From housewives to college students, CEOs to entertainers, preachers to professors, many are walking away from the church and from the faith in Jesus Christ. Some have been traumatized, some have been let down, others have just drifted from the “faith handed down by the apostles.”
How will we persevere and overcome? Revelation gives us a promise that whatever the turmoil, Christ is winning the war. His grace is still being poured into the lives of women and men, children and youth of all creeds, cultures, languages and geographies. And one day, the world will be transformed. “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev. 21:7) Finishing in the faith is crucial. It’s at the heart of God’s call in the waning chapters of human history. “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” (Rev. 14:2)
The Scriptures do not know a faith that is treated as a safety net for some future time. Faith is a narrow road. A road must be traveled. Faith is something we walk in, until we’ve reached our destination. Traveling the road of faith is traveling with our Savior. Faith is walking in his way and sharing in his life toward his future.
There is a day we will finish the journey. “…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27) And how we finish matters. What we do every day until we finish also matters. Our daily obedience is what guides us toward that last day.
One place in Scripture, where the apostle instructs a leader on how to conduct himself in the everyday living of his faith, we can infer 3 strategies for finishing well and 3 dangers that can easily get us off course.
3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victors crown unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. (NIV)2 Timothy 2:3-6
Let’s look at 3 strategies for finishing well.
The first, is the mindset of the good soldier.
1. Set your mind on endurance. The NIV translated it, “endure hardship.” The ESV says, “share in the suffering.” The very word “endure” implies hardship, or suffering. We don’t endure something we enjoy, or something that’s easy. We endure something that is difficult and painful. I heard a statement on Sunday, from a sermon by Harry Kelm, he said, “We all come into this life wet, naked and hungry and it gets worse after that!” Life is hard and life in the faith is hard.
Jesus described life with him as carrying our cross. It’s a life of self-denial. It goes against everything that is natural. We can’t make comfort our goal. Don’t chase a lifestyle. Elimination of pain is an empty pursuit. It accomplishes little and it keeps us from accomplishing God’s will. Enduring in this life takes a commitment to a new commanding officer. What drives us is our desire to hear, “Well done” at the end of our tour of duty.
The second, is the commitment of the athlete.
2. Set your heart on integrity. Paul described him as the one who competes according to the rules. I remember a time when a golfer ended up disqualifying himself, because his ball was under a bush. The only way to get to the ball was on his knees. Not wanting to dirty his golf slacks, he took a small towel and laid it on the ground, knelt down and struck the ball. After further thought, he realized he had “improved his stance.” He called it on himself. He was out. He violated the rules. How different is this from the myriad of athletes and coaches who scream their innocence, when knowing they violated the rules. As believers, integrity must be a daily commitment. It keeps us close to the path of Jesus.
Let our yes be yes and our no be no. Let’s pay our bills. Owe no one anything but love. Follow through on commitments, including “I do.” Practice letting go of preferences for the sake of others.
The third strategy comes from the farmer.
3. Set your will toward diligence. Do the hard thing day in and day out. If the farmer only planted half a field, and gave up on weeding, or irrigating half way through the summer, the promise of a crop would disappear. In our lives, we need to decide toward diligence daily. In the end, we’ll enjoy the crop of faithfulness.
Work the field of your life. Weed out the things that are destructive. Plant the seeds of righteousness. Live for the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Pray, worship with God’s people, give, serve, and witness.
In these strategies above, Paul points us toward the dangers that keep us from finishing well.
The first danger is everywhere.
1. Distractions. Our life is filled with distractions, maybe more than any other time in history. Our attention spans are shrinking. Our ability and desire to stick with something fades with every new hobby, every new gadget, every new trend. We are yelled at by so many voices, “notice me,” “look over here,” “this is it!” Deep down we know the loud is rarely the important.
How many times have we set our minds on a project, like reading Scripture daily. We get a plan. We set the time. We start with excitement. And in just a few days, something else with a new promise of fulfillment has swallowed up the time, space and desire we had. Distractions are good, or bad things that get in the way of doing the thing that please our commanding officer. Have you ever been talking to someone you really care for, and in the middle of the conversation, you looked at your phone – even when the phone didn’t ring? This is how distractions work. They take us away from what’s important, to something that means nothing.
There is a second danger that sets us on a dangerous path.
2. Rule Skirting. Let me make the obligatory comment that I’m not talking about following rules that somehow grant us the right to forgiveness and reconciliation with God. By skirting rules, I am talking about continuing in a pattern of taking shortcuts on holiness.
As a young pastor, I sat with an older pastor once as I contemplated taking the exemption allowed to pastors, to not participate in the Social Security system. We discussed the pros and cons. I knew he had been exempted, so I thought he would be able to give me some insight. At the bottom of the form there was statement that had to be signed. It declared that the reason for leaving the system was not financial, but was a religious objection to the system. I asked him to give me his objection, so I could justify signing the document. His comment was, “Huh, it says that? I don’t know, I just signed it.” I didn’t sign it.
It’s not that I’ve never made a questionable decision, or put a toe over the line. I have and when I have, the Spirit has convicted me. The problem with skirting rules is that it gets easier and easier to justify it. We start a pattern which is harder and harder to break free of. And eventually we’re disqualified from the race.
A third danger feels a little less dangerous but it’s not.
3. Laziness. Laziness is a lack of industriousness. We take no initiative. We get in a pattern of not following through. Paul’s not against rest. Rest is essential. Rest is a blessing that is granted for those who work. I used to say, “It’s easier to change a busy man’s priorities than it is to change a lazy man’s nature.” That’s the problem with laziness. It becomes part of who we are. In our day, we have remember that laziness doesn’t always mean someone is doing nothing. Busyness is no guarantee that we are involved in anything of great value.
Laziness denies what we were created for – productive, Kingdom work. Laziness keeps us from a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. Laziness exacerbates anxiety and depression. Our spirit’s are strengthened when we are busy serving the Lord and others. When we’re active doing kingdom work, we are encouraged to see the Lord at work with us. Our work keeps us dependent on him. Our work creates space for conversation, involvement and participation with him.
My goal is that I’ll finish well, wherever that finish line is. My hope is that you will too. Your faith isn’t a gift that you keep in your pocket for the day you face Jesus. No, your faith in Christ is to be lived out day by day. So, let’s set our minds on endurance, integrity and diligence. And let’s watch out for distractions, rule skirting, and laziness.
As always, thanks for reading!