So That’s What Excellence Looks Like

I saw excellence yesterday!

I am making a second pass through Team Of Rivals, the fascinating biography of Abraham Lincoln. I use this lengthy tome in a doctoral seminar I teach for Capital Seminary & Graduate School. The subject is teams, the location is the nation's capital, the individuals in the spotlight are Lincoln and his cabinet. Fitting I think!

In her introduction to Team Of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin writes:

For better than 30 years, as a working historian, I have written on leaders I knew, such as Lyndon Johnson, and interviewed intimates of the Kennedy family and many who knew Franklin Roosevelt, a leader perhaps as indispensable in his ways as was Lincoln to the social and political direction of the country. After living with the subject of Abraham Lincoln for a decade, however, reading what he himself wrote and what hundreds of others have written about him, following the arc of his ambition, and assessing the inevitable mixture of human foibles and strengths that made up his temperament, after watching him deal with the terrible deprivations of his childhood, the deaths of his children, and the horror that engulfed the entire nation, I find that after newly two centuries, the uniquely American story of Abraham Lincoln has an unequalled power to captivate the imagination and to inspire emotion.

It was that line about living with the subject for a decade that arrested my attention -- again. When I first read the book I had written, "WOW" in the margin.

I am listening to the biography on my morning walks, so I bookmark highlights in order to return to the words on my paper copy in my office at home. Working my way through 750 pages (40 hours of listening pleasure) I am inclined to congratulate myself for making a second pass -- until I think about what Goodwin has done. She studied Lincoln for a decade, read his papers, and "what hundreds of others [had] written about him." Now that is impressive. Goodwin's efforts also brought to mind God's words in Proverbs:

In all toil there is profit,but mere talk tends only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23 ESV

Do you see a man skillful in his work?He will stand before kings;he will not stand before obscure men. Proverbs 22:29 ESV

God reminds me that excellence comes at the end of the long road of hard work. Knowing that and then seeing both the picture and fruit of such efforts in the pages of Goodwin's biography, I am motivate to "get after it."

Not so fast tiger!

Last night Shannan and I were listening to an interview with Paul David Tripp on Family Life Today (click here to listen). As one who appreciates the need for strenuous effort and who loves the challenges and fruit of such endeavors, I needed to hear Tripp. He reminded me (thank you Shannan for lovingly encouraging me to listen to this) that it is all for naught if it comes at the expense of -- or to the exclusion of -- my walk with God or living in His fullness with my family and others.

Life is lived in tension. The efforts for excellence always checked by a stronger pull, an ambition that is  submitted to and longing for God and his glory.

That is excellence indeed.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36 ESV


"For better than thirty years ..." from Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2005. Page xix.