We’ve all heard the stories of leaders who didn’t finish well.

  • Moral failure
  • Bitterness or hardness of heart in latter years
  • Complacency or coasting in latter years of ministry, figuring they’ve already paid their dues

The painful consequences may include ruptured families, a besmirching of Christ’s reputation, and at the very least, little fruit late in life when we should have the most wisdom to impart.
Please: don’t presume that you’ll finish well. Here are three reasons you may not.

1.Relying on past victories and devotional times with the Lord.
Over the years, we enjoy regular times alone with God. We absorb His Word, vent our anxieties through heartfelt prayer, and thank Him profusely for His faithfulness. Put simply, we’re keenly aware of our dependence on Him for holiness and fruitful ministry.
But the older we get, and the more we accomplish for the Lord, the busier we become and expectations for productivity ramp up. Subtly, unintentionally, we hurry through our devotional times or miss those intimate moments altogether. The felt need isn’t as great, so neglect is easier to rationalize.
Or we successfully fend off a particular temptation for years, relying on pleas to God, Scripture memory, and an accountability partner as essential means of grace. Yet if we aren’t careful, those past victories lull us into complacency and we relax our defenses. We figure the war is already won over our areas of vulnerability.
Yet we must regularly replenish the soul food we need. We can no more demonstrate strength for life and ministry by relying on last month’s ingestion of the Word than we can work efficiently today by relying on meals we ate last week.
2.Forgetting the persistence of our arch-enemy, Satan.

We’ll never climb to a spiritual plateau high enough to put us out of the reach of Satan’s flaming arrows. Resist him for decades. Keep telling him “No!” But he keeps tempting us with bulldog tenacity. To switch animal analogies, he’s like a roaring lion, seeking a prey to devour: you (1 Peter 5:8).
Before the launch of Jesus’ public ministry, Satan tried three times to derail Jesus (Luke 4:1-13). Though Satan knew Jesus was the Son of God, every time the Lord repelled him with Scripture, the devil returned with a different lure. According to Luke 4:13, Satan left him for a “season,” the term from which we derive “chronology.” That episode wasn’t Jesus’ last bout with the tempter.
Here’s a significant takeaway from Luke 4:1-13. If Satan persisted with the Son of God, he’ll persist with you and with me. Just ask the 67-year-old pastor, married over 45 years, with a resume of effective ministry, who abruptly resigned and left his wife for a former church secretary with whom he had worked.
There’s a word for the person who takes Satan for granted and thinks the enemy has given up the chase.

3.Neglecting the doctrine of indwelling sin in believers.
Though the Holy Spirit resides in us from the moment of conversion (Rom. 8:9), His presence doesn’t eradicate our grave potential for sin. We should sin less due to the new capacity to obey, but we aren’t sinless.
When did Paul call himself the foremost of sinners? Not shortly after his conversion, but late in his ministry (1 Tim. 1:15).
John Owen, considered the greatest devotional writer among the Puritans, persistently preached and wrote on the reality of indwelling sin, and its implications. Here are three quotes from Owen’s Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor:

  • There are traitors in our hearts, ready to take part and side with every temptation, and give up all to them.
  • Never let us reckon that our work in contending against sin, in crucifying, mortifying, and subduing it, is at an end.
  • Carry about a constant, humbling sense of this awareness (of indwelling sin) that yet lies in our nature.

In a best-selling Christian book, I read that since we’re believers, we can now “trust our hearts.” But if we can trust it, why should we heed Proverbs 4:23: “Watch over your heart with all diligence”? Owens repeatedly quoted Proverbs 28:26: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.”
“Father, don’t let my foolishness keep me from finishing well.”
What other reasons can you cite for not finishing well?

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