Opinions on faith and life

The Finish Line

2011-08-25

We all like to have goals and find purpose in life. Some want to finish life in a well-preserved state, with all the boxes checked off and the loose ends tied. Others want to rack up “points” and look back on a life of reckless abandon, to “wear out rather than rust out”. Still others simply exist and care nothing for the meaning of life or thought of the future. But for Christians, this issue takes on great importance because at the judgment we want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Mt. 25:23). Sometimes we obsess over details but miss the larger picture, and as we look back on our progress so far we wonder if we’ve been running in circles.

The apostle Paul used athletics to teach us about this question:

In the first reference Paul gives some motivation and “raises the bar” on our pursuit of a priceless prize. We cannot go through life aimlessly or half-heartedly but must know what we’re reaching for and put out our best effort to achieve it. And what is that goal or prize? As we see in the second reference, for Paul specifically it was his “calling” to spread the gospel and lay a foundation for future believers. He didn’t let the past or sin entangle him, or focus more on the other “runners” than Jesus, but kept his eyes on the completion of the task God had given him, no matter what the cost. And at the end of his life he could say without hesitation that this goal was reached and the prize won.

“But Paul was specially gifted”, you might object, and rightly so. Yet we are also told to follow his example (Phil. 3:17, 2 Thes. 3:7), as well as the examples of Christ and the prophets of old (1 Peter 2:21, John 13:15, James 5:10). The bar is definitely set very high, but rather than being discouraged and thinking there’s no point in trying, we need to remember that God is more concerned with the effort than the result; why we do what we do is more important than just outward performance. When our turn at the judgment comes, will we be able to say we did our best with what we were given?

As I’ve written before, we Christians waste far too much time essentially arguing about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. We’re like contestants in a relay race that keep looking at the baton, or wishing we had the nifty shoes the runner ahead of us has, or watching the ground in case we might find a penny. There are times for diversions of course; we can’t be always “on” and need to rest. But we must, individually and collectively, pay attention to the lateness of the prophetic clock and remind ourselves that we only get one shot at this life. Keeping balance in our lives means setting priorities, and for the Christians that surely means becoming less enamored by this world and more eager to reach the next.

As you may know, I’m a long-time prophecy watcher, and the signs of Jesus’ imminent return are just as he said they’d be at the end, happening closer and closer together like birth pangs. There is very little time left to get serious about the most important things, about character and quality and caring about the lost. What will Jesus say to you?

Mat. 25:14-30

“Again, it [the kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

”After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

”The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

”Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

”‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’