The following is a modified transcript from the audio teaching series by Ken Boa. This is from the leadership series on the subject of quality and excellence.
In our leadership series I want to talk about the theme of quality and excellence. Excellence is often a skill development area we hear a lot about but I want to think of excellence as a destination as it is a process that we learn and seek to continually improve. You don’t just sit there. It becomes a continual ongoing movement further up and higher in toward a process of greater and greater excellence.
I think it’s illustrated well in Colossians 3: 23-24. Excellence will depend upon the audience to whom you play in a very real way. In Colossians 3:23 Paul says’ “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord. 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.” So he’s saying here, whatever you do, do it with your heart as working for the Lord not for men. You’re going to receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Verse 25 speaks about anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong. There is no favoritism. Then he talks about the masters who provide for their slaves what is right and fair because they also have a Master in heaven. The point here is that whatever you do, do it with a conscious awareness of the presence of the Lord in your life. Your best effort is given because there’s never a circumstance in which the One you follow is not with you urging you on. There’s an awareness then of Christ’s presence. An on going awareness of the fact that the motive of pursuing Him should drive us to a better thing that we would do simply to impress or please men.
I think I’ve given this illustration on a couple of occasions but it bears repeating. The illustration of when I went to England for the first time in 1984. We visited West Minister Abbey and they had removed the statues from the chancel to clean them. This was the first time they had been moved for cleaning after many hundreds of years. They discovered their backsides were carved as well and as intricately as the front side. That’s a rather stunning idea. Now why did they do that? They knew that once they were put in place no human eye would see them but they also knew that God would see them since they were doing is as unto the Lord not to impress people. They saw their work then, and this is a key principle for you and me, they saw their work as worship. What they were doing with their hands was worship to God. You’ve heard the phrase whistle while you work. Worshipping is another matter entirely. I think we can look at it that way, work, if done for the King and in the presence of Christ, is done with excellence to be pleasing to Him rather than to impress people. That work then becomes worship.
In a very real way there’s this level of skill that you want to develop and cultivate, a level of excellence. You’re pursuing quality and excellence in your work because you’re playing to the right Audience. It’s a very simple principle but this is a principle that transmutes the secular into the sacred. That’s the alchemy of grace. It has a way of transmuting what appears to be secular into something spiritual because the focus of our hearts is what makes it spiritual. The focus of my heart could this day be pleasing to Jesus.
There’s a good prayer to offer at the beginning of the day. It’d be an interesting thing to have a little card or reminder and as you sit down at your desk at the beginning of the day you’d have a little prayer: “ Lord, I’d like to be pleasing to You today. My desire is to be more pleasing to You than to impress people.” You cannot, as you know, seek to please Christ and at the same time seek to impress people. You can’t do them at the same time. You’ll either minister or manipulate. If you’re seeking to impress people you’ll be kind of committed to manipulating them. But if you seek to be pleasing to Christ and serve people you’ll be on to something. You’re onto worship because you’re not only honoring Christ but you’re also manifesting that honor by serving people. The two connect well together.
When you do your work with excellence, diligence and care then it means that you are doing it as unto the King. You’re looking to Him ultimately for the reward rather than to others. I like the idea of turning the day into that. This day Lord may I seek, may it be my intention to be pleasing to you in the work of my hands. It reminds me of Psalm 90: 17. The last verse where they cry out; “Establish, O God, the work of our hands. Give permanence to the work of our hands.” May I suggest that though all the works of men will perish on this planet, (Peter 3:10 says; “The earth and it’s works will be burned up.”), there is something that we can do even the work of our hands that will persevere if that work of our hands is done with the purpose of building into people and serving and honoring Christ. That will endure. There’s an enduring consequence even though all that we build and create will perish yet the focus of our heart to be pleasing to Christ and serving others will be something that will endure. It gives us something of significance that will last. That’s an important concept.
I’m inviting you then to pray that prayer at the beginning of your workday. You know what will happen though? You’ll forget it in the course of the day but that’s all right. God is looking not for perfection but holy intention. You might have a little card reminding you that to be pleasing to Him would be a desire that you have, an intention. A.W. Tozer in the book, Pursuit of God, says it’s not perfection but holy intention that is pleasing to the heart of God. Intend what is pleasing to Him and then it’s pleasing to Him. He knows our frame. He’s mindful that we’re but dust. Nevertheless, He will take our intention and He will honor that intention. Then when we slip away and get back into selfish modes and we find ourselves going back into the old habits of manipulation and so forth, that’s okay, we might recall it to mind and return with that simple prayer. Don’t chide yourself but just pick back up and go from there.
After awhile, I believe you can actually begin to build the skill of practicing His presence in the course of your day. That would be a good thing to do. It’d be an interesting prayer to pray. This could be just like a little flash prayer before you pick up the phone to actually be praying for the person and even that conversation. Whatever it’s on, that it’d be pleasing to Him. What I’m suggesting is that this isn’t something that takes extra time but it’s a mindset that you can cultivate that would be honoring His presence in the course of events because you need to understand that conscious awareness of His presence is a realization that He is already there. He’s going to be present whether you are aware of it or not. He’s going to be watching. It’d be wise for you to orient your mind with reality. We’re not simply talking about losing ourselves but we’re talking about bringing ourselves into touch with what’s real in real work.
There are still some basic principles that would apply across the board whether you’re a believer or unbeliever. There are certain principles of excellence. The issue is to learn your craft and to become skillful at what you do. The only difference is this and even a brand new believer can understand this, who are you doing it for? Are you doing it to be pleasing to Him? A brand new believer, just like a kid who wants to please his daddy, can understand this principle. In fact there’s that simplicity of intention of coming to Him in a childlike sense of desiring to be simply pleasing to Him. We understand what that’s like. Has He made you good at something? Whatever it is, I think when you do it well you could feel God’s pleasure even though it may appear to be secular. You can feel God’s pleasure because what you’re doing is honoring Him in what you do. So if I’m here for a season, while I’m here I want to maximize that opportunity so that I can leverage that for eternal gain and move on from there.
Let’s move on to our next text, Hebrew 1: 1-4. I want to argue that we serve a God who’s committed to excellence and perfection in everything He does. That’s the reality. The fact is God saw all that He had made and what did He declare it at the end? It was good. It was good. It was good and finally it was very good. He left it well. He didn’t make us as we now are. We changed ourselves. We are now a distorted image of God. But it’s His intention to reverse that distortion and that devastation that was wrought by sin and to bring all things to a glorious consummation and to a new creation.
In Hebrews chapter 1 we have this portrait of how God is at work in the history of redemption where it says in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways (Hebrews 1: 1). But in these last days, so he’s contrasting- how many ways did He speak in the Old Testament economy? - reveal Himself? How did He reveal Himself in the past? He revealed Himself through prophets, angels (angelic revelation and guidance), the burning bush; certain particular places that were holy like Bethel, dreams and visions, mighty acts of deliverance (10 signs given to Pharaoh, the Passover, the manna and the quail, the pillar of fire and the pillar of the cloud), and other sorts of ways.
The author of Hebrews goes on to say,” but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” In other words the highest form of revelation is personal revelation. Now God Himself comes down to us and takes upon Himself humanity and brings it up into heaven. As C. S. Lewis put it so well -the Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men might become sons of God. He reaches down and takes humanity up into the Godhead and thus makes it possible now to communicate. So when Jesus is asked by Philip to show us the Father it is enough for us, (By the way that is an amazing prayer. It’s almost about the biggest thing you could ask for; just show me God the Father.) Jesus replies, “Have I not been with you so long Philip and yet you do not know the Father? To see Me is to see the Father” (John 14: 8-9). Remember to hear Him He said is to hear the Father’s word (John 14: 10-11). To believe in Him was to believe in the Father and to reject Him was to reject the Father (John 15:23). He says, I and the Father are one (John 10:30). It’s the identity in the tri-unity of God. He’s spoken to us by His Son whom He has appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe (Hebrews 1:2-3). The Father through Christ made the kosmos. He spoke it into being.
The Son, he goes on to say, is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being. He sustains all things by His powerful hand. After He provided purification for sins He sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven. So He became much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs. Then he goes on to make a series of contrast that Christ is superior to the angels, to Moses, who offers a better rest than Joshua, He offers a better priesthood than Levi, a better covenant, a better sanctuary, a better sacrifice and the power to live a better life. Hebrews is filled with these contrasts.
The point of the book is why are you going back to revert to Judaism when now you have the substance. Don’t go back to the shadow when you have the substance. The problem here was that a lot of the Jewish believers were beginning to revert back into Judaism because they were fearful of the persecution they were going to be facing as followers of Jesus. That is why the book exhorts them.
Here’s my point though, Jesus illustrates the excellence of the Father, the beauty of the Father and the glory of the Father. So as we look at Jesus we see the excellence and radiance of the Father. In fact it’s speaking of Him when it says He does everything well. He’s done all things well (Mark 7:37). God is the blessed and only ruler, the King of kings and the Lord of lords who lives in unapproachable light whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and might forever. God is worthy and great and worthy of our praise because of His splendor and His awesome works. I recommend Psalm 145. That is a great Psalm to meditate on God’s excellence. It’s a good thing to realize that all excellence again comes from the hand of God. He is the One who is the Author of excellence and in seeking to be skillful with your hands and create beauty and excellence and something that’s worthwhile, you are really imitating Him and you’re manifesting that.
Let’s move on then to the next passage, Malachi 1. I remember hearing these words from my father, “Do as I say and not as I do.” I still remember him saying that. I don’t remember what was happening but the lawn mower was there and my dad was bummed out about something. I was only about 7 years old and I said that doesn’t fly. But to do as I say and not as I do didn’t fly because obviously it’s one thing to speak about quality and it’s another thing entirely to pursue quality and excellence.
What we are going to be seeing here is the shoddiness of Israel’s worship as a result of externalism where they were more concerned about the appearance of surface things rather than the substance. They dishonored God by offering Him in the temple different kinds of blemished, inferior and indifferent sacrifices. Malachi 1: 6-8, “A son honors his father and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says The Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ “You are presenting defiled food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’ “ But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts.” Try offering the trash you offer God to a human being, a person in authority and see if that will fly! I say that is a marvelous portrait of a lot religiosity and a lot of shoddy mediocrity that goes on in the name of religion. It’s a result of the shoddiness of externalism and apathy. In my view it’s folly that we can suppose that we can get away with it because we don’t see Him. That’s a serious mistake.
The point here is that we ought to be, as followers of Christ, people who manifest a distinctiveness that demands an explanation. There ought to be a quality or hope about you that requires an explanation. If you play to people you become a conformist. If you seek to be pleasing to God instead of people then you’re set apart from the crowd and you’re different and distinct. That’s the idea here. Again it’s the audience to whom you play. This idea of your quality of life if it’s internal rather than an external, if you pursue the invisible not just the visible, now you’re appealing to God, seeking to be satisfying to Him.
That’s why a contractor then knows he may be able to get away with certain things just before the sheet rock goes up, use second grade materials or cut corners and I’m saying you may get away with that before people occasionally but you won’t get away with that before God. At the end of the day, He sees what others do not see. We have been called as a people to reflect God’s perfections and He’ll be satisfied with nothing else than that. He again loves us and accepts us as we are. He’s pleased with our faltering and I stress faltering movements in His direction. God’s expectations for us will always transcend our own. So He who begins a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1).
Another text is 1 Thessalonians 5: 23-24, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through; may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” The point here is that when you walk in God’s power, the power of His Spirit, you have a source of power that can make it possible for you to do that which is pleasing to Him. You’re doing it for the Name and you’re doing it in the power of the Spirit.
I believe your real key spiritual battles will be fought on the daily mundane small decisions, not the huge things. It’s really not the big things at all but it’s the little things that will matter. You see a lack of fidelity in the little things will lead to a lack of fidelity in the large. So if you’re faithful in the small things eventually it will also accrue to the large. That shoddiness in this and that can really deceive us; it’s the spirituality of small things not the mountaintop experiences. In those situations then, we make choices.
I want to go to David as an example of excellence. Psalm 78 is a maskil of Asaph. It is a Psalm Asaph wrote. It’s a beautiful Psalm, which reviews God’s redemptive work among His people, but at the end of that Psalm he speaks about another shepherd besides God. It talks about the fact that the Lord built His sanctuary and chose David as His servant. He took him from the sheep pens from tending his sheep and brought him to be the shepherd of His people Jacob of Israel and his inheritance. Note verse 72 the last verse in the Psalm, “ So he (David) shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands.” Now a leader is responsible for pursuing excellence and producing excellence through others. That’s a difficult task to do on our own but to do it through others is even a greater challenge, to do it organizationally is a great challenge. I believe that you and I are called to lead with skillful hands and so with skillful hands he led them. That’s the imagery there. There was a skill and a development there. He was a skillful leader.
Skillful leadership involves a variety of these qualities we’ve been looking at including the ability to communicate, to have vision, to have integrity, character, to model, to encourage, to build up, to solve problems and all these skillful qualities. You see, hearts guide hands at the end of the day. To have skillful hands you must have integrity of heart. You see where it says he shepherded then with integrity of heart with skillful hands he led them. So behind the hands is the heart. What’s the heart issue? To have the right heart then is the inner quality, it’s not just the outward level of the organization but the inward quality of your heart. That’s why the idea in Proverbs 4:23 deals with the issue of the heart, “Above all else guard your heart for it is the well-spring of life.” Guarding the deepest you, the deepest person, is the wellspring of life. In Luke 6:45 there is a similar image here. Jesus says the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart and the evil man brings evil out of the evil stored up in his heart for out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
God’s concern is always the inner, below the surface of life. We as men look on the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. That’s the issue. That’s why Solomon says to his son, “Give me your heart my son and let your eyes delight in my way.” That’s a fundamental issue.
The last text I want us to look at is in Exodus 35 and 36. In those two chapters what we see here are the materials for the Tabernacle and then the various articles of the Tabernacle- how they were to be constructed and what they looked like. The idea here that in the building of the Tabernacle two men were called that had skillful hearts. In Exodus 35:30-35, “Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill (That word skill is the word for wisdom), ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And He has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers all of them master craftsmen and designers.” Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out the work of the constructing of the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded. The imagery here is that wisdom, hokmah, is a word that means skill. The ultimate skill is the skill of living life.
The ultimate skill is ordering your life under the dominion of Christ. If you want to have true skill, take each of the areas of your life and bring them under the dominion of Jesus. Then you have a skillful life. A skillful craftsman can take something that’s raw material like raw gold or silver then shapes it and works with it or he’s able to take the linen and design it, weave it, embroider it and make it something beautiful. So you are like that raw material. God sees you as raw, unshaped and not ordered and designed and then through skill and discipline you become someone who begins to create beauty in your life. You have skill in the art of living the various aspects of your life under the dominion of God. I believe a skillful life has to do with wisdom. The two are connected together.
Now I’m going to say wisdom’s uneven. If we saw the heart of wisdom as the hub of a wheel and the spokes that radiate from that hub as being various facets of your life, one spoke is money, one spoke is relationships, another spoke is work, another spoke is your physical well-being, do you know what it would look like? It’d be very lopsided indeed! The fact is some people would have great wisdom in one area and then very, very poor, little nubs instead of spokes in other areas. Our lives are not perfectly uniform and even. There’s unevenness about our lives now. Skill would be to seek to become more developed and balanced.
There are going to be some areas that need to be developed in our lives that we can at least recognize and people that love us can point out those areas that need to be shored up. The point is if we bring those areas of our life, our business, our relationships, our finances, our time and all those things under God’s dominion and seek to order them and design them well under His dominion then you begin to pursue greater wisdom in the art of life.
In leadership as an art, Max DuPree talks about 20 signals of what he calls entropy picking up the principle in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy in thermodynamic systems are measures of randomness and their lack of their ability to do work so as entropy increases the amount of useful energy in a system diminishes over time. That’s just the nature of things. While that can be applied to thermodynamic systems and closed systems you can apply it to information systems as well. In any information transfer there’s going to be a loss of information somewhere along the line. But you can also apply it to everything else. That’s why your desk has a finite number of ordered states and an infinite number of disordered states! That’s why it’s a lot easier to break something than to put it back together again. It’s always amusing to see a movie going backwards because things go from chaos to order. If something breaks like an egg you see it coming back together. Try that in real life! It won’t work. There’s something about the way things work. That is to say, anything left to itself will eventually decay and decline. This is the way a fallen world is working- anything left to its self will decline. Frankly the only way you can increase order and beauty in a closed system is somehow for you to take extra energy. You need to make an intentional application of energy. The only way your body stays alive and continues to be ordered is because it takes energy from other sources and then converts it. That’s why we need to eat and take in oxygen and so forth. You’re constantly taking in energy from the environment and you’re ordering that and you have little machines that metabolize it, mechanisms in your body.
Most importantly there’s entropy in relationships. How do you sustain a relationship? How do you cause it to grow? The only way you’re going to do that is an intentional infusion of energy into that relationship. I know I told you this before but I have card files with names and I don’t even know who the people are any more. People I used to know I suppose but not any more. It’s depressing. You go through these old lists of things; you may vaguely remember whom that person might’ve been. Then you realize you spent a lot of valuable time with that person; you went out to dinner and so forth. They might as well be another cipher from another planet. You just don’t know who they are anymore. Why? Because things left to themselves will decline.
The biggest area of entropic decrease turns out to be our closest relationships if we’re not careful. If you don’t guard them and you take a person for granted and treat them with less respect and dignity than you would a stranger that’s a big mistakes. This happens with parents and kids, husbands and wives and closes relatives.
I’m suggesting then that there is spiritual entropy. That is to say your relationship with Christ will diminish unless you put in a conscious daily decision to invest energy in that relationship. It will diminish. That’s just the way it is. You’ll unlearn spiritual truth. The nature of it is the only way you can keep going is to constantly infuse energy let alone to increase the relationship.
Quality and excellence requires an infusion of intentionality, willingness, go back to where I started, to intentionally be pleasing to Him. If you love Me, what did Jesus say? You will keep my commandments. One way in which you keep His commandments is you abide in His word and allow His word to abide in you. You allow the word of God to seep into you by making choices. Frankly the most difficult moment in the day will be to open up this bible at the beginning of the day and break open the bread of life. It’s a hard thing to do. We have a thousand ways of avoiding that and we slip away from good habits into sloppy habits. Do nothing and it will be reinforced. Good habits constantly need conscious reinforcement. My encouragement to you would be to seek, at least to chose, find one verse for that day, each day and chew on that as manna. You will continue to grow and keep the relationship. That growth spiritually will affect your outward life and move you toward excellence in skill and quality.