You’ve probably heard the saying “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”. Or how about “Anything worth doing is worth doing right the first time”. That’s pretty much how I’ve approached whatever I do, trying to do my very best, for as long as I can remember. Not everyone approaches everything they do like that however. For example, my wife Tammy has never really seen the value in spending a lot of time making the bed each day, saying that we will just be messing it up again later tonight. And how about a task as mundane as folding the laundry? Doesn’t it seem like just as soon as you finish, and get everything put away, it gets unfolded, used and thrown in the hamper? Or how about taking out the trash? You take it out, put in a clean bag, and someone immediately puts something in there. Should you mop the kitchen floor until it’s spotless and shining, or just do an OK job, knowing it will have spills on it the next day?
I’ve always tried to give my very best effort in whatever I do, but my motivation for doing so wasn’t always clear. For example, I always have to go to the driving range to practice before I play a round of golf. Golf is not any fun for me if I play flat-out awful. That’s something my wife has never understood, saying “Can’t you just enjoy playing?” And I will not leave the house without trying to look my best (clothes, hair, etc.). But why? It may have been due to a lack of confidence, fear of looking bad or failing, perfectionism, or perhaps just my personality type.I love John Piper’s “Lord Focused Living at Work” which is from his 1997 book of daily readings A Godward Life. That reading was life-changing for me. I then began to approach my work with a new mindset, with these two verses being key for me:
- Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24
- So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
Dan Doriani has written an excellent new book on work entitled Work: It’s Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation. Dr. Doriani is a respected theologian, seminary professor and pastor. He taught two of the most challenging courses I took at Covenant Seminary. In his book he states that “Every morally good task has dignity, whether the laborer sweeps floors or runs a company”. But then he makes a distinction that caught my attention, when he writes, “The statement ‘Whatever you do, give it your best effort’ is simplistic at best, and misleading at worst. Some tasks do not merit our best effort”. He then asks “Why give our best to sweeping floors, dressing toddlers, raking leaves, or grading elementary school book reports?” My response to that statement and question is that we give our best effort in all we do because in our work, whatever it is, we are serving the Lord, and doing the task for His glory (which is basically how I interpret Colossians 3:23 and 1 Corinthians 10:31). So, is Dr. Doriani saying, just buy bottled orange juice, because taking the time to squeeze oranges for fresh-squeezed juice isn’t worth it? Is he posing the law of diminishing returns – a point at which the level of benefits gained is less than the amount of energy invested? But where do you draw the line? And who draws it? Is this an idea that you would teach your children?
It could be a slippery slope to make distinctions between what tasks we will give our best to and those with which we will merely do enough to get by. Can you imagine telling your boss that you decided that one of the tasks they assigned to you wasn’t worthy of your best effort? On what basis did you make that decision?
So, I decided to reach out to my former professor to gain some clarity on this issue. He stated that to do your literal best at any job requires almost endless refinement. For example, he asked how long would it take until a floor is the cleanest possible? For starters, you would need fresh water and a new mop every fifteen seconds or less. He stated that finite people simply cannot do their BEST at everything, or they would get next to nothing done. In addition, though some translations of the New Testament state this, in the original Greek, the Bible never tells us to do our best.
In college, I worked as a janitor, and even back then, I tried to sweep the floor (and yes, even clean toilets) to the best of my ability (though back then it was before I was a believer, and my motivation was not to serve the Lord in my work). Because I did a good job, I was promoted into a leadership position. I see my calling to be a leader, and have served in leadership roles in a number of different capacities (workplace, church, industry, non-profits). Dr. Doriani makes this distinction about leadership, “All work is important, but leadership is more important”. I’ve thought about that statement a good deal. It’s true that the CEO of an organization has tremendous influence and responsibility for all within the organization, not just themselves or their families. But is it also true that God values the work of the CEO more than he does of the janitor cleaning the building, and potentially the one who mops up that spill that the CEO could slip and fall on, suffering a serious injury? It’s an interesting thought to ponder.
Why would the work of a leader be more important than other work? After all, Jesus, who is our model for leadership, said that he did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).
Again, Dr. Doriani provides some clarity for us on this question. In his book, he states that God values all workers equally, and that each has equal capacity to please God. However, the CEO has influence that exceeds that of the janitor. He agrees that all work matters, but some work is more important due to its strategic role. He cites the work of Jesus, Paul and the other apostles, and godly kings like David and Hezekiah as crucial examples of this.
Work: It’s Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation is an excellent book, one of the best I’ve read on the subject, and one that I gladly recommend to you. It is comprehensive, biblically based, thought-provoking and challenging at times. I was initially concerned by the thought that, for the Christian, some tasks do not merit our best effort and all work is important, but leadership is more important. Fortunately, interaction with the author provided clarity for me on these questions.
What I learned was that I want to work heartily in whatever I do, doing all to the glory of God, but understanding that in doing so, it is most likely not always going to be my literal best effort. What do you think? Do you feel that you give your literal best in whatever you do, doing all to the glory of God?