“It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps to be over the whole kingdom and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them so that the king would suffer no loss. Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm.” (Daniel 6:1-3)
Daniel was a prisoner of war in Babylon. Though he was separated from friends and family, he had something that marked him out and elevated him even in a foreign land. Our text says an excellent spirit was in him.
A notable reporter once said, “I have had a chance to observe people at the top of about every field. And it makes no difference if they are male or female, black or white, old or young. The people I observe succeeding are those that have been taught or who teach themselves to strive for excellence. The pleasure comes from knowing you have done a job the best way you know how. It seems to me, however, in our modern society that there is very little these days in pursuit of excellence.”
We live in a world that is enmeshed in mediocrity. Everybody wants to be somebody without doing what it takes to stand out. Vince Lombardi says, “The quality of a person’s life is a direct proportion to their commitment to excellence regardless of their field of endeavour.”
What then is excellence? The World Book Dictionary says it is the condition of being better than others. The Chambers English Dictionary defines ‘excellent’ as ‘surpassing others in some good quality.’ The word ‘surpassing’ connotes a deliberate action, a conscious effort over and above the common. In Hebrew, excellent means pre-eminent or outstanding. Little wonder the Bible says Daniel distinguished himself. He was outstanding!
According to David Starr Johnson, there is no real excellence in this world that can be separated from right living. It takes doing the right thing consistently to be excellent. Orsen Marden explains further that it is only those who have the imperative demand for the best in their nature, and those who will accept nothing short of it, that hold the banners of progress, and set the standards and ideals for others.
The emphasis here is on consistency, which denotes steadiness and steadfastness in pursuing a task to the level of excellence. But even more important is persistence, which is the ability to ‘go the extra mile.’ In the words of John Mason, “Excellence measures a an by the height of his ideals, the breath of his compassion, the depth of his convictions and the length of his persistence.”
Excellence is not an accident; it is something you consciously and conscientiously work at. That is why there are always only a few people in every place who are obviously more prominent than others. Daniel was such a person. He just stood out! What was the secret? We read that the governors and satraps sought to find some charges against Daniel concerning the kingdom, but they could find no charge or fault because he was such a faithful person; nor was there any error or fault found in him (Daniel 6:4).
Faithfulness caused Daniel to stand out from all the others, and it sustained him! Right living was the hallmark of his life. His detractors strove to do him in, but they failed since they could find no fault in him.
Now, what does it mean to be faithful? It means having a focus and staying on course; it means doing the right thing consistently; it also means not being distracted by peers, family or anything. The man who knows what is right, and stays with it, will manifest an excellent spirit.
Excellence brings favour; it brings promotion. When you stand out, people will look for you. Daniel did not beg for recognition. The Bible says when the king was troubled, and there was no one that had the solution to his problem, the queen remembered Daniel and made mention of him to the king.
She said to him: “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and king Nebuchadnezzar your father the king, made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. In as much as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called…” (Daniel 5:11,12).
Daniel was neither a magician nor an astrologer. He was neither a soothsayer nor a Chaldean. But they were looking for the wisest man – the man who had the solution to the king’s problem. The Bible says, “Daniel had light, understanding and the wisdom of God was upon him.” So Daniel could do what the magicians, the astrologers and the soothsayers could not do.
What separated Daniel from the others was wisdom – the wisdom of God. What separated other outstanding leaders like Joseph and David was the wisdom of God. None of Daniel’s contemporaries could compete with him. The people saw Daniel’s outstanding qualities and recognized it was because he had the spirit of the Holy God.
All through his time in Babylon and the Chaldean Empire, Daniel got promoted again and again. But where did it all start? It started in the book of Daniel, chapter 1 verse 8. There we find that Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies or the wine, which he drank. The present age would have called him stupid. But wait a minute! Daniel had some ideals and he refused to compromise them even when the opportunity to do so came on a platter of gold. He would rather look stupid in the sight of men than lose the favour of God. He wanted to stand out! Little wonder God gave him an excellent spirit.
Theodore Roosevelt says, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing.” You have the choice of many alternatives at every point in time. Whether you stand out or not is determined by the choice you make at that point. You are probably not standing out today because of the wrong choices you made in the past. But you can hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than any one else expects of you from today.
Can we consider a case study? It is the story of Michel Angelo as told by Gary Inrig. He stands as one of the towering figures in the history of art. His majestic frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and his masterful sculptures bear witness to his greatness. But he was a man never content to rest on his laurels. He spent countless hours on his back on his scaffolding in the Sistine, carefully perfecting the details of each figure. When a friend questioned such meticulous attention to details on the grounds that “at such a height who will know whether it’s perfect or not?” Michel Angelo’s simple response was “I will.” After contemplating what some consider his great work, Moses, the master sculptor stood back and surveyed his craftsmanship. Suddenly, in anger he struck the knee of his creation with a chisel and shouted, “Why don’t you speak?” The chisel scar that remained on the statute knee is the mark of a man who always reached out for more. His ambition was to be the best he could be.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ said to the Church in Philadelphia, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (Revelation 3:8). God will always set an open door before whoever is faithful and consistent in whatever he finds to do.
It does not matter who is satisfied with mediocrity; you should be the best. You need to start every task thinking of how to do it better than it has been done before. Aspire to do what you know is the right thing no matter what others think. Be an embodiment of quality so that when people are thinking of whom to trust with a job, or any other thing, you will be the first on their minds. You may not know anybody; you may not have all the connections. Let your work speak for you. It does not matter whether a task is trivial or crucial, concentrate on it as if it is the only thing that matters, and God will bless your faithfulness and consistency with open doors.
Someone said, “People forget how fast you did a job, but remember how well you did it.” You can make excellence your habit.
If you are to pray for the spirit of excellence, ask God to help you to be faithful and consistent. You will never realize your full potential until your priority becomes habitual. You will never have significant success with anything until it becomes an obsession with you. Even if you are a slave, doing what you are called to do conscientiously will make you stand before kings.
I was made in the image of God. I have the capacity to prosper in everything I do. Today I make a decision to stand out, no matter the situation. I start every task with a determination to do it better than it had ever been done, and I excel in all I do. In Jesus’ name. Amen