Thursday, May 26, 2011

Finishing Well

There have been some events of late that have reminded me of the necessity of finishing well.  I believe it is important for us as believers not just to finish, but to finish well.  In track they teach you to finish the race and to run all the way through the tape, to continue your stride until you are past the finish line.  As Christians, for us to finish well requires that we are still in full stride when we hit the finish line.

I am sure that all of us want to finish well, to be able to say, along with Paul, I have kept the faith and finished the course.  I think it is important that on that day we know that we have done all we could for as long as we could, so that there will be no shrinking back at His appearance.  Let's look at some key things we can do to finish well.

1. Have the desire to finish well.
Finishing well is not accidental, but intentional. We need to understand that our living our Christian life is not just for the here and now, but also for the life to come.  As R.C. Sproul says, "Right now counts forever." Paul was one who finished well.  In II Timothy 4:6-7 he shares this with us, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith."  Paul finished his life in full stride, serving the Lord right up until the end; and not only did Paul understand that it was important, he had the desire to do just that. 

2. Avoid a sense of entitlement.
Paul again demonstrates the proper attitude here as we see his words in Philippians 3:13-14, "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Like Paul, we need to not rest on our spiritual laurels, on what we have done or the years we have served, like somehow that entitles us to coast, or has earned us spiritual  points with the Lord.  The Lord also show us how he views our service to Him in Luke 17:7-10 "Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? "But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'?  He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.' "  Listen, when we have served the Lord, by serving His people and His church, we have done only that which we ought to have done; in other words, the bare minimum.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared works beforehand for us to do, so doing those works is only doing what has been laid out for us to do.  Understanding these things should eliminate any sense of entitlement that we have. 

3. Avoid being careless or letting your guard down.
In Luke 22:31 Jesus tells Peter that Satan has demanded permission to sift him like wheat.  In I Peter 5:8 Peter reminds us that we have an adversary (someone that is not friendly towards us and seeks to do us harm), and this adversary is Satan and he is prowling about seeking someone to devour.  Peter's admonition to us is to be alert, to be on our guard, to be wary and ready.  As Paul says in II Corinthians 2:11, we should not be ignorant of his schemes; for, after all, he left our Lord after tempting him the wilderness to seek a more opportune time.  Satan is not called the tempter for no reason as he knows the weakness of men, knows just how to tempt us, and knows just when to tempt us.

The proactive part of not letting your guard down is to maintain spiritual self-discipline.  Look at Paul's example as Paul also understood what was required to finish the race well.  Listen to him in I Corinthians 9:24-27, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.  Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.  They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim;  I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself may not be disqualified.

4. Avoid apathy.
Apathy is sneaky, it is a creeping problem and usually develops slowly, almost imperceptibly.  A good example of apathy is found in Revelation 3: 15-16.  Listen to our Lord as He rebukes these people, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."  Apathy always sets in when we quit growing as a Christian, when we start taking our Christianity, our relationship with the Lord for granted.  These people did not intend to grow apathetic, but they did not guard their heart, and they did not continue to grow.  In II Peter 1 there is a list of seven spiritual qualities.  The exhortation Peter gives here is that we we are to continually apply diligence to keep these qualities supplied in our faith, and if these qualities are ours and are increasing, then we will continue to be fruitful and useful.  There is an old axiom that the minute you quit growing you start dying.  Apathy is a slow death, and it renders you useless and unfruitful.

Friends, let us press on together to finish well!  Will it involve work until the end? Yes.  Will it require self-sacrifice? Yes.  Will it take time and thought and care and effort? Yes, of course.  But it will be worth it, because the Lord is worth it.  After all, it is the Lord Jesus Christ whom we serve.  I am reminded of the statement made to Daniel in the book that bears his name.  It came toward the end of his life, when he was already an old man and after spending the night in the lions den, the king called out to him in Daniel 6:20, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?  Here is Daniel, in his seventies, not only serving the Lord, but being known for serving the Lord.  Would that we would finish like a Daniel or a Paul.  Let us make that our goal and pray to our Lord for His strength and power to do just that.

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