home > Pastor’s Desk > 2019 > August 2nd > YOU JUST HAVE TO DO YOUR BEST


Bruce Hills tells the story in his book, Inside Out – A Biblical and Practical Guide To Self-Leadership, of a story he read in Gordon MacDonald’s book, Ordering Your Private World (1993, 103), who had borrowed it from a book he read by Polmar and Allen in their biography of Admiral Hyman Rickover, “the head of the United States Nuclear Navy from 1949-1982” (2017, 13). He writes, “By all accounts, Admiral Rickover (1900-1986) was a controversial man. He personally interviewed and selected every prospective officer to serve on a US nuclear vessel. Interviewees would often leave the Admiral’s office ‘shaking in fear, anger, or total intimidation.’” Bruce goes on to describe the time that a future US President was interviewed by Rickover after applying for an officer’s position on a nuclear submarine.

To do so, he too had to be interviewed by Rickover, whom he’d never met before. Carter wrote:

…we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time – current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery – and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen.

 He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat.

 Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He asked, “How did you stand in your class at the naval Academy?” Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!” I sat back to await the congratulations – which never came. Instead, the question: “Did you do your best?” I started to say, “Yes, sir,” but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, “No, sir,  I didn’t always do my best.”

 He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget – or to answer. He said, “Why not?” I sat there for a while, shaken, and then slowly left the room.

President Jimmy Carter in the background with his former Naval Commanding Officer, Admiral Hyman Rickover

President Jimmy Carter in the background with his former Naval Commanding Officer, Admiral Hyman Rickover


Bruce Hills, having retold this story of Jimmy Carter being interviewed by Admiral Rickover, writes, “That same question, ‘Why not’, shook me to the core.” But as Jimmy Carter discovered, when we look back, we can then see how we might have done better. But that’s the key to it: looking back. But life doesn’t afford us the luxury of hindsight in advance! 

Last month, I was privileged to be the guest speaker at Catalyst in Ipswich, Queensland. One of the things I really enjoyed about being at this wonderful church was their multiple services. I have rarely ever preached any message twice. Whenever I am invited to a church, even if I am asked to speak on a particular topic, I always prayerfully consider what should be said and how it should be presented for that church. With this in mind, it has been said that every preacher always has three sermons: the one they prepare; the one they preach; and, the one they wish they’d preached! This brings me back to my time at Catalyst, a 900 member church, which has two multiple services on a Sunday morning. I preached my heart out in their 8:30AM service. I then had 30 minutes before the next service started at 10:30AM. In the break in between the services I had time to self-evaluate the message I’d just given. I saw several ways I could have done better and made some of the points clearer. At the 10:30AM service I preached my heart out again – but this time had the advantage of learning from my inadequacies in the first service. (I wish life was more like this!) I later overheard the pastor of Catalyst, Pastor Carl, tell someone, “Andrew did well in the first service, but he did better in the second service!”

But if Admiral Rickover had looked me in eye and asked, “Did you do your best?” I would honestly say, “Yes sir!” This is despite my confession that I knew I could do better if I had another go, because even in evaluating my efforts in delivering the message the first time, I really did do my best. I think this principle applies to life generally. Most of us do do our best most of the time – especially when it comes to the important things in life like being a friend, an employee, a team-mate, a wife, a husband, a politician, a sales executive, a medical doctor, or a parent. But life’s episodes don’t come with multiple services where we get to have another go.

Life is a sequence of unchangeable events in which we are usually doing our best with what we have and what we know.   



For some people the word “best” implies being better than anyone else. But the only best we can be expected to do, is the best that we can do! This kind of best is our best effort, our best attitude, and our best focus. The apostle Paul warns against thinking in terms of a competitive best being equated to our best

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.
Second Corinthians 10:12

Of course, there are times when a challenge from someone we respect is able to bring out our best. I remember being in a church planting directors meeting with David Cartledge who asked about our church in Legana. I shared with him what we had done, and what we still hoped to achieve for the Lord. His parting words to me were, “Andrew, if anyone can do it, you can!” I don’t know if he said that to every young pastor, but his words to me that day filled my motivation tank for at least the next year. I tried harder. I wasn’t trying to compete with anyone else, I was simply trying harder to give my best to the Lord and His church.



  In André Agassi’s book, Open, he describes his demise from world number 4 to world number 140. He has put on weight. He didn’t train much. And his recent marriage to Brooke Shields was on the rocks. His brother suggested that he get a coach to help him turn things around. He took the advice and engaged Brad Gilbert (1994-2002) who began to help him rebuild his game. He also went back to Gil Reyes, his fitness trainer who helped him to rebuild his body. Gilbert told Agassi that he wasn’t worthy to continue playing the pro-tour; instead, Gilbert told him, he had to go back to basics and begin playing club tournaments. Agassi had the humility to accept Gilbert’s humiliating rebuke and did indeed go back to play club tournaments. To his shock, the first club tournament he played saw him losing in the first round! It was then that he realised just how much trouble he was in. He continued to work hard and entered in more tournaments. After he eventually won one of these club tournaments, his brother was driving him back to the motel in the heat of a Californian summer’s day when André told him, “Pull the car over!” His brother asked why. “Because I didn’t give my best!” André told him. “But you won! And we’re still miles away from our motel – and besides, it’s blistering hot out there!” his brother replied. “I did win, but I only did the minimum I needed to do – and from now on, I’m only going to give my best! I’m running the rest of the way back to our motel.” Indeed he did. After the age of 29, when it was usual for most professional tennis players to have retired, André Agassi went on to win another 4 Grand Slam titles (largely due to his next coach, Darren Cahill).

What do you do when you haven’t given your best?

  1. Acknowledge it.
  2. Recognise how you could have done better.
  3. Do better next time.

In life there are times when we know we have not only not done our best, but we have, in fact, done our worst. When this involves hurting or harming others – especially God – we have a serious problem. I think of the young girl who rebels against her Christian upbringing and gets involved with the wrong crowd. In time she learns to drown her guilt with alcohol, pills and needles. But despite her numbness there is still that feint divine beckoning to come home that she feels is the right thing to do. The good news is, for anyone who has wandered, that God’s Word gives the hope that if we: 1) acknowledge what we have done has been wrong; 2) recognise that actions have hurt those we love, or at least the One who loves us more – God; and, 3) ask for forgiveness, then God promises to forgive us and wipe our slates clean. 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
First John 1:8-9

There is tremendous power in an authentic apology. It can begin to heal a fractured friendship, a strained marriage, an injured daughter, or an offended father.



Paul charges his protégés, Titus and Timothy, several times to do their best. His words to Timothy resound in my heart two thousand years or so later and I would covet your prayers to help me to do my best to be your pastor.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Second Timothy 2:15

The future will reveal that we could have done better – but none of us live in the future; we live in the now, and we do the best we can with what we have and what we know. For me, as a friend, husband, parent, pastor, the good news is that as I strive to do my best, I am not yet who I will one day be, and God’s Word tells me that it is God who works in the heart and life of those who strive to do their best for Him.

for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13


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For those unfamiliar with the story of the Bible who may be seeking to remedy that unfamiliarity, I would recommend that they start reading in the New Testament. It is there that they will be introduced immediately to Jesus who is the central character of the whole Bible. For many novice readers of the Bible who then attempt to read the Old Testament of the Bible (its first 39 books), it initially seems like they are reading a completely unrelated story which seems to describe a completely different God. But with a little patience and persistence the reader will begin to suspect that this is not a different story but is in fact the prequel to the New Testament. Then a strange supernatural thing happens as they continue to become acquainted with the lives of the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets, as these characters interact with enemies, giants, angels, strange heavenly beings, and GOD Himself. The reader begins to see in a similar way to what a photographer could not previously see clearly until his camera’s focus was adjusted to make the picture clear — the GOD who created, acted, spoke and judged, frequently referred to Himself as ‘us’, ‘we’, ‘our’, and at times seemed to have conversations with divine characters identified as ‘the LORD’ and ‘Me’ and ‘His Spirit’ (Isa. 48:16). And this all begins to sound very reminiscent of the GOD described in the New Testament as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With a growing knowledge of the Bible and hunger to understand it, the follower of Christ discovers that literally for thousands of years prior to this day there have been many many others who have also walked the journey of discovery through the mysterious pages of the Bible and have each made a startling discovery about the human Jesus’ pre-existence throughout the pages of the Old Testament.


The One who spoke the world into existence entered materially into His World and “split time in half”. He came to rescue the world because a great betrayal occurred. One of His chief agents was filled with self-deception and conceited envy and manipulated a serpent to his bidding in destroying the very last and highest of the Lord’s “very good” creation. Disappointingly she fell for it – and her husband who supposed to protect her failed in his most basic of responsibilities. Their fall from innocence and into grace plunged that was momentarily and formerly under their vice-regency. The world had now gone rogue. When the Eternal Son of God submitted to His co-LORD, the Holy Spirit placed Him into a virgin’s womb by uniting his consciousness and sinless essence with the ovum of this young virgin. In doing so, Immanuel relinquished none of His sovereign power or prerogatives but chose to lay aside His glory and become fully human. And for those who came to recognise who He actually was, it ever caused them to fall down at His feet in adoration, or shrink back from Him in terror. The side-effect of those who who adored him was a new ability to sleep. If you have trouble sleeping because of worries, you too can discover how an acquaintance with the Lordship of Jesus the Christ can also help you to sleep better. 


Today, “Jesus Christ is Lord” sounds like a bumper sticker or part of an ancient church liturgy but when Christianity was founded if someone uttered these words it could literally mean death! ’o christos ’o kurios “Christ is Lord” was a risky thing to declare when the only safe thing to declare was ’o kaiser ’o kurios “Caesar is Lord”! Yet it was upon these words that the earliest confession of the Church was founded. For the early Christians, this was not a glib, throw-away line uttered during a church service or something stuck on the backside of your donkey (or chariot if you were wealthy).  


I really dislike the expression ‘moving forward’. So many people say, ‘moving forward’ from the meeting, the experience, the…. whatever! Has anyone stopped to think that time continues. We can’t go back. Even if we are reflecting, or for that matter mulling, we are in the continuum of time, and unless we have a mythical time machine, we just can’t go backwards in time. Our only option is to ‘move forward’.


I have long said that my primary role as a shepherd-pastor is to help people to die well. To do this, as I have often said, requires that we learn how to live life well. Of all the normally uncomfortable subjects that Christians find it difficult to talk about, death should not be one of them. But it is. This is because, of all the world religions, only Christianity has a positive view of death. After all, we have a divine Saviour who confronted and conquered death. As a result the original apostles mocked death.
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
¶ The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.”
(First Corinthians 15:55-56)
These apostles refused to be intimidated by death which was ultimately evidenced by their martyrdoms. The apostle Paul could look forward to his death with the obvious lament that he would no longer be available to help those he had led to the Lord (Phil. 1:23-25). But he could face his impending death with the assurance that it would mean that he would immediately be in the presence of his Lord — and so should we! And like Paul, we too should be be able to talk about death in a very different way to those who do not know what we know.


A suburban home in Australia is shrinking in land size even though the average house size is headed in the opposite direction. What hasn’t changed is fencing around the block of land in order to separate it from a neighbour’s property. Broken fences, overgrown hedges and pets jumping fences are a known source of conflicts. We value our privacy. Those fences are boundaries. To go over them without permission will be trespassing. Renting, owning or owned outright – our home is our safe haven. When we chat with neighbours across the fence, there is a sense of security that comes with standing on our own patch of land. A little piece of Australia over which we have custody, albeit temporal.


Each of these uncomfortable topics in this brief series of articles are uncomfortable because there they carry a sense of embarrassment or even shame attached to them. But this particular topic also carries a good deal of pain associated with it – in addition to any feelings of embarrassment or shame. This pain may involve a sense of failure, betrayal, rejection, and humiliation. Divorce rarely effects just the two people involved in ending a marriage. Divorce can scar people like little else can. It can scar socially, financially, emotionally, relationally, and even a person’s physical health – and sometimes do so permanently.


All of us feel sad at some point – even people who are usually happy most of the time. Usually though for most people there will be some understandable reason for it. This might include the loss of a loved one, a certain disappointment, an accident, or sympathy for someone. This kind of sadness is temporary. But there is a kindness of sadness that lingers which leaves a person drained, teary, thinking dark thoughts, and feeling desperately lonely. This is usually when we consider someone is experiencing ‘depression’ and it is one of those things that Christians find difficult to admit to or even talk about.


There are some things that Christians can’t and don’t talk about – but probably should. So, I would like to pastorally share some thoughts about this taboo topic of doubt in what will be part 1 in this short series of pastor’s desk articles of four taboo topics that Christians can’t talk about.


Resilience was one of the predominant character traits of the early Christians. They called it being steadfast. For these early Christians being ‘resilient’ meant being able to keep going despite set backs, discouragements, betrayals, unforeseen circumstances, lack of energy, motivation, and resources. Like a weary hiker looking down a long road that leads to the mountain range they must walk over, being resilient in life means putting one foot in front of the other, and then doing it again, and again, and again, and so on. God knows that today, in what many are describing as “Post-Christendom” (and the resilient among us prefer to think of as Pre-Christendom) to be resilient is to live with a purpose, to stay focused, to live for others, and to strive toward a good, honourable, goal. With so many reasons to lose sight of the true purpose of life the tendency is to be tricked into believing that life right now is too hard. But the truth be told – people need to know how to be more resilient. Leaders especially need to be resilient right now. Churches assuredly need to be resilient at this time. With the recent interference into churches by government through the measures they said was “to keep people safe” — it has actually depleted people’s ability and willingness to be resilient! Here’s what leaders, people, and churches can do about it.