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Eyes on the Prize, or An Excellent Lesson


I have recently—by necessity—discovered the usefulness of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and with that discovery, have rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. This is a truly wonderful implement, wonderfully performing a wonderful variety of wonderful functions right before my wondering eyes.

Big deal, you say. Where have you been? Well, since you ask, I’ve been clinging to the age of pencils, ink, slide rules,* and paper. It’s an age we would all do well, for the sake of our cognitive health, creative capacities, and mental tranquility, to visit as often as possible, even if we can’t maintain our permanent residence there. But we have to use modern tools to do modern work in the modern world, and so, here I am, pecking away at a keyboard, sharing with you my adventures in this digital age—which, I’m sure, you all find fascinating.

But back to the spreadsheets. As many of you modern folks in skinny jeans and constantly-morphing facial-hair configurations already know, Excel can combine the data from a virtually unlimited number of cells in a chart to produce a result in another. All you have to do is learn the necessary formulas. You can do something as simple as adding a column of figures to dictating actions based on the conditions entered in multiple columns. (There are many possibilities that extend far beyond my education and mental capacity, but that covers my requirements thus far.) I’ve written formulas as simple as A+B, and others that, by comparison, make Puritan writers seem brief and concise, and tax the mind (mine, at least) with their complexity.

You might assume that I do all this for profitable purposes, and you would be right. What normal person would do all that work if there was no tangible gain involved? Probably none, but I like it; in fact, I find it immensely enjoyable. I could do it all day, even if I was just tracking the weather and determining which of my imaginary powers to use to make it behave as I wish. And this is the lesson of this story:

Sometimes the pleasure of an activity overshadows its ultimate purpose to the extent that we never actually realize its intended result.

The formulas in the afore-mentioned spreadsheet are intended to guide me to specific actions that will (it is hoped) produce profitable results. I, however, would be happy to play with this tool as if it were just a toy, even if I never took any real action, rendering the results purely hypothetical.

In what other activities might this be true in my life—or in yours? I often fear it is true in my study of scripture and other theological works. I can become so absorbed in gaining knowledge, and in the process of gaining knowledge, that I forget the end goal, which is gaining closer communion with Christ (and his body, the church), and increasing conformation to his image. Lest you misunderstand, the pursuit is good and necessary, and it should be joyful. I never want to lose that. But the goal of learning about God is not merely more knowledge of God. It is God himself, and godliness.

* No, I’m not that old. I’ve never actually done any real-world calculations with a slide rule, but I do know how to use one, sort of.

Posted 2020·04·17 by David Kjos
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