You might be kind of nervous about what I wrote on Monday because it takes work to do our best. By definition, there is no room for mediocrity of effort. Giving less than our best just isn’t really an acceptable option if what I argued on Monday is right.
If God expects us to utilize what he has given us and not simply bury it, then that is what we ought to be doing.
The author of Hebrews advises that we need to run the "race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1, NIV), I believe this is an image of our Christian walk because it is something that we need to work at. Obviously I am not a runner, but from what I understand, you don’t just roll out of bed one day and decide that you’re going to run a marathon. You go out and train in preparation for the race.
Once that race day comes, there should be a dedication to performing your best. For most people, victory is not within reach. That is just the reality of the situation. Unless you are a remarkably talented runner, you’re not going to win the Boston Marathon.
However, runners talk a lot about beating their own personal records. I don’t think that that is a coping strategy to help them feel better about not winning the race. Rather, I think it is a realization that everybody is slightly different, and the most important thing is to do the best you possibly can. After all, you can’t control the other runners around you, and if someone is better, that is simply the way it is.
What does seem to bother runners however is when they do not have a good time. When they generally run a seven minute mile but this time it took them nine, they seem to get frustrated because they did not have their best performance. Again, it is based on an individual measured against him or herself.
To continue this metaphor, for certain runners, victory is in reach. Every race has a group of favorites, so for those particular runners, anything short of victory is going to be less than his or her best. The same principle applies here. It would be disappointing if those runners ended up in the middle of the pack because it is less than what they are capable of doing. If they didn’t try very hard on one particular day, this result would certainly not be a good thing.
For some runners, being in the middle of the pack is a huge improvement over what they have ever done before. They have tried their best and done their best. This would be a cause for celebration even though they did not win the overall race.
Therefore, success is kind of a slippery thing because we cannot just say that being above average is being successful for example. For some people, just being above average is not taking full advantage of their abilities. This first group of people should really be among the best at what they do. For other people, being above average is a remarkable improvement and level of achievement. For the first, being above average is not success while for the second it is.
This seems to be again consistent with the parable of the talents. The master was just as happy with the servant who had two talents and made two more as he was with the servant who had five and made five more.
The servant with two talents was not expected to provide a profit of five just like your average runner is not expected to run in the Olympics. It doesn’t seem to me that Jesus is saying here that every Christian is necessarily going to be the best at every activity in the world. That would be experientially false and even logically problematic because how could everyone be the one best at every activity simultaneously?
Rather, the issue here is that there is no room for lacking ambition. There is no room for simply sliding by. We need to use the gifts and talents that we have been given to do our best. On Friday, we’re going to talk about what I think are the implications of millions of Christians making this commitment to do our best at everything we do.