The Shadow of Excellence
“Academic excellence combined with spiritual excellence.” “Higher than the highest human thoughts can reach is God’s ideal for His children.” These are the ideals that we hold so dear. Following the examples of Daniel, Joseph, and Nehemiah, we desire to achieve and maintain the highest standard in our work so that God’s name can be glorified. Naturally, the enemy will not be happy with these efforts. I want to take some time to write, hopefully as an encouragement, about a trying experience that I believe those who strive for excellence are (most) susceptible to.
Everyone loves the days when the sun is out, the air is fresh, the flowers are blooming, and you just got an A on a test. Or if you’re not an undergraduate anymore, you can replace the A with a successful interview, a word of affirmation from your superior, an accomplishment at work, a thoughtful deed from a friend, an impactful Bible study, a successful event, or any other triumphant moments or instances when you receive a token of appreciation. But I want to talk about the days when these things seem to be miles away. I’m not talking about the regular, mundane, and uneventful days; I’m talking about days when the reality is polar opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. These are days when your effort is never enough, when self doubts arise, and when you feel like a complete failure both in deed and in character.
In moment such as these, there is a voice that starts out faint but grows increasingly loud in your head that you can’t seem to ignore. The voice sounds something like this: “What kind of student/worker/minister are you? You can’t do anything right. Your school work is falling apart. Your ministry is not having any impact. You say you want to glorify God, but how can He look good if you’re being such a failure? You say you believe in excellence, but look at your mediocre school work. Your spiritual life is an unpracticed theory, and you’re not even a decent person. Nothing about you is excellent.”
Have you heard these words before? I most certainly have. In fact, I’ve heard it more than once in my life, and the more I strive to be the best that I can be, the louder these voices seem to be. How did a quest for excellence turn into an endless fall to the mire of self?
The number of times that this voice appears is not the real issue. The real issue is whose voice I thought it was. There was once a time when I thought this was God’s voice. He helped me realize that it wasn’t, and that He loved me even before I discovered my own faults and weaknesses. I know enough to believe that He’s not a condemning God. But as this phenomenon occurred again and more intensely so, I realized that I thought it was my own voice, that I was condemning myself.
Once was a week when I basically went down this spiral, worse than ever before. It was again, the week when I saw “Passion of the Christ.” What struck me powerfully was the scene of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. Lucifer was there. Funny, I always pictured Jesus praying by Himself. Of course Satan was there; it was the most crucial moment of Jesus’ mission! There were two things that Satan whispered in Jesus’ ears as He called the Father’s name and as the Father withdrew His presence from Jesus, “Who is your father? …Who are you?” I gasped as I heard those words being uttered and it gave me the chills as I thought to myself, “I’ve heard that before. That voice sounds familiar.”
It grieved me to realize that I had been listening to the enemy’s voice more than God’s. Yet, I felt so liberated because as scales fell from my eyes, I finally saw that it was not my voice that condemned me. It was the enemy’s. It was comforting to know that this phenomenon is actually a temptation, and Jesus did not succumb to it in Gethsemane. It is not humility when we doubt the identity that God has invested in us. When Jesus did not feel God’s presence, when everything around Him did not testify that He was the Son of God, when His own countenance was so marred that even Lucifer himself looked more majestic than Him, He believed. His faith clings on to His identity which the Father had revealed from before, and praise Jesus, He clings on to His mission.
The Bible tells us in Revelation 12:10, And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. Accused. That was exactly what I felt. The enemy of the soul was accusing me.
The verse before tells us that he deceives the whole world. I was deceived – Satan was the last person I thought of when I heard those voices. In Zachariah 3:1-7, there is a vision of Joshua the high priest in front of the judgment of God.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
In front of the judgment seat of God, we have to face our life’s record. May we remember that none of us lives unto ourselves.
The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
The accuser does not have the last word. God has the power to rebuke Satan. When God chooses someone, no one else can contend with Him. He said Joshua was a brand that He plucked from the fire.
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.
Only in verse 3 does the Bible give the detail that Joshua’s garment was actually filthy. But apparently it didn’t matter to God. He still was a brand that God plucked out, dirty though his garment may be.
He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”
God then did not leave Joshua in his dirty garment, as He does not leave us in our iniquity. He takes it away and clothes us with new garments, garments that we cannot get by ourselves.
Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.
When God clothes us, He does it completely. He does not do a shoddy job.
And the angel of the LORD admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here.
After all of that, then comes the bidding. Remain in my ways, and greater things are in store for you.
Oh the beauty of justification by faith: to be made right in the presence of God! What more grace can God bestow upon us?
So, to my fellow believers in excellence, when you hear those condemning voices, know that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Satan may accuse you of many things and all of his accusations may be true, but God has a stronger claim upon you, and He takes our filthy garment and replaces it with His garment of righteousness.
Revelation 12:11, the verse right after Satan was identified as the accuser of the brethren, says, And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
There is a way to overcome. It doesn’t say that we overcome by consoling ourselves that we’re not that bad. Neither does it say that we overcome by working so hard to attain that excellence back. The key to overcoming is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The blood of the Lamb justifies us, and we should never stop testifying this good news. God has made a way for sinners to be His children, and there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom 8:1).
Don’t listen to the voices, look to Jesus, and keep getting up.