Contrast these two statements.
“I believe there is a specific area where each and every one of you can excel, so the first thing you should do to achieve sustained excellence is find the domain that allows your innate abilities to shine through. Once you are in the right field, you will need to put in an incredible amount of effort to become exceptional. Finally, you will need to adopt the set of enabling factors that have been present on every journey to the top.”Dr. Kumar Mehta, The Exceptionals, How the Best Become the Best & How You Can Too, page xii-xiii.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”The Author of the Book of Hebrews, Hebrews 12:1-2.
These statements lay out two different paths to an exceptional life. And who does not want to live an exceptional life? Who would raise their hand and say, “I am fine with being an average person”? If given the opportunity to be great, would you take it?
Which of the above two paths would you choose?
Dr. Mehta has been studying human performance, innovation, and data analytics for over thirty years. In his book, Exceptionals, written in 2021, he evaluates the stories of exceptional performers in a wide variety of industries seeking to distill key principles anyone can apply. Many of the stories Dr. Mehta cites are powerful! The premise of his book is that every person has the capacity within themselves to be exceptional. All one needs to do is rigorously follow the same principles found in other exceptional performers.
The author of Hebrews has not been studying human performance, innovation, and data analytics for over thirty years. However, the author does have stories of people who have accomplished amazing, beyond themselves, feats in their lives. Hebrews 11:1-40 names seventeen people who lived breath taking lives. Hebrews 12:1-2 applies the findings from chapter eleven to the lives of the author’s audience, and, by extension, you and me.
Whereas Dr. Mehta says every person has the potential for being exceptional within themselves, the author of Hebrews attributes the success of the people on his list to the call of God outside of themselves. For Dr. Mehta, each person is responsible for their own exceptionalism. For the author of Hebrews, exceptionalism is a natural product of faith.
The key to the Hebrews author’s conclusion is found in Hebrews 12:1, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” In Metha’s plan 100% of your exceptionalism depends on your performance. Biblically, exceptionalism depends on being faithful to the race God set before us.
In biblical exceptionalism, God our Father goes first in all things. We follow by faith. Because God our Father does not lose and is not sloppy, the one who follows Him will not lose and will not be sloppy. Quite the opposite. Exceptionalism is an essential fruit of faith. Therefore, the one who lives by faith experiences an exceptional life without the performance pressure of generating an exceptional life.
This is the freedom, joy, and power of running God’s race that is set before us.
How could Noah, Abraham, David, Rahab, or the others in Hebrews 11 have created the narrative of their lives? Impossible. Each one of the seventeen in Hebrews 11 ran a race they could not create, or succeed in, apart from God’s calling, equipping, and leading. Impossible. And look at all our Father accomplished through these by faith, by trusting in Him!
In Hebrews 12:1 we are exhorted to look at the seventeen as examples. Then we are told to throw off EVERYTHING in our lives that keeps us from following their examples so that we can run whatever race God our Father has marked for us. Our sin. Teachings that say we can be exceptional apart from God. Whatever else clogs our faith. All of it must be thrown off so that we can run.
Finally, in Hebrews 12:2, we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus! Jesus, the ULTIMATE embodiment of exceptional living, ran His Father’s race! (Ironically, Dr. Mehta, while evaluating some historical figures, seems to overlook Jesus.) And look at what our Father accomplished through Him! Phenomenal.
So, the choice is clear. In Dr. Mehta’s path, you carry the responsibility and the pressure for your own exceptionalism. In the Hebrews path, exceptionalism is an organic product of faith.
I think Dr. Mehta is wrong. I think his path is deadly and dangerous. His path exalts man as God laying out a plan in which man can say, “Look at how exceptional I can be.” But his belief system permeates American culture.
As Jesus followers we must reject any teaching that places performance pressure on us. We walk by faith in God’s ability, not ours. We learn to trust in His faithfulness, not ours. We enjoy His creativity and power, not ours. By faith we get exceptional lives without the pressure of generating exceptional lives.
This, brothers and sisters, is the joy and wonder of living in the OVERFLOW of LIFE when Father, Son, and Holy Spirit go first!
What is holding you back from running? What sin(s) are entangling you from freely, uninhibitedly running the race your Father has marked out for you? Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you. Ask your friends and other trusted Kingdom people. Listen. And repent. Ask for forgiveness. Receive forgiveness and the assurance you need.
Appreciate this article so much. How easy it is today to place on ourselves the responsibility of fulfilling the “requirements to becoming exceptional.” Like you said, ‘who doesn’t want to be exceptional?” So in my effort to be an exceptional contributor to our world I take the load all on myself only to find I cannot accomplish my goal so I struggle with being less than the best or what is my purpose or I just cannot do it, or several other unproductive thoughts.
Running the race set out for me, what is holding me back??What sins entangle me? Time for conversation with the Holy Spirit, me talking, me seeking and searching and me listening.
Living in the overflow of life!
In the world but not of the world.
Thank you Jim!
Hi Bonnie! So easy to slip back into running our own race. Then you look up and wonder how you got into the mess where you are! Grateful for our Father’s patience – used to be called longsuffering – with our frailty! And you do SUCH an exceptional job loving on and discipling the women in your church and community!
The world defines “Being exceptional” in an area of life as performing better than others. It is driven by our own ego, seeking to glorify ourselves.
It is interesting that God instructs us to run the race set before us “with endurance” keeping our eyes fixed upon Him.
My conclusion is that the world and God grade exceptionalism on very different scales.
As always, well said Waters! What is it about the “with endurance” phrase that is meaningful to you?
The #1 and #2 commandments are to love God and love others. I find loving God to be a life-giving pursuit and one io do not tire of.
However, loving people is much harder because people make lots of mistakes and sometimes cause us tremendous pain. 1Cor13:7 love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, ENDURES all things. For me loving people unconditionally requires the strength, patience, and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes loving people brings great joy and sometimes it is an endurance contest. God asks us to never give up, even when things are difficult. In this light, endurance is God’s definition of exceptionalism.
“Endurance is God’s definition of exceptionalism.” That’s a cool line!
I wanna hang with fellow believers that wanna RUN and live by faith.
Clint! How important has running with fellow believers been on your overall growth and perseverance in the Lord? How does one go about finding those kinds of people?