Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Doing Badly

by Gary Henry

When God wanted Moses to go deliver Israel, Moses demurred with objections that may have been intended to sound humble: "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" (Exodus 3:11), "I am slow of speech and slow of tongue" (Exodus 4:10), etc. When the one-talent servant was trying to explain why he had done nothing with his master's money, he tried to make it look as if he had done the prudent thing, considering how modest his investment skills were: "I was afraid, etc." (Matthew 25:24-25). But neither Moses' nor the one-talent servant's "humility" excused them from doing their work. The Lord knows that such "modesty" is often little more than a cover for negligence, laziness, cowardice, and many other less-than-honorable traits. "I can't" sometimes means little more than "I don't want to." "Someone else can do it better" frequently translates into "I would rather someone else do it, period." It is obviously good to have high standards of excellence, but, in the Lord's work, we can't afford the luxury of declining to try a worthwhile task merely because we think we can't do it as well as we would like.

The Lord's work is the work of rescuing the lost, the work of saving spiritual lives. It is difficult and dangerous - and some can surely do it better than others. But the nature of the work demands that each of us do what we can. If it were a matter of saving physical lives, we would have no trouble seeing our responsibility; if we were the first to come upon the scene of an auto accident, we would not think of standing by and letting victims die in a burning vehicle while we waited for more skilled rescuers to arrive. We understand that there are simply some activities in life where one must always do what one can. What we evidently do not understand is that the work of evangelism is one of those activities.

"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." This little quotation from G.K. Chesterton contains an important insight. When a task deserves to be done at all, it deserves a less-than-perfect attempt while we are learning to do the thing better. We might wish we could wait to begin until we had achieved expertise, but that is not usually possible in the real world. In most things, we must do the best we can at any given moment, knowing full well that the quality of our work will leave something to be desired. As John Henry Newman said, "A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault." Most things must be done relatively poorly before they can be done passably well. And as much as our pride might like to find one, there is no shortcut to competence. It is practice makes perfect -- and the person with no time or inclination to be a beginner (for awhile) will forfeit the pleasure of ever being anything more than that. The shortest cut to expertise is almost always through the frustration and embarrassment of being a novice.

The shirker is not truly humble. The proper way of looking at life and the work of evangelism does not require that we give up our appreciation for excellence and settle for ineptitude and mediocrity. It does mean, however, that we must have the true humility to do a mediocre job at first while we are trying to improve our skills. It we try to excuse ourselves from the work of saving lost souls with "modest" remarks about our abilities. It is actually pride, not humility, that is holding us back: we do not want to be embarrassed, or do a job that would look inferior by comparison to someone else's work. In truth, there is no more proud of self-centered person than the fellow who will not do anything except what he can look good doing. And when it comes to the work of rescuing the perishing, it is a pity that the doing or not doing of so many things is determined by such considerations of ego. The truly humble person does not shirk work he needs to be involved in - he swallows his selfish pride enough to make a fool of himself, if need be, in the attempt to do something that is worth his effort.

The Lord is looking for people who will try. Isaiah had the correct view of matters when he responded to the Lord's call for a messenger, "Here am I! Send me" (Isaiah 6:8). He evidently understood this truth: the Lord is not looking for people who can do everything; He is looking for people who will try to do anything. In nearly every congregation, there is a handful of Christians who understand this and are busy doing whatever they have the opportunity to do in evangelism. They are indeed refreshing to all who have the privilege of working with them. They can always be counted on, regardless of the nature of the work, to try. They are like the woman whom the Lord praised with the simple words: "She has done what she could" (Mark 14:8). They are not always the multi-talented, conspicuously-gifted ones, and they never sound a trumpet to call attention to their work. They are just workers, having placed no restrictions on the nature of the work they are willing to attempt in the salvation of other people's souls.

Our quibbles about our little ability to participate in the work of evangelism actually place the emphasis in the wrong place anyway. The whole subject of evangelism has to do with what the Lord can accomplish, not what we can. Whether any of us do things in a "big" or "little" way, the fact remains that the Lord is He who supplies the sufficiency (II Corinthians 3:5). The work stands or falls with His adequacy, not our own. In fact, it is actually more difficult when we are "strong" to do our work as it should be done. When we are full of a sense of our own strength and know-how, that is the time when we are least in touch with the Source of true strength (II Corinthians 12:10). But the Lord is never more pleased than when we do what we can with limited resources. He said that the poor widow who put her last two mites into the temple treasury had "put in more than all" (Mark 2:42-43). Do we fail to see the point that when we have given ourselves to the Lord, He is greatly pleased with whatever "little" help we can give in His work - if we will go ahead and do the best we can (II Corinthians 8:1-5)?

Most of us could do with a keener awareness that, after all, the Lord has called us to serve, not to be served. As servants, we are to be at the beck and call of our Master, ready to be used in whatever way He may need us, without regard to whether our efforts may suffer by comparison to someone else's. It is not our prerogative as servants to decline work assigned by our Master, or to question His judgment in assigning it to us rather than to some other servant. If what our Master needs in the work of evangelism is something we can only do badly at present, then the Master's work is worth doing "badly." And if we hope ever to get past the point of being bunglers in the things of the Lord, we had better do the best job we can of bungling right now - rather than doing nothing at all. If we wish greater opportunities for service tomorrow, we have no choice but to do our utmost with the little ones we have today. Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10).