As a single Christian, I want to finish well in my Christian walk.
I was thinking about how long I had been a follower of Christ as I passed my spiritual birthday last week, which was August 23. I received Christ in high school at summer camp. It’s been a long time. However, I do not want to take anything for granted. Though I have been through many trials, anything could happen at any time and cause my faith and obedience to falter like they have for many others. I pray not.
Seems like several times a year, some Christian leader is singled out by the media as an adulterer, a hypocrite, or a deserter or other-holy-roller-gone-atheist. Many of them come out as liberal, gay, atheist, disillusioned, or otherwise “realistic” and write articles announcing to the world who they really are today. They carefully document how they got to this point and seem open-minded about discussing their issue with anyone who will listen, except for those who might call them back to Jesus.
There are also people I know personally who used to walk with the Lord, who used to go to church or be active in ministry. Now they are hateful, vitriolic, and argumentative at best or nominal, distant, and apathetic at worst.
I say those who are hateful, vitriolic, and argumentative are “at best” because sometimes they are among the most honest people I know in the body of Christ. They’re willing to out the church’s many cultural sins and complacencies and have a dialogue about what’s wrong with the church today. They are still emotionally engaged with the body of Christ.
Those who are nominal, distant, and apathetic have often argued the life out of their own souls and They. Are. Done. They don’t care any more because they don’t have the energy to care. When they used to care, they continued to hurt, to be alienated, to feel negatively about how Christ was being misrepresented to them. Now they are busy living life on what they think are their terms. Many of them have slipped out the back door of the church and back into the welcoming arms of the world. At least they know what to expect there.
I do not want to be in either the hateful camp or the distant camp. I want to stay in God’s army, but this will take some examination on my heart’s part as I approach a major milestone in my life this year and my spiritual birthday next year.
Earlier this month, I received a solemn prompting of the Holy Spirit to study what I soon realized was the downfall of a promising leader who started well and ended poorly.
I was led through a rather unusual reading plan in my daily Bible readings. I sensed I was to go directly to 1 Samuel 15. I pored over that initial chapter about 2 days, grieving, hoping that the Holy Spirit was not trying to tell me this was my spiritual state. I almost asked Him, “Lord, is it I?” When I finished reflecting on chapter 15, I was led to read through the rest of that book backwards, meaning read chapter 14 next.
You know the story: the first king of Israel, Saul, had made his last impatient, disobedient stand and done something—actually, several somethings—he should not have done. He was instructed to wait for their nation’s prophet, Samuel, to arrive and offer a sacrifice before a significant battle between them and their sworn enemy, the Amalekites.
Not only did he not wait for Samuel and offered a sacrifice himself, he saved the best of the cattle and spoils of war for himself, directly against the command of the Lord. Saul went to another city and erected a statue of himself in his own honor for having defeated the Amalekites. And instead of killing their king, King Agag, King Saul spared his life. The prophet had to kill Agag himself, but not before giving Saul a stern rebuke from the Lord.
That rebuke is bone-chilling to any believer, let alone anyone in ministry or any position of spiritual authority.
First, Samuel tried to get Saul to admit his responsibility for leading his nation into willful, stubborn disobedience. That did not happen; all Saul would do in verses 15 and again in 21 was blame the people for grabbing the choicest animals for a sacrifice “to the Lord your God (italics added).” Yet God clearly held him responsible for leading his subjects into sin (vv. 10 and 17-19).
Samuel had to tell Saul what the Lord told him: that due to his rebellion and stubbornness, he was now rejected from being king, and his kingdom and kingly authority was being given to someone who deserved it (vv. 22-23). Samuel pointed out to him that he had started well, thinking humbly of himself (v. 17).
Yet he did not finish well.
Saul had become presumptuous, petulant, and entitled, impatient at having to wait on the Lord’s timing (1 Samuel 13:8-14).
He’d become proud, attributing his victories to his own strength. He didn’t even acknowledge the men he commanded (v. 12).
He’d become consumed by the fear of man, more concerned about how he looked to others than how the Lord saw him (vv. 30-31).
He’d distanced himself from the Lord, calling God Samuel’s God rather than his own. He’d long ago stopped talking to the Lord directly and only wanted to hear from God through a third-party middleman (v. 21).
And he’d become a liar—lying not only to Samuel, but to his own heart. To Saul, black became white and white became black as he tried to justify his disobedience to the Lord. He told God’s prophet that the animals he was told to kill were set aside for a sacrifice God didn’t even authorize (vv. 20-21).
He’d become a hot mess.
Looking at these symptoms of a bigger problem, my heart is solemn. I do not want to end like Saul.
I don’t even want to end like David. I want to end like Daniel, or Joseph in Genesis, though I feel more like Job.
I have to ask myself, is ending well simply the opposite of these symptoms?
No. It’s a lot simpler than that.
It boils down to staying on God’s well-beaten but hidden path of faith, obedience and love.
Jesus already warned us that there is a noisy, bustling, thousand-lane superhighway going to hell, overrun with well-intentioned people who have rejected the Lord’s provision for their sin. They demonstrate that they lack or have dropped faith, obedience, and love from their hearts and lives in an endless array of sinful patterns, both overt and covert.
In contrast, the path to heaven is narrow and leads away from the superhighway, but well-marked with individuals who went before our time, and who have followed the Lord into eternal life (Hebrews 12:1). They finished well and so can we. I’m following them.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (all scripture today is quoted from the NASB).”
John 3:36 says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” In fact, the importance of cultivating godly love is emphasized in 1 Timothy 1:5: “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
These 4 verses, linked with many others, tells us what heaven’s priorities are for us who want to follow Him and finish well. We must—and I must—cooperate with the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to allow Him to renew faith, obedience, and love in me more than I want to cultivate the flesh or allow the devil to cultivate hell’s motives, attitudes, and behaviors in me.
As a follower of Christ who is single, I want to continue to grow in my relationships with others.
I know I need to grow much in cultivating Christ’s love, whether to God’s people or not-God’s people. I get to practice every day, unfortunately, as I drive to work or to church.
I know I must learn to obey His still, small voice in many areas and not be afraid to obey and risk.
I know I must allow Him to cultivate my faith in Him, not in man, and to allow Him to stretch and challenge me way, way beyond where I am at today.
I do not want to shut off my feelings. I want to temper my responses. But… I also want to be a real person, and a whole person. I therefore will continue to allow the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to filter, heal, renew, and temper my experiences and responses. There is too much at stake to let go of the Lord. And I am so glad that He refuses to relinquish me!
Christ’s follower who is single, are we walking together in the direction of the light? Have you considered the eternal and not just temporal consequences of refusing to finish well? Are you tired and disillusioned? This world will wear you down if you’re not abiding in Christ. It’s so understandable, my friend. So understandable. But… don’t give up. Don’t stop believing and reaching out to Jesus.
I hope as you get into the stillness and quietness of your own private hiding place, your room or car or wherever, that you will reach out again to the Jesus you left long ago. I hope that you will cry on His shoulders and tell Him all that is in your heart. I hope you will ask Him to heal your heart and allow Him to minister grace and peace and strength to you so that you may start over again. Let Him set you back on that narrow path of grace and goodness and help you finish what you start. Because you know what?
He loves you no matter what. He is more concerned for you than you could ever know. If you started with Him, He wants you to end well. For yourself, not for Him. And He is willing and able to help you start back on the path to finishing well.
Go back to your Bible and read and re-read these awesome verses:
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6.
“who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:8.
“so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3:13.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 24 & 25.