Do you think about finishing well? It’s an important question. For much of my life I didn’t give it much thought. Life was focused upon raising a family, making a living, and personal accomplishment. My family and I were active in the church. I’ve been a Christian since age 10. If I did have thoughts about finishing well, it was in the context of attaining Heaven when I die.
In my late 40s something began to stir inside of me. I became restless and less satisfied with personal achievement and career accomplishments. At the time I didn’t understand what was happening; I just knew I was troubled. Now, nearly 20 years later, I see clearly what that experience was about and I’m amazed at the number of people I meet who can relate because of a similar experience in their own lives. God was getting my attention and providing an opportunity to change my game plan for the second half of my life, to reset my course and begin a journey focused upon giving more than getting and finishing well.
In his bestselling book Half Time, Bob Buford uses the metaphor of a football game to describe what he refers to as the second half of our life, and asserts that it is this period in our time on earth when our lives can have the greatest impact on humanity. Buford writes,
The game is won or lost in the second half, not the first. It’s possible to make some mistakes in the first half and still have time to recover, but it’s much harder to do that in the second half. Some people never get to the second half; a good many don’t even know it exists. The prevailing view in our culture is that as you close out your fortieth year or so, you enter a period of aging and decline. To pair aging with growth seems to be a contradiction in terms. This myth I refuse to believe.
So back to the question. Do you think about finishing well? Is it a question only for the aging? Ravi Zacharias said, “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.” My personal regret is that I wasted years that could have been focused more on giving than taking from life. I’m thankful that God is a God of second chances.
Why Finish Well?
Our days on this earth are numbered, though we know not when our time is done. The question is, will we finish well, and what exactly does that mean?
Many people equate finishing well with attaining the prize of Heaven. Could it be that there is more to finishing well than achieving this final goal? Through God’s grace and the blood of Christ, God freely gives us salvation. If we believe his Word, obey him, and remain in him, the prize is ours (John 15:4). But is it possible to attain Heaven and not finish as well as we could have?
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), Jesus made it clear that we will give an account for what we have done in life with the resources we have been given. Finishing well means doing as much as we can for others in the name of Christ while we are on this earth, using the gifts and abilities (talents) God has blessed us with. For the Christian, finishing well means being more than a bystander in earth’s journey. When we do this, we not only receive eternal life but also will be able to hear him say, “Well done.”
How to Finish Well
Since 2012 I’ve been blessed to lead Christian Village Communities, a Stone-Campbell, Restoration Movement organization founded in the early 60s that owns and operates two retirement-living and long-term healthcare communities in the greater Cincinnati area. They are known as The Christian Village at Mt. Healthy and The Christian Village at Mason.
At CVC we prefer that our communities not be regarded as “old-folk homes,” and we work diligently to maintain a culture where our residents can live out their lives robustly in service to our Lord. We create opportunities for involvement, ministry, and serving others. I regularly hear people saying that since coming to our community, their social calendar has never been so full, and they find it difficult to attend all the resident activities. It’s rewarding to see residents volunteering to serve other residents, whether it’s reading to someone with poor vision, assisting someone in a wheelchair so they can enjoy a bright, warm sunny day, or playing piano for a chapel service. We have residents who walk the halls and encourage everyone they meet. These residents seek and identify opportunities daily to serve others, and to serve a cause bigger than self.
The residents living in our retirement communities are in the final leg of their race on earth. For some, the finish line is closer than for others. Why is it that some choose to run the race right up to the end, and others don’t? I suspect that the joy of living for Christ, the burning desire to impact lives for Christ until they take their last breath, had become a lifelong endeavor, established long before they entered our community.
I see 10 common denominators among those who are focused on finishing well that I believe anyone interested in finishing well should consider.
1. They put God first. Sharing the joy and love of Christ in all things should become a priority for each of us.
2. They spend time with the one who stands at the finish line. Staying in tune with God
through prayer and study in his Word keeps us in a position of close communion with the Lord and helps us lean upon him through life.
3. They find encouragement through examples found in Scripture. In Hebrews 11, we
find many examples of foundational strength through faith.
4. They keep their eyes on the goal, constantly looking to Jesus and pointing others to him. “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1, 2).
5. They are bolstered by past victories. Remembering what God has done through your efforts his Holy Spirit reminds you that you can trust him, and his grace is sufficient.
6. They never let up, and never give up. “Let us run with perseverance” (Hebrews 12:1),
“I press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14), “Run and not grow weary” (Isaiah 40:31).
7. They aren’t easily sidetracked or distracted. “You were running a good race. Who cut
in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you” (Galatians 5:7).
8. They are determined. Nothing is more important than the will to win in Jesus
9. They are disciplined, doing the right thing when it is not easy or when their flesh cries
out that they don’t want to; giving up whatever it takes for the kingdom, putting self aside.
10. They have established a lifestyle of running well each day. We often think that finishing well is only for the elderly, but we have no assurance that we will live to a ripe old age. The question for each of us should be, “If it should be tomorrow, will I finish well?” Someone has said that the Christian life is not a 100-yard dash; it is a marathon.
The most important part of a story is the ending, and so it is with our lives. At CVC we have a special way of honoring someone when they cross the finish line of life.
As the funeral home readies the body of a resident or patient for removal from our community healthcare center, an announcement goes out on the public address system. “Attention, all team members, there will be a Walk of Honor in the nursing center in 10 minutes. All available staff are asked to report to this area.” Team members line the hall where the funeral home personnel and family will exit. Maintenance workers, housekeepers, dining room staff, administrators and yes, the CEO stand shoulder to shoulder with heads bowed and hands folded. Not a word is said; none are necessary as we pay final tribute and communicate respect, honor, compassion, and gratitude for the privilege of serving the one who has passed, as well as their family. It’s a powerful thing to behold, and a deeply moving experience for the family, funeral home personnel, and our team members.
Even greater than the Walk of Honor are the words spoken to the faithful by the One who stands at the finish line: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
Larry D. Monroe is president and CEO of Christian Village Communities in Mason, Ohio. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Mason.