People start in style however the end may not be always as glorious as the beginning. In a sprinter event, every runner brims with confidence at the starting point and it is difficult to say which one will win. Some give up after a few feet, some trail far behind and the eyes of those in the gallery are no more upon them. Some may faint in the tracks. Some give up when they hear the crowd cheering the winner. However, there are a few whether the winner is decided, though the finishing line is still far away, still run in style and finish. They don't care if they are the last. They were committed to the race.
Finishing the race and finishing it well is what is important when that race is Christian life. The Bible reminds us that Christian life is a race.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-12 ESV).
In Christian life the prize is not just for those who finish ahead of others but to all those who finish; it is not a race where only the first three are honored. It is a race where all those who complete the race are honored because it is not a test of speed but of perseverance.
Moreover, Christian life, is not an race with its end in itself. It is a qualifying race, a race that prepares us and qualifies us to another level of existence where there is no race at all. There times stands still, it is called eternity.
It is true that Christian is called to a life of eternity. But eternity should not be imagined not only in terms of time but in terms of its quality of life. New Testament construes eternal life very much in line with the Greek concept where it is the life of the ages or the life of the gods. It is possible to have a taste of it while on earth. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV).
Jesus was not talking about eternal life in terms of its quantity but the quality. We are invited to live that quality of life now on earth but we will experience it for ever amd in its fullness when life on earth comes to an end. For that to happen, the life on earth, which is considered as a race through alien land has to come touch the finishing line. Finishing it well and in style is thus very important.
Finishing well first of all means to run the full course of the race and qualify for entry to the eternity waiting for us. Bible also gives examples of people who gave up in the middle of the race. Paul has a few examples of those who gave up in the middle:
“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:18-20 ESV).
Finishing well is more than dying and having a Christian funeral. It is dying with the hope and assurance that we are going somewhere better. We may call it dying with Christian hope. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus had that assurance before he breathed his last. He was so fortunate to have the saviour of the world by his “side” at the time of his death! No one will be so lucky. However, we can still die with the saviour by our side and be carried to the presence of God if we have faith and hope enough. Dying with a smile on the face is so great!
I have been by the dead bodies of modern day saints who died of various causes. One thing that I have noticed is the peace and tranquility that is frozen on their face. Sometimes a smile of great satisfaction still lingers on the frozen pale lips. They died peacefully and with lots of hope. That does not mean that their death was painless. Some died of massive heart attack, and some had painful cancer for years but at the point of death they had faith and hope that helped them “finish well.”
Some years back I head this story of a terminally ill godly patient counting down his days on earth. He had a bed by the window in the hospice room that he shared with others. Many of those who shared the same room with him were not believing Christians. He was so weak but he will turn his head towards the open window and describe the beautiful sights that he could see. He would look through the window and describe what he saw: of meadows, placid lakes, rivers, singing birds and flowers. When he died many of his roommates wanted to move to his bed by the window with a view that opens to beautiful landscape. One of them was lucky enough to the get that coveted bed. He was disappointed the first morning itself. He looked through the window eagerly as the dawn broke but there was absolutely no view there, a high concrete wall just two feet from the window even banned breeze from entering that room. The patient who died was not seeing what is outside the window, he was in fact seeing through the roof, the sight of heaven above; because he knew he was going there and was filled with faith and hope.
My mother has been my inspiration always though I had her only for the first eight years of my life. In fact six years, because bed-ridden for two years before she died at the prime age of 41. Most of my memories of mother is when she was sick and have to do with her death and funeral. She knew she was dying and those who loved her did not want her to die. But she had accepted the fact that she is going home and did all that she could do to make the life of those who she is leaving behind happy. She asked her husband to marry again, she called her children to her bedside and distributed her belongings according to their age. Prayed for them and entrusted them to God's hands. One day with her widely open at staring at the ceiling she told her family that she see roses of different colors, angels in while glowing apparels and the like. She requested those around her bed-side to sing songs of hope and requested her favorite ones.
Her friends and prayer partners were not willing to give up. One day they gathered around her bed in fasting and prayer, trying to twist God's hand. They were sincere people. When the prayer which lasted for hours was over, she told them quite calmly: “I have seen the shores of the Beulah land, I have to go, can’t turn back now, don't hold me back! Let me go!” Within a few days she went flew away to Beulah land is enjoying the presence of her Savior and Lord. She finished well!
Some of us may be allowed lot of time to prepare for the Beulah land. But when sick, is important to know whether we are moving towards healing and being pulled out of the pit, or moving towards the shores of eternity. That requires some discernment which only God can give. However, a Christian has to be ready for the home-call.
However, there is a false gospel that is so widespread that deprives Christians the privileged of “finishing well.” They teach never to give up and they fight to the last minute even when it is clear there is no point fighting. I have come across sick people who hoped that they will be healed. They could not think of sickness as a chariot God has sent to take them home. They were taught that all sickness could be fought and won. I came across a dear brother whose father died on a prayer mountain praying for his healing till the last minute. He could not take time to prepare himself for the shores eternity. He was taught that all sickness can be healed by prayer.
I was by the side of a 51 year old widow who was diagnosed with some rare disease for which no cure is still found. Doctors have told her and the family that she will eventually die of this sickness but they cannot tell how soon it would be. Medical science has no hope for her. I knew it was incurable but also believed that there was nothing impossible for God. However, I felt the need to prepare her for eternity. One day I gathered enough courage after praying many hours for her to ask her a simple question. “If it is the Lord's will to call you home, are you ready? I will continue to pray for your healing.” She replied that she is not ready to die and believed that God will heal her. She called people with gifts of healing and prophecy to pray over her. One after another continued to assure her that she will be healed. In spite of all the prayers, she died within a few months, still fighting a battle she was not supposed to fight at all. Her sickness was a chariot that was waiting for her, but she could not see it and those spiritual specialists deceived her.
The problem with the prosperity theology or the “name it and claim it” teaching and the triumphalist preaching is that it deprives people a closer walk with God towards eternity through their struggles. They are not teaching growth but survival. They teach people to do well in this life as if there is no life beyond. They don't prepare people to “finish well.
I knew of a young man who owned a brilliant mind that was corrupted by the prosperity teaching. He devoured the “name-it-claim-it” literature uncritically. He was convinced and preached that children of God will not die before they reach 70, never die in an accident, will not fall sick, etc. He used to drive at high speed since he believed that he will not die in accident. However, at a very prime youth he died in a car accident leaving behind his young wife and two children proving all that he claimed and preached were wrong. Sadly, the proof was his death.
Historically, Christian church believed that people have to be prepared to go! The Last Unction or its equivalents in various traditions were saying bye to the dear ones and encouraging those who are dying to look forward to a life beyond the grave. That great tradition is wiped out and replaced by a mind-set of rebellious refusal to go! It is that rebellion manifested in the form of healing ministries without discernment that should go if we want to see more people “finishing well.”