Quite early in His ministry Jesus told His young disciples that His food was not only to do the will of Him who had sent Him, but to finish (to complete or accomplish) the work He had been sent to do (John 4:34).
A little earlier He had told them that He had food to eat that they as yet knew nothing of – though they would do soon. As often, His comments bemused the disciples, who were trying to apply His words too literally. He was speaking of spiritual food, which is not so easy to quantify or analyse, but which they would soon come to experience for themselves.
Doing the Father’s will is the very stuff and substance of our life – rather like supplies to an army that brings hope and cheer, victories along the way and the promise of ultimate deliverance. Much later on, when he was on the cusp of enduring His martyrdom, Jesus declared, “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing (completing) the work You gave me to do” (John 17:4). His work on earth was complete, just as one day ours will be too.
When we think of the phrase ‘finishing well’ we cannot but think of it in eternal terms; doing all we can to honour the Lord now so that we can embark on our journey in Heaven with the the Father’s “Well done good and faithful servant” ringing in our ears. And even that moment itself will be far from being the very end; it is just the departure point for the new and ever developing journey with Him throughout eternity.
In the Lord’s sight, there is no gap between how we are now and how we will be when we are with Him in eternity; no gap at all, but rather a beautiful continuity. He already knows how we will be in Heaven, even as He knew us not only in the womb but from before the foundation of the world. There will be a seamless transition from seeking and experiencing the presence of God in this life and our experience of His kingdom in a fuller way in His kingdom – even if the actually moment of our passing may prove a decidedly bumpy process. (cf this track entitled The Passing from our Reawakenings CDs). And since 99.9% of our lives and more lie ahead of us in eternity, we can make the idea of finishing well a principle to take to heart to steer and guide our lives by.
The day will come when ‘everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account’ (Heb. 4:13); how we have been with each other, and all that we have done with what He has given us. He who loves us so much has prepared many good works in advance for us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).
Finishing each day well
We can seek to extend the concept of finishing well not just to the end of our lives, but to each and every thing we do, as well as to every encounter that we have. Each conversation we have, whether in person or on the phone; each time we greet someone at home or when we are out and out about; whenever we say goodbye to each other – in fact any interaction at all.
God has given us today . . . and eternity. Tomorrow will soon be today, and it is good to focus on the steps we can take each day that will help us to finish well. Scripture urges us to “Fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter (or ‘finisher’) of our lives, (Heb.12:2).” Many versions speak of looking unto Jesus, or even looking away unto Jesus. I like that thought.As every budding tightrope walker knows, the secret is to look ahead rather than to look down on their feet.
It is also worthwhile, perhaps at the end of the day, taking time to review how we have interacted with people to take stock not only on the things we have done well but on how we have done them. It is like a second bite of the cherry that enables us to pick up on things that He has been showing us that we may not have picked up on first time round.
Clear the silt – dredging without fishing!
Someone had a powerful picture in our church the other day that there were depths of silt around the lake of our church life, and that hidden in the silt were many things that had been buried, but which the Lord was needing us to attend to.
We are dealing here with a seeming theological paradox. On the one hand God has forgiven us our sins – point final, fin d’histoire – end of story. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us’ (or as one version has it ‘the guilt of our seemingly inexhaustible sins’ Ps. 103:12). To quote the great Dutch missionary Corrie Ten Boom, “He has buried our sins in the sea and then put a sign above them saying ‘No Fishing!”
If God has not only forgiven us our sins when we confess them but cast them away and forgotten them, it clearly not right to start fishing for what He has done away with. So far then, so good – no fishing! So why, then would the Lord be at pains to highlight particular sins in our past (personal or corporate) that need dealing with? The answer surely must be that they have not been sufficiently brought into the light and confessed, and are therefore acting as a present day hindrance and stumbling block.
Make us sharper, Lord, at making the distinction between the endless churning and confusion that the accuser of the brethren stirs up in our hearts and minds and the genuine conviction of the Holy Spirit!
Throw off everything that hinders . . . and run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb. 12:1)
We are called to a weightless existence, not only in eternity, but to ‘throw off the weight of sins now that so easily entangle and fetter us ’ (Heb. 12:1). I love it when people pray for the Lord to discipline us, and to go on bringing whatever matters into the light that He wants to highlight. We don’t hear enough of that kind of prayer. Out of sight is not out of mind to Him, and He wants us to recognise the effects our words and actions have on others.
For his part satan tries ceaselessly to remind us of our sins and failings. Based on our track record, he is a past master at dangling what he regards as highly promising lines of attack that are likely to knock us off course or to get us responding in unhelpful ways. Nine times out of ten the best way to deal with them is to treat his sometimes only-too-plausible suggestions as we would a former landlord who comes knocking at our door demanding rent for a property that we have long since moved away from. Why on earth should we go on praying him just because he keeps pestering us? (See The Old Landlord – from The Renewed Mind by Larry Christenson, Kingsway.)
I do not want to make light of the struggles many of us go through concerning such ploys, but it is worth point out that although many of satan’s threats feel overwhelmingly powerful, many of them contain little or no substance. It is as though he were pointing a gun at our head but, more often than not, the gun is actually unloaded. We need courage, though, to call his bluff and to declare that the Lord, who has delivered us in the past, will continue to do so now. we recognize that there is a specific fear in our life, therefore, it is important to confess it to the Lord, and then renounce it firmly. Then, whenever the accuser of the brethren tries to intimidate us we can stand our ground and remind him that he no longer has any right to attack us on that point.
God is so concerned that we end well that He may sometimes need to bring us to a stop in order that we attend to habits and ways that would hinder our walk with Him – or even lead us astray altogether.
At this point, wisdom may lie in recognising that some particular sin or failing may not be the isolated event we would like it to be, but is rather pointing to the existence of a stronghold in our life that needs more detailed confessing and uprooting.
Beware the Sucker Punch
We also need to be alert to what I call the enemy’s “sucker punch.” Have you known times when, just as you are setting out to attempt something you feel called to do, a little voice whispers in your ear, ‘Don’t try that; it won’t work and it just can’t be done!”
If we insist that, with by faith and with God’s help it can be done, he switches tack and tries this approach: “Well you aren’t the right person to do it. You’re not good / clever / wise or rich enough to do it!” All too often these suggestions are thunderingly plausible and score quite a high success.
If even that approach doesn’t work, however, he resorts to a real sucker punch, one that has caused very many to hold back: “And now is not the right time to do it!” That can be especially challenging to deal with because it hints at something that may actually be genuine. (Most successful temptations usually do contain an element of truth to try to confuse us). On some occasions, the devil does his darndest to goad us into action before God’s moment has come – which would be as crazy as trying to shout down the walls of Jericho on the second, third or even sixth time going round them. On other occasions, he tries to get us to put off doing things that really do need acting on straight away.
If we put this into military terms we can see how serious the effects of giving in to these temptations can be. Imagine a gunner at his post on a ship worrying that he is not the right person to handle this weapon when flights of enemy aircraft are heading straight towards his ship and doing nothing about it. That person’s inaction would put the safety of the ship at complete risk.
Once we understand the nature of these thoughts and sucker punches, it becomes easier to recognise them, no matter what the wrapping they come in, or the order in which they come to mind. That is why we need faith and courage not to give in to them but to believe the opposite and to get on with working on what God is calling us to do.
Faith is as pleasing to God as fear is the hallmark of the enemy’s tactics. Frank Boreham tellingly illustrates how faith can overcome every giant that stands in our way by suggesting that there are two kinds of bird: the wise and the foolish. Foolish are the birds who see a scarecrow in a field and allow it to deter them; wise are the ones who realize that the very presence of a scarecrow betokens particularly juicy pickings! Can we learn to liken many of the giants and obstacles that we face, and which initially so frighten us, to scarecrows that, in reality, are beckoning us to God’s choicest blessing? What matters most is that we turn to the Lord whenever difficulties come our way and trust Him to find a way through, over or round them.
Thank You, that You came to set the captives free. I confess to You that I have been walking in the shadow of my doubts and fears. I give this lack of trust to You, and I ask You to loose me now in the name of Jesus from all the attacks of the evil one. Set me free to serve You in a new and living way. Nothing is impossible for You. Help me to resolve that the very next time it looks as though Your purposes are going to be defeated that I will trust You to work things out in such a way as to bring glory to Your name. I praise You In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Finishing well by making opportunities and leaving a legacy
To set out on a particular course of action, or to discover some new truth, or to throw oneself into some new project is great; God loves to pour out grace and encouragement as we set out for Him, but a good start is just that – a good start; we need to press on beyond that to make real progress and reach the next stage – and to continue until we bring it to completion. Doing the Father’s will means making opportunities and frameworks for forgiveness – and not letting the sun go down on our anger or filling the atmosphere around us with our own concerns when we could be pressing in to share His.
Peter reminds us “I think it is right as long as I live in the tent of this body, to refresh your memory, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that you will always be able to remember these things after I am gone” (2 Pet. 1:13-14). That is sowing for eternity.
So let me ask you: what are you doing to pass the baton on to others, to help them either come to know the love of God, or to understand His heart more fully?
God finds ways to reproduce what He has done in our lives to give birth the spiritual things in others. All who are used of God are, to a greater or lesser extent, spiritual parents. And all the seeds we sow in love have the power to reproduce by the Spirit according to God’s kind.
May the Lord help us to find many strategies to sow. Write letters to people who matter to you now while you – and they – are both still alive. Don’t wait for it all to be obituary stuff. Pass on materials you have found helpful, books CDs, websites and so on. It is so important not to hog these blessings to ourselves.
But, you say, “I’ve done so little for God”. True; we have done so little and born far less fruit than we might have done. But listen to what James has to say on this subject: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?” (James 2:5) As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “His power shows up best in weak people.”
Rather than letting the thought of how little fruit we have borne daunt us, let’s use it rather as a spur to do better. He has qualified us to walk in the kingdom of light (Col. 12:12) – and He uses even the realisation of our weaknesses and failures to make us less self-complacent.
Turn something upside down to see what God is really saying?
We all know how frustrating it is to see a slide when it is shown the wrong way up. Everything inside us calls out, “Turn it round!” But sometimes it can be helpful to look at spiritual truths upside down and back to front in order to grasp the full measure of their power the ‘right way up.’
Now to Him who is able to do less than we can ask or imagine, due to the lack of power that is at work within us (Not the Epistle to the Ephesians 3:20).
The Lord is my slave-driver, who will most certainly fail to give me what I need to make it through the next stage of the journey. He drives me down dead ends and sets me on paths I did not want to take. (You’ll recognise the rhythm here but not the words of Psalm 23:1-3). Nevertheless, you may be only too familiar at times with at least some of the sentiments!
Now may the God of all discouragement drain you of all joy and peace as you continue to doubt Him, so that you may end up feeling totally directionless and entirely helpless and forlorn (Not the Epistles to the Romans 15:13)!
These and many like them are the truths that can help us to finish well!
What do you smell like?
All of us have times when our B.O. is bad. I’m not speaking about when we have done something hot and sweaty, or when we are under the weather (although it is well worth being aware that because body, soul and spirit track each other so closely, we should never underestimate the effects of illness and medication on our spiritual lives) but rather when we are allowing negative words and attitudes to cloud our outlook.
We can so easily be influenced by what other people think or want of us. But, as Jesus asks, ‘how can you believe when you receive praise from each other but don’t seek the praise that comes from the only God?’ (John 5:44). (One version speaks of us being too busy ‘collecting’ praise from one another to seek the praise of God!)
The statistics are clear: the number of those who embark on the narrow way is far greater than those who end up fervent in Him. In Pilgrims Progress, Christian and Hopeful meet many fellow travellers who have fallen by the wayside because they have not allowed their mind-set to be sufficiently changed. In other words the work of the Lord has failed to reach the depths of their heart.
May we be so porous that the water and word of life percolate like water through limestone to the water table and reservoirs of our hearts.
Getting into the habit of consulting before acting
Finishing well means making the most of our time and being willing to ponder and mull over various options. Time lost cannot easily be redeemed so it is good to repent of all the time we have frittered away or otherwise wasted. Since time speaks of essential continuity with eternity, let’s dedicate it to the Lord – and consult Him before plunging into action.
Don’t be put off by the thought that consulting the Lord before we do almost anything sounds decidedly laborious. When you first attempt to change gear in a car there’s a lot to think about: look in the mirror, put your left foot so far up, your right foot so far down, look over your shoulder and whoops you’ve stalled. Later on, of course, changing gear becomes second nature.
In much the same way it is good to get into the habit of asking the question “What would you have me do, Lord?” He has better and richer perspectives on how to do things than we do – so why are we so quick to assume that we know best?
Let me introduce you to what I call the thirty second principle. Try spending thirty seconds consciously seeking Him before going into action. It is amazing how much we can upload to the Lord and how much He can download to us in that short time. Let’s make it a goal to consciously practise this coming week – and the week after that, until it becomes the settled pattern of our lives.
Being at home in His presence
Evangelicals have long focused on the Person and saving work of the Lord Jesus; more recently the charismatic movement has placed a great emphasis on the Person and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. But the contemplative brings us face to face with the Father.
Cultivating the ability to stop and notice things, and to give our full attention to both them and the Lord enables us to appreciate their place in things. It is this contemplative emphasis that enables us to ‘be at home’ in the Lord’s presence, and that ‘completes’ our walk with the Lord.
Facing our pride
Finishing well means being willing to face up things that haven’t worked out – and to go on from there to confess and deal with our mistakes. Let this awareness go as deep as it needs to. Even if it hurts and stings to do so, let’s not duck and dodge away. Come before our loving Father, and weigh it honestly with Him.
Are you hurting because you haven’t done this or achieved the other? Is this because you missed the Lord’s nudges along the way? Is your pride smarting? Give it all to the Lord!
Keeping our hearts free from contempt
If we want to finish well we must be careful not to harbour contempt in our hearts. Over the years Ros and I have often winced as we have heard sharp-edged ridicule demeaning people who should rather have been being encouraged. We have even witnessed it happening from pulpits as pastors have abused their position by carping and sniping at members of their congregation – not, I hasten to add, in the church we attend. Contempt is obnoxious to the Lord! As Francis de Sales said:
“One of the most evil dispositions possible is that which satirizes and turns everything to ridicule. God abhors this vice, and sometimes punishes it in a marked manner. Nothing is so opposed to charity, much more to a devout spirit, as contempt and depreciation of one’s neighbour, and where satire and ridicule exist, contempt must follow. Contempt is therefore a grievous sin, and . . . ridicule is the greatest sin we can commit in word against our neighbour, inasmuch as when we offend him in any other way, there may still be some respect for him in our heart, but we are sure to despise those whom we ridicule.”
Pray for the Lord to set our hearts free from all and any tendency to ridicule others – especially if we occupy a position of leadership or authority which might hinder another person’s ability to respond.
Here’s a good tip. We are far less likely to resent anyone we are praying for regularly! If they are in ministry, it makes their ministry our own, and dispels any hint of that most powerful foe: jealousy.
Lord, check me when I am tempted to look down on someone or say something unnecessary about them. Help both them and us to finish well.
Praying, praising and thanking
Who do we appreciate spending time with? The grateful and the prayerful! These are the ones who best exude the Lord’s loving presence, and who are always willing to extend a hand of help and a heart of mercy. By contrast the meanly calculating are far more narrowly concerned with their own self interests.
When I was working for a church in Oxford years ago, I went from house to house around our parish, mainly in an evangelistic capacity. But I loved doing pastoral visits too, especially to the homes of house bound praying saints. Yes, they appreciated the visit, but I was so much the beneficiary from spending time with these OAPs – ‘old age pray-ers!’
Praise is like a vertical take-off that allows us an entirely different perspective on things. It gives us the confidence to trust that He has taken even our doubts, delays and detours into consideration and still knows that He can do what He needs to do in and through us – because He started in plenty of time.
This is why we can ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ (1 Thess. 5:18). Even on the night He was betrayed, when He was breaking bread and giving it to the disciples, Jesus continued His usual practice of giving thanks (Luke 22:17,19; 1 Cor. 11:23-24). If Jesus could give thanks at a time like that, what does His example have to say to us in whatever it is that we are going through?
It is sad when people get stuck and find themselves unable to move on to the next phase of their life. We often see it in the business world when founders and managers hang on too long to their responsible positions and become the bottleneck that prevents other people from emerging into the fullness of their calling; sadly this can happen in churches too. There is a right time to let go and move on. There are transition points in life and we do well to allow one season to draw to a close as well and as graciously as possible while we wait for the new one to emerge.
It is good to recognise when it is time to let go of something. I’ve felt proud of my dad recently, as he has had to accept that the time has come to lay driving down. He didn’t make any fuss about it, but just realised that the time had come.
When the Lord used the prophet Nathan to inform David that he was not the one to build the Temple of the Lord, David didn’t waste time arguing either; instead he set to work storing up the raw materials from which his son, Solomon, would build the Temple. That is a servant heart – and it is deeply pleasing to the Lord.
Why not take this final phrase as a ‘starter’ and see where you go with it:
Lord I really do want to finish well – and you want me to do so too! Therefore I want to give you the following areas that I am struggling with and ask Your help with . . . and . . .