Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 20: Keeping the Faith
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—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV
My friend and co-worker, Neal Floberg, finished well. He passed into Jesus’ presence at 75. After a life of pastoring and planting churches, he wound down his days mentoring my young elders, encouraging people to pray and speaking truth into the lives of church leaders from the humility of personal experience. Even as cancer stole him away, he taught all of us who knew him what faith in God’s sovereign reign was all about. I was deeply affected by ministering with him.
Throughout this series of blogs I have focused on not snuffing out bruised reeds and receiving second chances from the gospel’s point of view. So when we reach the end, what does it mean to say, as Paul does, “I have kept the faith.”? Is there some secret sauce that a select few people get so they finish well?
I think we all get it. Finishing well is not about being faultless…Or about having lived each moment of life without any doubts about the goodness or greatness of God…Or resisting the Spirit’s work—grieving him and hurting ourselves. Here are the lessons I carry inside me that were learned from Paul and more contemporary believers who have shown me the way of finishing well. I will finish well if…
In spite of suffering, I finish the course. There have been days I wanted to chuck it all. I get tired of the hurt that people casually inflict, the battles, the false friends. Sometimes it is tempting to draw in and protect myself and mine from the stress ministry itself brings on. But Paul’s litany of suffering in 2 Corinthians 11:21-29 is the anchor that reminds me nothing I face is strange or new. When I became a slave of Christ, suffering was part of that life. I have to surrender to it if I am to finish well. I cannot help but think of the ending of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life when I write this.
Finishing the course does not mean you or I will be a martyr, but it does not rule it out either. However, the point Paul makes is that, when we get to whatever is our end, we will be glad not just that we finished the hard task of completing the course, but that we have longed for God more than any reward we might receive from Him.
In spite of sin, I return to Him. Paul knew Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom he was the worst. I am pretty sure he was not just thinking of himself before be met Jesus on the Damascus Road. Finishing well means I will not allow sin to write the final chapter of my life. I like the way C.S. Lewis put this: No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep picking ourselves up each time. We of course will be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are ready, the towels put out, and clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice our dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.
Finishing well is for the sinner who repents. If you are going to make it, then learn to run to God as soon as you fall down. Encourage every believer to do this.
In spite of temptation, I lean into God’s grace. No one is impervious to being tempted. Satan knows all the old habits, the secret desires of my heart, the way to wrap up rebellion against God’s reign in a self-justifying package. Often God’s response is not to placate me or distract me by wealth and health—too many of those who adhere to this ‘theology’ are not finishing as well as they could—but to send me a thorn in the flesh to remind me that His grace is sufficient. When I accept that I am weak and He is strong, the path to finishing well is open wide.
Grace teaches us to say ‘No’ to all ungodliness and worldly passions. Grace is more than the mercy, compassion and forgiveness of God. It is not what He thinks about us, but what He does in us, as Charles Trumbell said years ago in Victory in Christ.
In spite of victory, I cast it all at Jesus’ feet. When I was younger in the faith, I tried to claim the credit for what God was doing through my life. I think most of us do this at some point or other. In ministry, it is the kiss of death. There may be a crown of righteousness waiting for me, as Paul expects, but it will be given to me by God, not earned by me through what I do.
God has made it possible for you and me to finish well through the cross of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit inside us. So do not let your ‘bruised reed’ former status cause you to forsake any second chance God gives you. Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus.