A Forgotten Birthday Cake and the Pursuit of Excellence

After starting down the office hall to my desk at work, I noticed laughter and noise filtering through the stairwell doors. I turned and headed for the stairs instead. Walking down a floor, I opened the lunch room door and found an office party and remembered: I was supposed to have brought a triple chocolate birthday cake and some Sprite. I had committed to do a job and failed to do it.

I hate to fail.

During my teen years, there was a popular, but questionable Christian song that exhorted me that when I was weak, God would always make me strong. So I spent many years operating on the principle that when I walk with the Lord, I will always be strong. Gradually I adopted the additional fallacy that I would be perfect as well. The logical implication of this thinking was that when I forgot to bring the cake to an office birthday party or if a meeting I planned didn’t go well, I was failing in my walk with God. And failure was not an option.

But a key verse on weakness doesn’t say that at all.

In 2 Cor. 12:9, Paul expressed God’s heart with these words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So when I’m weak, when I run out of energy, when I forget the birthday cake, when things don’t go as planned, my power is not made perfect in weakness. God’s power is. God is going to demonstrate his strength in some way. He’ll meet the need. He’ll get the job done. Or he’ll teach me something as a result of the lack—but he’ll be there working in a way that gives him the glory. Instead of sufficient power, he promises sufficient grace.

Probably, wisely, he’ll work in a way that doesn’t make me look good—otherwise, I’d get a big head. Instead and always he acts in such a way that my weakness showcases his power.

So what about excellence? Does the Bible even talk about the pursuit of excellence at all?

Peter wrote believers in Asia Minor and affirmed that they were “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people for his own possession.” But why are believers chosen? Why does he pick us? So that we can do excellent things?

No. While certainly we do our work as unto him, he chose us to proclaim his excellencies, not our own—the “excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” (from 1 Peter 2:9 AMP) What a privilege we have to be believers purchased by the blood of Jesus, called from darkness to light!

Yet sometimes we get overwhelmed by the "shoulds." “I should do this excellent thing—I should do that excellent thing.” We can exhaust ourselves and weigh ourselves down with obligations, always feeling we are falling short.

Or we can enjoy the freedom we have in Christ. We are set free from the pursuit of perfection and the fear of failure. Instead, let's proclaim God’s excellencies—his amazing qualities, not our own.

So, yes, let’s focus together on excellence—God’s excellence—and trust in his grace when we forget a triple chocolate birthday cake.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2b

Beth Barron and her husband have worked cross-culturally for decades, first in the Middle East and now in the U.S. She teaches English to refugees and uses her writing skills to advocate for them. Beth enjoys writing, biking, vegetable gardening and connecting heart to heart with other women. She is involved in her church's External Focus ministry. She and her husband have three adult children, two daughters-in-love and three grandsons. Beth graduated from Rice University in Houston, attended Dallas Theological Seminary and is committed to life-long learning.