Mistaking Good for Great

As it seems to go with Him, the Lord is bringing to my attention a certain concept a lot lately.

It started last week when Bono was on Letterman. I am way too old to stay up to watch that sort of thing, but I caught the playback the next morning. As always, Bono gave a delightful and insightful interview.

Dave asked Bono when the next U2 record is coming out. Bono responded that the fans expect great music – not just good music or even very good music, but great music – and they are willing to wait until U2 puts together a great album. Referring to this process of creating something great, Bono said, “Very good is the enemy of great; you can mistake it for great.”

I ruminated on that awhile. I think Bono could have meant one of two things.

First, if we do or have something that’s really good, sometimes we’re satisfied with ourselves and don’t push for greatness. Very good becomes good enough. We’re not motivated to reach for greatness because we’re satisfied with far less than greatness.

C.S. Lewis spoke to this peculiar human weakness when he wrote, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased,” (Weight of Glory). A lot of times we mistake very good for great because we just don’t know any better. We don’t realize there is another level we can reach; we mistakenly call our good work and our good things great.

There’s another way to interpret Bono’s statement. He may have meant that sometimes after we’ve done something good, we think we’ve arrived. Pride kicks in, and we think, “Look what I did! There will be no topping that!” And so our excessive pride concerning our very good accomplishment prevents us from pursuing greatness.

Of course, after watching the Bono interview and considering his statement, I didn’t really take the time to apply it to myself. I didn’t ask questions like, “What do I consider very good? What am I mistaking for great? How am I settling for very good?”

God saw I wasn’t getting the message. So He sent it to me a couple of more times. He changed his verbiage, hoping that would do the trick.

He brought the word “best” to my attention and pointed out a lot of times I get so busy with the good or very good things in life that I don’t do the best things.

Unfortunately, a la Lewis, I am satisfied with the very good things. I don’t realize even better things – best things – exist. I mistake my very good things for as-good-as-they-could-possibly-get things – best things – a mindset which prevents me from pursuing the actual best things.

Frustrated, I turned to the Bible. I wanted more from the Lord on this “best” concept.

Enter Isaiah.

Isaiah reported, “This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea,'” (Isaiah 48:17-18).

A couple of observations.

1. We don’t automatically recognize what’s best. We have to be taught. There is nothing instinctual that can lead us to what is best. We don’t just know. Not in our hearts, not with our reason. We must be taught.

2. God teaches us. If we don’t consult Him, we can’t expect to be shown the way we should go. He may use people or His Word as mediums, but the knowledge is His alone to impart.

With this information, this is what I conclude:

I don’t know what’s best for me. I don’t know the way I should go. But I know the One who knows. And He is willing to teach and direct me. Am I willing to be taught and directed?

Are you?

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7 thoughts on “Mistaking Good for Great

  1. Good stuff. I saw that interview, also. At one point, Letterman said, “you’ve set pretty high expectations for yourself” or something like that. Maybe we’re afraid of setting our expectations too high for fear that we’ll fail. He doesn’t. He demands the best or refuses to put it out there. With all the opinions over whether what he is doing is truly great or not, in his heart I think he means it.

    • Thanks, Stephen. Glad you didn’t call this post great stuff. I see you’ve learned my point 🙂 

      Bono is the real deal. What strikes me is he’s willing to wait for God to walk through the room. Some might say rich people can afford that luxury. But so can the rest of us, if we’re patient. 

  2. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

    • Hmm.

      Initially, this seems to be juxtaposed with Isaiah 48:17. In Philippians the discernment comes from us/our love; in Isaiah it comes from God. In my black and white world – which is it?!

      Since I can’t handle conflict, what if we combine the two ideas for an even greater understanding?

      Can we say God teaches us what is best by causing our love to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight because He knows an abounding love will equip us to discern what is best?

      Or maybe this is the case sometimes – God uses our love to lead us – and other times it’s just not that complicated – God leads us Himself?

  3. Paul is praying that their love will abound in knowledge. What needs to abound is knowledge, so that their love “discerns” what is best. He himself begins to give them the knowledge they need in the very next part of his letter. Of course, it is God who has taught him this knowledge, so God is the one who is teaching them what is best. No conflict. Feel better?

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