In my mind’s eye I can see a picture of what my family can achieve if everyone in the family does their best.
My picture holds a slim, well-aged (no way can we pass off as young anymore), well-dressed couple, standing in front of a beautiful home with a lush landscape. Our home beckons visitors to sit on the front porch and enjoy delicious food and gracious hospitality. My husband and I entertain and amuse these visitors with delightful stories of our adult children who are wildly successful, attractive, and yes, of course they love Jesus too! If my husband and children would fall in line and do their best, we could be that picture-perfect family.
That is my version of the end result of “doing my best.” But what God has in mind for us and for our children is often very different from the picture we hold so tightly.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” 3:23 (ESV). The Message translation says, “And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best.”
“Jesus wants us to do our best.” Is this true?
I confess, there are times when I want my children to do their best so that their best would lead to worldly success. I want to be able to share how God has blessed them with internships and accolades in college, and jobs that are prestigious and really cool. I want to be able to say, as a side note, that my children are so involved in their churches and leading high school small groups. But the idea that doing your best will lead to worldly success and worldly success will lead to financial security and financial security will lead to the right friendships and happiness… is a lie from Satan.
Looking at his words in their biblical context, Paul encourages the believers in Colossae to live a Christian life, to set their minds on things above, to put away sin: covetousness, impurity, anger, slander, lies and other practices that represented how those in the church lived before they believed. He gives them practical instructions for Christian living: compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness, and love. He rounds these instructions out with the statement: “Whatever you do, in word and deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (v.17) Paul is making it clear that as believers we should carry out our work with integrity and thankfulness no matter the work that we have been called to do. This is what “do your best” looks like for Paul.
Our desire for ourselves and for our children should be that we would do His best, not our best. Keeping our eyes on Christ and being obedient to the life he has called us to often leads us down a road we had not planned or imagined. In order to do the best that God has called us to we must seek him, serve him, and submit to him.
When God called Corrie Ten Boom to do her best, it was to share the gospel in a flea-ridden concentration camp.
When God called Jim Elliott to do his best, he was killed.
When God called Elisabeth Elliot to do her best, she had to forgive the people who killed her husband and share the gospel with them.
When God called Hudson Taylor he spent more than fifty years in China, away from his home in England, sharing the gospel.
I must confess, these are not situations that I wish for myself or for my children. God’s best for our kids is probably not going to line up with our plans. But these missionaries and many others have been called by God to do their best by loving others and by sharing the gospel.
The notion that our best has value to God is an idea we cling to and want to believe is true. There is a part of us that really thinks we have something to offer to God that has worth. We recognize that our gifts, talents and abilities are from God, so we must be able to use them in a way that brings him glory and honor.
There is a tension in that thinking. Yes, we are to use our gifts for his glory! But we must recognize that we have nothing in and of ourselves to bring of value. In Isaiah 64:6 the prophet says: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Another translation refers to our polluted garment as “filthy rags.”
In our culture today we are educated, we are capable and we have a lot to offer. It stands to reason that by using the talents that God has given us and doing our best, it will bring Him glory and honor. But that is not the way God works. Consider Jesus’s own words in John 15: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” Jesus makes it clear that we cannot bear fruit apart from Christ. As we find ourselves seeking to please God by doing our best, we must stop and pray, confess our sin to the Lord, and remember Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Doing our best in our strength is a sin that we need to confess and repent of. As we confess and repent, God forgives us and leads us in paths of righteousness.
As we work, as we play, as we live our lives, loving God and loving others is what is most important. The practical instructions that Paul teaches in Colossians are more important that straight A’s in high school, leadership roles in college, the right job, the perfect house – and the list goes on and on. Do not be deceived by the lies of this world. Contentment comes in Christ alone.
When I am honest, what I really desire, hope for, and pray is that my children know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I pray that they hunger and thirst for his truth and righteousness. I pray that their best work would be living a life worthy of the gospel.