How to Finish Well
How to Finish Well
You can finish well. You may have had a bad start in life. You may have messed up along the way. You may have made mistakes. You may have regrets. But you can finish well and that is what matters most.
Some start well but fall. In the recession, many of the companies that Jim Collins had profiled in his international bestseller Good to Great fell. He argued that the fall of the previously great companies did not negate the principles of the earlier books. However, it showed us that even the ‘mightiest’ of companies can fall.
In his most recent book, How the Mighty Fall, he examines the path towards doom. The first stage of the process begins with ‘hubris born of success’. As with Saul in the Old Testament passage for today, it is arrogance that begins the process by which the mighty fall.
It is more important to finish well than to start well. In the New Testament, Saul (of Tarsus) started off very badly (he was a persecutor of Jesus and was complicit in murder), but he finished well (as the great apostle, Paul). On the other hand, as we see in today’s Old Testament passage, Saul (king of Israel) started very well but did not finish well.
Jesus, as always, shows us the way. His life was relatively short. He died in his early thirties, yet he finished well. He prays to the Father, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do’ (John 17:4).
This is my ambition in life. I want to complete the work God has given me to do. How can you make sure you finish well?
1. Take the long viewProverbs 12:28-13:9
The writer of Proverbs encourages us to take the long view and stay in the way of ‘righteousness’ where ‘there is life; along that path is immortality’ (12:28). Avoid the temptation to focus just on the here and now, and act in the light of eternity.
What does a righteous life look like?
- Listen to parental advice
‘A wise child heeds a parent’s instruction’ (13:1). Honouring parents is high on the list of God’s priorities. Family life and good parenting are so important. I recommend The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee.
- Guard your lips
‘Those who guard their lips guard their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin’ (v.3). It is impossible to overestimate the importance of your words and of controlling the tongue.
- Work hard
‘The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied’ (v.4). Work is a blessing. Success can be hard work. It requires diligent perseverance. Winston Churchill said, ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’
- Love the truth
‘The righteous hate what is false’ (v.5). We are to hate dishonesty and love the truth. Mark Twain once said, ‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.’
- Be a person of integrity
‘Righteousness guards the person of integrity’ (v.6). Integrity does not mean being perfect. It means being honest, real and authentic (it is the opposite of hypocrisy). In his book, Integrity, the clinical psychologist Dr Henry Cloud writes that integrity ‘is the key to success. A person with integrity has the – often rare – ability to pull everything together, to make it all happen no matter how challenging the circumstances.’
Lord, help me to take the long view and to stay on the path of righteousness, life and immortality. Help me to be wise, to honour parents, to guard my lips, to work hard, to speak the truth and to live a life of integrity.
2. Trust in the legacy of JesusJohn 14:1-31
Are you troubled, distressed, agitated or afraid? Jesus does not want you to be troubled, but to have peace in your heart (vv.1,27).
Jesus knew that his life on this earth was about to finish. He was about to leave his disciples (v.27); he was going back to the Father (v.3). Yet he said to them, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, distressed, agitated’ (v.1, AMP). ‘Peace I leave with you’ (v.27). Jesus does not leave you alone but passes on to you an amazing legacy.
- Jesus has good plans for your future
Jesus says, ‘There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home... I’m on my way to get your room ready’ (v.2, MSG). In Christ, your long-term future is totally secure.
- Jesus is coming back for you
The end of earthly life is not the end. Jesus told his followers, ‘I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’ (v.3).
- Jesus has opened the way for you to know God
Thomas asks, ‘How can we know the way?’ Jesus replies, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (vv.5–6).
- Jesus reveals God for you
Philip says, ‘Lord, show us the Father’ (v.8). Jesus replies, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (v.9). If you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus.
- Jesus will do even greater things through you
Jesus will do even greater miracles through his disciples than he did while he was on earth (v.12).
- Jesus will continue to answer your prayers
‘From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do’ (vv.13–14, MSG).
- Jesus will never leave you alone
Jesus says, ‘I will not leave you as orphans’ (v.18). He says that he’ll ‘provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth... he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!’ (vv.16–17, MSG).
- Jesus will continue to love you
‘Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them’ (v.21b).
- Jesus and the Father will make their home with you
Jesus said, ‘Those who love me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (v.23).
- Jesus leaves you with peace
‘Peace I leave with you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (v.27).
How is all this possible? The way in which Jesus passes on his legacy to you is through the Holy Spirit. He will send the Holy Spirit to live in your heart: ‘The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you’ (v.26, MSG).
Jesus had thought it through very carefully and had made a great succession plan!
Lord, thank you for giving me such an amazing legacy. Thank you that you give me the Holy Spirit, to be with me forever. Thank you that you live in me. Thank you that you and the Father come and make your home with me. Thank you that you give me your peace and you promise to answer my prayers.
Thank you that you say, ‘You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it’ (v.14). Today, I want to ask... in your name.
3. Honour the Lord to the end1 Samuel 14:24-15:35
Saul started off very well. God had given him great success. In the passage for today, we can learn from Saul’s good example in the early days of his leadership.
However, he did not finish well due to disobedience and arrogance. Partial obedience is still disobedience. Not only did he disobey God but he ‘set up a victory monument in his own honour’ (15:12, MSG). How different this is from Jesus who, as we see in today’s passage, had only one aim in life – to bring glory to his Father (John 14:13).
Samuel tells Saul, ‘When you started out in this, you were nothing – and you knew it. Then God put you at the head of Israel – made you king over Israel... why did you not obey God?... He wants you to listen to him! Plain listening is the thing, not staging a lavish religious production. Not doing what God tells you is far worse than fooling around in the occult. Getting self-important around God is far worse than making deals with your dead ancestors. Because you said No to God’s command, he says No to your kingship’ (1 Samuel 15:17–23, MSG).
Power is so dangerous. It has a strong tendency to corrupt. Success can so easily lead to pride and arrogance. That in turn can lead to idolatry.
Lord, we pray with the psalmist, ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory’ (Psalm 115:1). Lord, help us to avoid the disobedience and arrogance of Saul, and to follow the obedience and humility of Jesus.
Lord, come and make your home in my heart today. May the Spirit of truth lead and guide me, and give me your peace.
When I hear these words read at funerals I can feel the power of them reaching into the depth of grief and bringing comfort and hope. Jesus is preparing a place in heaven for each one of us. It is the hope I hold on to at these sad and difficult times. Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’