Finishing Well

startThere are 2,300 people mentioned in the Bible and 100 are prominent figures. Of those 100, only 1/3 finished well. Regarding the 2/3 that failed to finish well, most of them faltered in the last 1/2 of life.

When I look at many people older than me, I see the same trend with many struggling physically, mentally & spiritually. Many seem to have given up on aging gracefully and are just surviving, waiting for their last day to arrive. Many, unfortunately, have even given up on any kind of service to God, though they served Him fervently for much, if not all, of their younger years. “Let the younger ones do the work now,” they say. They are, at the moment, failing to finish well in the last 1/2 of life.

For much of my life, I dreaded growing older because I just didn’t see any older person who aged gracefully. All I saw were people getting more miserable with each passing day, and I knew I wanted no part of getting older if that’s what it was like.

Thankfully, my view of getting older changed in recent years as it is now being shaped by a few individuals who are aging gracefully. They serve God with increasing fervency. They possess joy, wisdom and peace that seems to come from a lifelong process of sanctification, an increasing intimacy with God that becomes immediately obvious in their presence. They still have struggles, but they never lose their focus on Christ. Their faith shines even in the toughest of times. And that, I want.

Likewise, there are that 1/3 of the 100 prominent who still serve as examples of how to finish well. I’m thankful for their example too. Combine the examples of people I know with those I read about, and I’m believing that I too can finish well.

How to Finish Well

finish

When I run in organized races, people I don’t even know cheer me on. Other runners cheer me on too. I also find myself encouraged by the others who finish the race and then go back down the course to cheer on other runners. And even though I know none of these people, I’m encouraged just to be told, “Keep going! Don’t quit. You’re almost there.”

The race of my faith life is also cheered on by people I don’t know, those who have gone before me and finished well. It’s encouraged by those running the race with, though a bit ahead, me too. My running is fueled by the words of Scripture acknowledging that the race is difficult but that finishing well is more than possible.

  1. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Cross the finish line. (2 Timothy 4:7)
  2. Complete the task Jesus gives you to do. (Acts 20:24)
  3. Discipline yourself & make sure what you teach matches how you live all the way to the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  4. Endure to the end. (Hebrews 12:1)
  5. Stay qualified through the end. (Colossians 1:10-14 & 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  6. Let Christ complete His work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  7. Stay confident. (Hebrews 10:35)
  8. Live forward, not backward. (Philippians 3:12-16)

To me, these Scriptures say, “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re almost there.” They, along with the stories of the 1/3 who did finish well and those running just ahead of me today, encourage and cheer me on daily. They fuel my determination to finish well and to refuse to join the ranks of those who, in the last 1/2 of life wax and wane into average at best and flat out failure at worst.

DISCUSSION: What individual from the Bible do you think is the best example of finishing well and why? What motivates you to follow the advice listed above on how to finish your life well?

Aging Gracefully

Birthday Confetti Email SalutationEvery year as my birthday nears, I struggle with aging. Actually, I continually battle the thought of aging but fixate on it more when I must actually add to the number that captures the reality.

Yeah, I know the “age is just a number” sayings, but I don’t buy them. To me, that constantly-increasing number reminds me of my mortality, and I find I must deliberately confront my thoughts in this area in order to not find myself consumed by what sometimes feels like futility.

Maybe I love this world too much. Maybe I’m too attached to the desires of my flesh. Or maybe I simply struggle with the wasted time of my past, now lost forever. Regardless, I know I need to, as my pastor said recently, live forward instead of backwards, and for me this means confronting these thoughts that could paralyze me if I let them.

tent

While I struggle with aging, I’m also acutely aware that the number placed on my age only involves my current dwelling or “tent” as Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). I know that the real me, my spirit, renews daily (2 Corinthians 4:16)… it doesn’t age. I hold dearly to my future promised with Christ in Heaven, and I know I must “not think only about things down here” but must “also set [my] sights on the realities of heaven” (Colossians 3:1-2).

At the same time, I can’t deny my desire to extend this tent-dwelling life as much as possible, to live a long, good life on this earth. I simply cannot escape the deep sense that this mortal life truly matters even amidst its fleetingness.

Since this life does matter, I want to age gracefully. I want to live fully in a way that pleases my Creator because I don’t believe He would give me this life if it didn’t matter much, if He didn’t have a specific purpose for both now and into eternity.

Do you have a similar struggle with aging and/or a desire to age gracefully?

In my goal to age gracefully, the focus topic for August on Struggle to Victory, I’m looking to what Scripture says to help me live in victory even within the struggle. In that, I will explore what the Bible teaches about living a long, good life (which is actually quite a lot), attempt to understand the truth that “physical training is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8) and look at what it takes to finish well.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on aging gracefully?

Timing Matters

Timing 2Poor Timing

“Why doesn’t anyone listen to what I say?” My complaint probably sounded like a broken record to my husband. Frustration over someone failing to heed my advice resulted once again in stimulating this repeated source of relational frustration.

Then awareness hit me like a punch in the face. If multiple people from a variety of settings and types of relationships seem not to listen to me, perhaps the problem lies with me and not with others.

Some people (my husband) have a terrific sense of timing in conversations. Whether funny or serious, the flow seems as natural as breathing. Other people (myself), struggle finding the “right” words, which often (usually) come long after the conversation ends. And ill-timed humor only amplifies uncomfortable and awkward feelings.

For a while, past mistakes in conversations were just too painful to risk repeating. Additionally, extreme sensitivity created a constant awareness of every interruption, every misplaced comment and certainly every blank stare of confusion. So, to minimize these miscues in timing, I simply avoided face-to-face conversations.

As you might guess, avoiding talking to others is pretty impossible. Sure, I can do a lot of communicating via electronic methods, but they in no way substitute for the richness of connection made when talking to someone while at the same time experiencing the fullness of their presence.

Instead of allowing struggles with timing in conversations to suffocate relationships, either by lack of awareness or through over-sensitivity, a better approach involves taking time to increase understanding of timing in conversations. Perhaps in doing so, I can finally discover victory within this struggle.

Understanding Timing

Timing involves when something happens or is done (or said), especially when that timing is thought of as having a good or bad effect on the result. Timing also involves the ability to chose the best moment for some action, movement, words, etc.

Timing within conversations significantly impacts the success or failure of the contained communication. It also involves well-timed orchestration of the elements involved in successful communication.

Timing Awareness

As I thought about past failed communication, I realized that my poor timing had a huge impact. And that poor timing usually took place because one or more of the following were happening.

  1. Failing to fully listen because I’m thinking of what I want to say next.
  2. Getting distracted & being unable to hear what was being said.
  3. Talking before letting the other person finish talking.
  4. Focusing on giving advice rather than on understanding the person.
  5. Letting my emotions take over my flow of words.

Knowing that any one of these can knock the timing of a conversation off kilter, being aware of each conversation malady provides a first step for improving my timing when talking with others.

timingTiming Words

Poor timing with our words involves a myriad of factors. Poor social skills, loneliness and selfishness all impact a person’s timing when they talk to others. Being uninterested in others, having a lack of confidence and feeling intimidated can also impact how well we pace conversations.

Understanding that one or more factors may be at play in those to whom we are speaking helps in employing patience, but realizing theses issues may also exist within ourselves can help in making necessary adjustments for at least improving our end of the flow of communication.

Once awareness and understanding begin, we can then apply the following Biblical principles.

  1. Listen first and more. (Proverbs 18:13)
  2. Let relationships develop. (Proverbs 6:1-5)
  3. Use good sense. (Proverbs 11:12)
  4. Think first. (Proverbs 13:3 & 29:20)
  5. Use less words. (Proverbs 17:27-28)
  6. Be slow to speak. (James 1:19-20)

Notice that much of what Scripture reveals about timing involves not speaking but instead deliberately focusing on others in the conversation. Maybe this is because our words simply don’t matter when others don’t feel heard in a way that shows their value.

Focusing on understanding provides the key to proper timing in conversations. Sure, other people’s baggage impacts the conversation too, but your honing of timing certainly increases the probability of understanding and growth.

DISCUSSION: What impact has timing, or lack of it, had on your communication?

Sunday Reflections – Lessons from a Jr. High Track Meet

The track season has ended, and summer approaches. We look forward to cross country in the fall, which involves running consistently through the summer. Running runs in the family for us. We have different paces (6-minute mile to 10-minute mile) and different distances we enjoy (5k to 1/2 marathons), but we all enjoy running.

While running has been a part of our family for years, this year was our first experience with track meets since our oldest son is now in 7th grade, which is the first year students at his school can compete in track. The variety of runners didn’t surprise me, since I’ve been running for 25 years now and know that people of all shapes and sizes run. I love that about running.

While I am not surprised at how my Everyday God speaks to me through the details of life, I still find delight and joy when He does it. And he did so again recently while watching my son’s junior high track meets with the following observations.

  1. Finish. (2 Timothy 4:7) At the first track meet of the year, one hurdler tripped and fell on his wrist. He then got up with his wrist dangling, looked around startled, and finished the race with one more hurdle to jump. Then, he left for the hospital to get his broken wrist treated. I don’t know this kid at all, but he showed great maturity (even in confusion and pain) to finish the race despite the pain, a lessons many adults seem to fail to grasp.
  2. Form. (Romans 12:6) While the form used depends on the type of running (distance vs. sprints for example), running form definitely makes a difference in speed and stamina. My son, while he has improved, has shall we just say an “interesting” running form. Another boy on his team runs on his toes. Two other boys (twins) have long, sweeping strides and arm movements. But they all finish the race, and they make up some of the fastest runners on the team. We all run the race differently, with our own unique style and gifting, but we all can complete successfully in the race.
  3. Focus. (1 Corinthians 9:24) Especially when sprinting, looking around at the other runners can be deadly. It can cost precious seconds that can lose the race. Focus in running means running your own race and letting others run theirs. A favorite television show of my family’s is The Amazing Race. We have watched it for many years, and it’s clear that the teams who do the best are generally the ones who focus on their own race and don’t worry much about what the other teams are or are not doing. Distractions can get us off track and cause us to lose the race.

You may be wondering why this week’s Sunday Reflections post focuses on middle school track, so let me explain. First, as I mentioned already, the track season ended earlier this week. Second, my husband ran a marathon this past Saturday, and we were out of town for the weekend. As a result of these two events, running was on my mind more than usual this week. More importantly though, I wanted to make the point that we serve a God who is everywhere. I believe He can and does speak to us anywhere, even at a middle school track meet or a marathon. So even if you miss church, although it shouldn’t be a habit because fellowship and worship are crucial to the victorious Christian walk, know that God will meet you wherever you are and speak to your heart in that place. You just need to be listening. When you are, the miraculous can happen, even learning from junior highers!

DISCUSSION: How is your race going these days? What are you focusing on?

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