Will you finish the race, and finish strong?
With only hours to go before we see the end of 2022, this might be a good time to remind ourselves of some vital truths. Indeed, with many considering New Year’s resolutions for 2023, it is imperative that we think about those things that are really important. What follows is certainly right up there in this regard.
It is rightly said that it does not matter so much how you start; it is how you finish that really counts. That is certainly true in most sports, such as in races and the like. But it is especially true in life. We get only one chance in this world to get it right.
Regardless of our starting place, how we proceed and how we finish is the main thing. I was thinking the other night that I happened to be born in a nominally Christian country in the West. I could have been born in India or Ghana or Pakistan. My life would have started out rather differently in that case.
But just as I eventually became a Christian in America, despite a rather non-Christian beginning, so too folks from those other countries can also become believers. I know Christians from all three countries – and many others. It was not how they started that was so important, but how they went along their journey – and how they will conclude it.
I write about such matters for at least two reasons. One, in a short while I will be 100. Well, actually, in a month I will be 70 – almost the same thing! Yikes, talk about the ancient of days. Where is that wheelchair when you need one? I hear Sunny Acres calling!
But on a more serious note, I am feeling my age and wondering how much longer I will be on planet earth. The older you get, the more you tend to look at your life and ask some hard questions. I often ask whether what I have done all these years has been worthwhile, whether it has achieved much for Christ and the Kingdom.
Related to this is my second reason for writing this piece: it is based on something I recently read. It comes from the newly completed three-volume biography of C. S. Lewis by Harry Lee Poe. Near the end of vol. 3 we find this from his brother Warnie saying this about his final days: “Jack faced the prospect bravely and calmly. ‘I have done all I wanted to do, and I’m ready to go’, he said to me one evening.”
He seemed to accept his impeding death, and he seemed happy with what he was able to achieve in his short 64 years of life. Many millions of people would agree of course, given the huge influence of Lewis. For more on this biography, see here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/12/23/on-the-important-new-c-s-lewis-biography/
Here I want to offer a few brief reflections on old age and finishing well. Related to what I just said above, let me again stress the importance of Christian biographies and autobiographies. I and others – such as A. W. Tozer – have often said that next to the Bible, the best thing you can read is some of the stories of the great saints.
Studying their great faith, commitment, passion and perseverance will help you to keep on keeping on. We all need to have high standards, and those of the great men and women of God – both past and present – can be of real help here.
Sure, Christ is our ultimate standard, but learning about the lives of other faithful Christ-followers will assist us in staying on the straight and narrow, and encouraging us to aim ever higher. Indeed, the bar is set higher when we read about these champions, as I discuss here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/04/15/time-to-raise-the-bar/
Another theme worth discussing is the sad truth that not all Christians who seem to start off so well in fact finish well. Sadly I – and probably you – have Christian friends who seem to have failed big time. They once were what seemed to be solid Christians who were quite active in their churches and Christian ministries, but then they basically turned their backs on Christ.
I personally know of some folks like this. For various reasons, including the love of the world and the love of the flesh, they are no longer walking with Christ, and they will get quite upset with you if you even try to discuss this with them. About all you can do is pray for them and hope they come back to their senses, repent of their sin and rejection of Christ, and return before it is too late.
In this regard I have often shared a powerful quote from Steve Farrar and his 1995 book, Finishing Strong. Let me once again share what he wrote there:
In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.
John Bisagno has been pastoring First Baptist of Houston for a number of years. When John was just about to finish college, he was having dinner over at his fiancee’s house one night. After supper, he was talking with his future father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck, out on the porch. Dr. Beck had been in ministry for years and that was inevitably the subject toward which the conversation turned.
“John, as you get ready to enter the ministry, I want to give you some advice,” Dr. Beck told the younger man. “Stay true to Jesus! Make sure that you keep your heart close to Jesus every day. It’s a long way from here to where you’re going to go, and Satan’s in no hurry to get you.”
The older man continued. “It has been my observation that just one out of ten who start out in full time service for the Lord at twenty-one are still on track by the age of sixty-five. They’re shot down morally, they’re shot down with discouragement, they’re shot down with liberal theology, they get obsessed with making money…but for one reason or another nine out of ten fall out.”
The twenty-year-old Bisagno was shocked. “I just can’t believe that!” he said. “That’s impossible! That just can’t be true.”
Bisagno told how he went home, took one of those blank pages in the back of his Scofield Reference Bible and wrote down the names of twenty-four young men who were his peers and contemporaries. These were young men in their twenties who were sold out for Jesus Christ. They were trained for ministry and burning in their desire to be used by the Lord. These were the committed young preachers who would make an impact for the Lord in their generation.
Bisagno relates the following with a sigh: “I am now fifty-three years old. From time to time as the years have gone by, I’ve had to turn back to that page in my Bible and cross out a name. I wrote down those twenty-four names when I was just twenty years of age. Thirty-three years later, there are only three names remaining of the original twenty-four.”
In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.
Powerful stuff. Regardless what your views are on things like whether or not a Christian can lose his salvation, we must take the warnings of Scripture seriously. So many passages exhort us to stay on course, to finish the race, and to not allow ourselves to shipwreck our faith.
I can think of no better resolution for the New Year than to recommit yourself to Christ and to finish strong. And we need to take the necessary steps to making sure this happens. With this in mind, something I recently saw on the social media is worth sharing here. It is a list written up by Shane Pruitt:
10 things to do in 2023:
1-Be serious about following Jesus
2-Make memories w/ family
3-Spend time daily in the Bible
4-Have an active prayer life
5-Be a good friend
6-Plug into church
9-Have a hobby
In fact, start them today. No need to wait.
Afterword on prayer
Recently on the social media I saw a post about a guy who finally became a Christian after his wife had prayed for him for 67 years! Persistence in prayer matters. You will never know just how much your prayers can make a difference, so keep praying!
I pray daily for many folks. Obviously loved ones are a main part of this, but so too are those I have never met – even (perhaps oddly), folks like Woody Allen. The Jewish-born comedian and filmmaker is clearly a deep thinker, and he focuses much on love and death, etc. So I have added him to my prayer list, at least for a while.
He has been included because the other night I saw parts of one of his films, Midnight in Paris. One of the messages of the film is that those longing nostalgically for some past golden era will never find it, since all eras are a mixed bag – just like life which is always “a little unsatisfying”. He seems to have been searching for a long time. I pray he finds the one thing – the one Person – he is really looking for.
With all that in mind, keep praying for one another. We all need that prayer if we are to finish strong.