring students to chase after their dreams, or a businessperson investing the time and energy necessary to transform a vision into reality – we catch a glimpse of we could be, if only we weren’t content to remain mired in the mediocre.

There’s an even more compelling reason: God has entrusted us with certain abilities and gifts, and expects us to serve as stewards of those, using them for His glory.

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus told the story of the wealthy property owner who entrusted his servants with some of his property. To one he gave five talents, a second servant received two talents, and a third was given one talent. Apparently the disparity was based on the level of responsibility they had already demonstrated in handling his property.

The servants receiving five and two talents invested what had been entrusted to them, earning a substantial gain for the owner. They in turn were rewarded when the owner said, Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21,23). They understood the importance of excellence, pursued it, and were assigned greater authority.

However, the third servant had simply dug a hole and put the owner’s money in it. When the owner returned, the servant gave the money back, exactly as he had received it. His lack of initiative, choosing to settle for mediocrity, resulted in chastisement by his master. For him, nothing had been ventured – and everything was lost.

King Solomon, reflecting on the perplexities and frustrations of everyday life, advised, Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your strength” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). In other words, if something’s worth doing, it’s usually worth doing as well as you’re able.

And we should always consider for whom we are doing it. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). If we keep that in mind, excellence should always be our goal – and mediocrity should never be an option.

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