The Passionate Pursuit of Excellence

Les Steckel was an NFL coach for 20 years, coaching in San Francisco, Minnesota, New England, Denver, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Buffalo. He coached Pro Bowl players, and he coached on two teams that competed in the Super Bowl. Through the years he observed a lot and learned a lot about pursuing excellence with a passion. Here is some of what he learned.

“If you’re going to be excellent, you always have to find ways to get better,” Steckel says.

  • What are some areas of your life where you want to get better?
  • What are you doing to get better in those areas?

Steckel says that most people tend to take shortcuts and give only what is required of them and no more.

  • What are some examples of shortcuts people take in athletics, business, ministry and family life?
  • Why do you think people take shortcuts?

Read Daniel 1:1-21
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. 2 The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God. Nebuchadnezzar carried them to the land of Babylon, to the house of his god, and put the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 The king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his court officials, to bring some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the king’s palace—and to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. 5 The king assigned them daily provisions from the royal food and from the wine that he drank. They were to be trained for three years, and at the end of that time they were to serve in the king’s court.

6 Among them, from the descendants of Judah, were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them ⌊other⌋ names: he gave the name Belteshazzar to Daniel, Shadrach to Hananiah, Meshach to Mishael, and Abednego to Azariah.

8 Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank. So he asked permission from the chief official not to defile himself. 9 God had granted Daniel favor and compassion from the chief official, 10 yet he said to Daniel, “My lord the king assigned your food and drink. I’m afraid ⌊of what would happen⌋ if he saw your faces looking thinner than those of the other young men your age. You would endanger my life with the king.”

11 So Daniel said to the guard whom the chief official had assigned to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for 10 days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then examine our appearance and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.” 14 He agreed with them about this and tested them for 10 days.

15 At the end of 10 days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. 16 So the guard continued to remove their food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables. 17 God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind.

18 At the end of the time that the king had said to present them, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to serve in the king’s court.  20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them 10 times better than all the diviner-priests and mediums in his entire kingdom. 21 Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.

  • How was Daniel intentional in his pursuit of excellence?
  • What are some temptations to go with the crowd that we face today?
  • What are some of the benefits of avoiding worldly living, like Daniel and his three friends did?

Steckel says that two factors that are important in pursuing excellence are discipline and integrity.

  • How do discipline and integrity relate to one another?
  • Are they both important to pursue excellence? Why or why not?

Read Philippians 3:12-21
12 Not that I have already reached ⌊the goal⌋ or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

15 Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. 16 In any case, we should live up to whatever ⌊truth⌋ we have attained. 17 Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, 20 but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.

  • What are some things that can suppress our passionate pursuit of excellence?
  • What encouragement does the apostle Paul give to us in Philippians 3:12-21 to help us overcome such obstacles?
  • What is the ultimate prize for those who strive for godly excellence?

Here is a simple prayer: “Lord, help me to be determined to live a Christ-honoring life of excellence in everything I do. Help me to intentionally improve every day. Let me live a life of discipline, of integrity, of pursuing my best always, that I may be my best and bring glory to you. May my passion for excellence inspire others to be their best too.”


Adapted from Excellence: True Champions Pursue Greatness In All Areas Of Life, Chapter 3, “The Passionate Pursuit,” produced by Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

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