As a Christ-follower, what would “finishing well” look like for you?
When it comes time for you to die, if you look back on your life, what would you need to see in order to conclude, “By God’s grace, I finished well!”
Rather than thinking those questions pertain only to persons 60+, this post explains why the concept of “finishing well” is especially pertinent to young and middle-aged adults.
Lesson from the Leaves
Are leaves more beautiful in the early spring, when they first sprout from buds that hug tree limbs? Does their beauty reach its peak in late spring, when an azure sky frames their lush, emerald green? Or are they most attractive after a summer storm, when the raindrops nestled on leaves sparkle when hit by the sun’s rays?
None of the above.
Their beauty peaks a week or two before they die! That’s when green gives way to flamboyant hues: red, orange and yellow.
Colorful autumn leaves offer a word picture for how I want to finish my earthly pilgrimage.
I yearn to finish well, not only in relation to ministry endeavors, but more so in my character and relationships. Will I, like the leaves of hardwood trees, become more attractive in the last stage of my life, in the months and years before I die? Or, like many in old age, will I become cantankerous due to an increase in physical pain or a decline in physical energy? Will family members hear me complain more often and bemoan the negative impact of my gruff spirit on the atmosphere in our home? Will they see someone who’s bitter because of unreached life goals or mistreatment I experienced? Or will they view someone who trusts explicitly in God’s sovereignty and relies day in and day out on His strength for exhibiting the fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Oh, I want to buck the trend of older folks getting mired in a bog of self-centeredness. I want others to look at me and exclaim, “Wow!” Not because of my goodness or innate attractiveness, but because they’re overwhelmed with the radiant colors of God’s grace spread over the canvas of my life. I want them to look at how I behave and the attitudes I convey and praise the same Creator who transforms ordinary green leaves into eye-popping hues. I want them to notice a degree of optimism, as if I really believe that each day I awaken, I’m a day closer to enjoying the Lord’s presence.
Learn from the Leaves
I’ve learned something about factors that determine the quality of fall colors. Soil and atmospheric conditions work in tandem to determine the quality of fall colors. You’re more likely to view bold colors if, during the preceding months, the area receives adequate rainfall mixed with lots of sunshine. When the leaves are exposed to lots of sunlight and there’s adequate moisture in the soil, chemical changes in the leaves produce better color later on. If your area gets an earlier than normal freeze, or if there’s a drought during the summer, color quality of leaves suffers.
Similarly, a person’s attractiveness late in life depends on factors he or she experiences earlier in life. To what extent are we watering the soil of our hearts with unhurried time with Christ? The cumulative choices we make in the decades prior to old age affect our character and attitudes during our senior years. The consistency of private and corporate worship; regular utilization of God’s means of grace (spiritual disciplines); cultivation of close relationships with other believers and a persistent ministry outlet are among the variables that enhance attractiveness late in life.
This doesn’t mean that God can’t transform someone who comes to faith in old age, or that an older Christian can’t accelerate his rate of spiritual growth. It’s never too late to do what is right! Yet life change typically occurs slowly, even when God’s means of grace are the change agents.
Questions to Ponder
As I contemplate the concept of finishing well, here’s a list of evaluative questions I’m asking myself.
- Every believer faces two foes of spiritual formation: his own indwelling potential to sin, and Satan. What are the practical implications of my ongoing battle against these foes?
- What decisions, practices and changes do I need to implement now to increase the likelihood of finishing well? (What am I doing, or neglecting to do, that affects my attractiveness as a Christian?)
- For a believer diagnosed with a mental illness, whom God has chosen not to heal completely, how does that disorder complicate or potentially thwart my strong finish? What responses to the onset of a depressive episode will enable me to tap into God’s sustaining power? For a person with major depression, what constitutes victorious Christian living and finishing well?
Will You Get Home Before Dark?
I’ll close with a free verse poem written by the late President of Columbia International University, Robertson McQuilkin. It’s a plea to God to enable him to finish well as he aged.
Let Me Get Home Before Dark
It’s sundown, Lord.
The shadows of my life stretch back
into the dimness of the years long spent.
I fear not death, for that grim foe betrays himself at last,
thrusting me forever into life:
Life with You, unsoiled and free.
But I do fear.
I fear the Dark Spectre may come too soon,
or do I mean, too late?
That I should end before I finish or
finish, but not well.
That I should stain Your honor, shame Your name,
grieve Your loving heart.
Few, they tell me, finish well . . .
Lord, let me get home before dark.
The darkness of a spirit
grown mean and small,
fruit shriveled on the vine,
bitter to the taste of my companions,
burden to be borne by those brave few
who love me still.
No, Lord. Let the fruit grow lush and sweet,
a joy to all who taste;
Spirit-sign of God at work,
stronger, fuller, brighter at the end.
Lord, let me get home before dark.
The darkness of tattered gifts,
rust-locked, half-spent or ill-spent,
a life that once was used of God
now set aside.
Grief for glories gone or
fretting for a task God never gave.
Mourning in the hollow chambers of memory,
gazing on the faded banners of victories long gone.
Cannot I run well unto the end?
Lord, let me get home before dark.
The outer me decays.
I do not fret or ask reprieve.
The ebbing strength but weans me from mother earth
and grows me up for heaven.
I do not cling to shadows cast by immortality.
I do not patch the scaffold lent to build the real, eternal me.
I do not clutch about me my cocoon,
vainly struggling to hold hostage
a free spirit pressing to be born.
But will I reach the gate
in lingering pain, body distorted, grotesque?
Or will it be a mind
wandering untethered among light phantasies or grim terrors?
Of Your grace, Father, I humbly ask. . .
let me get home before dark.
Visit CIU’s McQuilkin library and discover more resources produced by Robertson. If you know someone who’s getting married this year, consider his book, A Promise Kept, as a gift for the groom or bride.