The Pursuit of Excellence or Idolatry?

Some of us were talking the other day about some of the challenges that come in ministry and in work; about the drive to do things right and the discouragement that comes when it sometimes doesn’t work out as planned. I came across this in Carson’s book on prayer. It was a real challenge and encouragement. I think most of the book is quotable but here is a part,

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most influential preachers of the century. A few weeks before he died, someone asked him how, after decades of fruitful ministry and extraordinary activity, he was coping now he was suffering such serious weakness it took much energy to move from his bed to his armchair and back. He replied in the words of Luke 10:20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names ware written in heaven.” In other words, do not tie your joy, your sense of well-being, to power in ministry. Your ministry can be taken from you. Tie your joy to the fact you are known and loved by God; tie it to your salvation: tie it to the sublime truth that your name is written in heaven. That can never be taken from you. Lloyd-Jones added: “I am perfectly content.”

Here then is a practical test as to whether the excellence I pursue is really for the glory and praise of God or for my own self-image. If the things I value are taken away, is my joy in the Lord undiminished? Or am I so tied to my dreams that the destruction of my dreams means I am destroyed as well? Paul’s pursuit in prayer of what is excellent is not idolatrous; rather, it is bound up with praising God. He would have understood the ancient Irish hymn:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
All else but naught to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Waking and sleeping, Thy presence my light.”

– A Call to Spiritual Reformation

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