Last December, I had a long-overdue heart-to-heart with God. Several areas of my life had come to a standstill. I had a book to write and was getting close to deadline, I was struggling with my weight, I wasn’t sleeping well and there were battles in my heart wearing me down. I was fizzling out before I was anywhere near completing the things God had given me to do. After 32 years of trucking along as a Christian, my engine was broken.
My story is not unique. Perhaps you’ve been there yourself. I recently heard an audio clip of Keith Green, the legendary Christian songwriter, introducing his then-newly written song Oh, Lord, You’re Beautiful. He explained that, a few days earlier, he had prayed:
“God, you’ve got to do something about my heart. A lot of time has gone by since I met you and it’s starting to harden up. . .I want to have skin like a baby on my heart. It’s starting to get old and wrinkled and calloused.”
Green recognized that he had started well but he wasn’t on track for finishing well.
Good beginnings are important. For much of my life I struggled against the tendency to leave things until the last minute—assignments, getting ready to go out, application forms, etc. Thankfully, despite my procrastinating, I always got my work done. Some people do seem to work better under pressure but now, newly in my forties, I am tired of the chaos and stress that procrastination creates. I’m training myself to start tasks earlier. Yes, this effort has come later in my life but even more important than how I start is how I finish.
Nothing beats finishing well . . . especially in our spiritual journey. As embarrassing or annoying as it may be to submit an assignment after the due date, to miss the bus or to be charged interest for not paying a bill on time, these are all manageable, temporary problems. Sadly, many Christians approach their walk with Christ with a lackadaisical attitude. They may have started with sincere joy and passion but, somewhere along the road, their first love fizzled out.
So, in the wee hours of that December night, I gave all of it—everything I was failing at, everything I was confused about, everything I felt ashamed of, everything that frightened me—to God and begged Him to help me hunger for Him. I needed to re-learn how to desire Him and love Him. I wanted to want His will more than anything else, no matter how noble that “anything else” seemed. I was getting nothing done, not only because I was depending on my own strength and wisdom, but also because my underlying goal was to feel better about myself.
My prayer, “Father, help me to hunger for you”—this prayer that has become my daily plea—was answered. First, my daily quiet times with the Lord came back to life. In the last six weeks before my deadline, I wrote my book. I began eating and sleeping better, too, and all these changes began a domino effect in other areas of my work, personal and spiritual life.
As the Apostle Paul said:
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
What does it take to finish well? Here are my suggestions:
- Establish (or recapture) intimacy with Christ. Until this step is achieved, nothing else will work (or have meaning).
- Develop (or restore) spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, worship, giving and serving.
- Make humility and obedience top priorities. It’s too easy to live for ourselves even under the pretence of doing things “for God.”
- Get your other priorities straight. Investing in things with little spiritual value will always leave you empty.
- Don’t spread yourself too thinly. Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean God wants you to. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to focus your time and talents on.
- Surround yourself with wise and godly people you can learn from, particularly people who consistently finish well.
If you want to know more about what the Bible says regarding finishing well, I encourage you to look up and meditate on these passages: Philippians 3:12-21; Hebrews 12:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:7; Acts 20:24 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
[This article first appeared in the May-June 2013 issue of live.]