Growing up, I had the mentality to only give 90% on just about everything. Rarely did I leave it all on the field during a football or baseball game. I pretty much never maxed my mind out studying for an exam or writing a paper. And never, no never, would I put myself all the way out there to learn something new – playing an instrument, playing golf, whatever. It was consistent across the board, and there was an insidious and conscientious reason for it.
If I only gave 90% I always had a ready-made excuse for failing.
If I had lifted weights harder I could have been recruited to play college football? If I studied harder I could have been my school’s valedictorian? If I had played a little more I could have turned myself into a pretty decent golfer? These are all actual statements I have made to myself and to others. Problem is, I wasn’t any of those could-have-beens. I was an average football player with good grades who still can’t hit a driver off the tee.
By not trying I was attempting to hedge my bets, to create a buffer for failure. Instead by only giving 90% I did fail. Not trying is failure. I left satisfaction in the weight room and the classroom. Sure, it’s a nice line to boast about what might have been, but I fell short. Satisfaction lies in the last 10%.
Giving 100% to any task or responsibility is more satisfying, even, than being inherently the best at it. I had my share of successes in athletics and school, but they are somewhat hollow knowing I gained them by innate ability rather than earning them. In recent years I have begun to see the value of giving a task my all even if there is no promise of great reward. I can rest easy knowing I gave it my all. I can know that whereever I end up ranked or whatever fruit is born from my efforts is genuine and genuinely earned. And frankly, my results are better. I may not be the best at something, but when I maximize my effort I am markedly better than when I give 90%.
Giving our best effort is directly related to our perception of God and our responsibility to honor Him. To do anything less is evidence of idolatry, that our hope is in our own abilities rather in the results God can bring to pass through our efforts. Giving 90% is like the servant who buried his talent in the ground until the master returned instead of using it in whatever way he could to increase its value. It’s like a tithe of 10% to our own reputation and ego. When we give everything we have, whether or not positive results are even likely, it is working in a way which honors God. It is maximizing whatever abilities he has given us.
Trying and failing can be miserable, but never actually trying is simply empty. Deep satisfaction, godly satisfaction, is found in good effort. The pain of failure is the price we pay for a clear conscience and a full heart. And often enough those efforts will lead to real success.
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