If you have ever run a race—you know, one of those big ones where there are announcers, music, starting chutes, water stations, official bib numbers, and timing chips attached to your shoe—then you’ll relate to this experience. Awaiting you at the finish line is an impressive arch where your name is announced, and at the precise moment you cross the line, your finish time is exposed on a clock above your head and there’s a flash! The flash I’m talking about is a photograph that’s snapped at the conclusion that will become the testimony, the exclamation point to your race, your time, and your physical condition.
It was my first marathon, and during the months and miles of training, all I could fixate on was that finishing photo. Having never run 26.2 miles in a row before, I wondered what my time would be and more importantly what my face and body would look like for the photo. Playing baseball in college, I was built for 90-foot sprints, not a long-distance race that has its origins in the death of a Roman runner!
My goals, in order, were to finish and take a good photo. My fears were that the finish photo might include emergency personnel attending to my dying body! I wanted to finish well!
My goals, in order, were to finish and take a good photo.
Finishing well is not an original phrase but one I think about regularly as I become content with knowing there are less days ahead of me than behind. The idea of finishing well hit close to home recently with the unexpected death of a dear member of SBC Cactus.
In what would become the last few years of her life, she desired to put an exclamation point on her life as a disciple of Jesus. She was a faithful wife, mom, community leader, and church servant and as she entered her retirement years (not even sure what those are), she was intent to serve the Lord with all her might till He returned or took her home. No one knows the exact date or time that either of those events will happen in our lives, and this dear saint was no different. She did not let those thoughts change her desire to finish well. She was voracious in her yearning to serve the Lord and the church, and met with me to talk about the next chapter. She had big plans to help immigrants in our community learn English and settle into the neighborhood. We met together with other ministry leaders and set a course to welcome “English as a second language” onto the Cactus campus. This would be her retirement!
Then the phone rang just a few weeks later. In my years of ministry, there are few calls that hurt more than the one from a husband or wife with the news of the unexpectant death of their spouse. How could this be? She was in her prime, plenty of time, resources, a heart for the least, lost, and lonely and was about to hit her next stride.
This reminded me about our numbered days. Only God knows when He will take us home. As I led her memorial service, finishing well was all that came to mind. She sought that with what would ultimately become her last breaths on earth. My message that day was for us and our finish. Memorials are not a place where we mourn the saints; instead, we mourn for us and begin to face our own mortality and take an account of our own lives. If we were to die, would it be said of us that we finished well? Were we becoming more transformed into the image of Jesus? Were we disciples or simply fans of Jesus? When I took account of my life in preparation for her service, the overwhelming thought was, ‘Oh that I would be caught faithful when the Lord takes me home or returns.’
This reminded me about our numbered days. Only God knows when He will take us home.
The apostle Paul is a wonderful example of finishing well. In forsaking all earthly privilege, pleasure, and riches, he exchanged the worldly finish photo for one colored with tent construction, persecution, and disciple making for the sake of the upward call of Christ. In fact, some of his last words were, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Oh that we as Christians would not buy into the worldly ideals of finishing well for ourselves, so fixated on looking good for our “photo” at the finish line. May that last gasp crossing into Glory be one faithfully striving after Jesus. Finishing well can look different for each of us, but for some with time, talents, resources, and experience, God still has work for us to do. We haven’t arrived at the finish line until God ordains it. Would we be caught lunging for the line and not coasting? Flash!