This morning while running I had this thought: I can’t run as fast as I used to, but by God’s kindness I can still run as far. Though my marathon time is now over an hour slower than when I was twenty years old, nevertheless (at this point at least), I can still cover the 42km. (Of course, how I feel after that distance is another story!) Though I will never again finish first in a race, I can still finish well.
But as I thought about this, it occurred to me that this is how I want to run the race of the Christian life: I want to go the distance and I want to finish well. Though in some ways I may be forced to slow down as the years progress, nevertheless I want to go the distance and be satisfied that I have given it all that I could give.
I mentioned once in a sermon the sense of humiliation that a runner can feel when he experiences a DNF (“Did Not Finish”). To train for a race but not complete it is a miserable experience. I certainly don’t want that to be the case as I seek to follow Christ in the race that He has set before me. I want to finish, and I want to finish well.
Having recently marked the completion of my twentieth year as a member and minister of BBC, I have been stirred in my soul to finish well. God willing, I am planning and praying for another twenty years of pastoral ministry at BBC. But my desire is not merely to cross off dates on a calendar as the years pass by; rather, I trust that I will make much progress in my walk with Christ and that His character will be increasingly stamped upon me. In the words of Paul, I aim to pay attention to both my life and my doctrine with a view to both BBC and me pursuing and practising holiness (1 Timothy 4:16). I pray that I will grow in the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit and that I will increasingly put off the deeds of the old man and put on the righteous habits of the new man (Colossians 3:8-17).
I also desire to grow as an effective evangelist and to have the joy of leading others to Christ and discipling them to maturity. I want to grow in my love for, and in my understanding of, Scripture and to continue to reform according to the Word of God. I want to be more faithfully precise in God-centred exposition of the Word. All of this is merely a short list of a much longer set of goals.
In my quest to finish well I am also realistic. That is, I may be forced to slow down (in about eighteen years!) as far as my concentration levels and in my physical stamina when it comes to hours of study and practical ministry. Nevertheless, there is no reason that I should be less fruitful than I am now. After all, with age should come experience, and so I should be making much progress in holiness. I should be more fruitful in counselling and in discipleship and in evangelism. I should be more passionate, intentional and authentic in my corporate worship. That is, I should be finishing well.
I recall listening to a preacher, many years ago, while I was visiting family in the States. At the time he was eighty years old. He had been known for decades as a pastor who was zealous to share the gospel.
I remember being so blessed as I listened to this octogenarian preach from Matthew 13 on the parable of the sower, in which he challenged us to evangelise. What really delighted me was the realisation that his illustrations of personal evangelism were stories of people that he had witnessed to in recent weeks. Here was a man who did not need to go back thirty years in his memory for an example of obedience to His Lord in the Great Commission. He was finishing his ministry (he died a few years later) and was finishing well.
It is a sad thing when older Christians speak about the “good old days” of their involvement in ministry or answered prayers or meaningful fellowship in the local church. It is grievous to hear of how they used to disciple people or used to attend prayer meetings or used to be involved in body life, as though they have run their race and now it is someone else’s turn. That is not how we grey-heads are to run the latter laps of our race. Rather, we are to be setting an example and coming alongside younger believers and helping them to stay in their lanes and to run the same race, but faster.
My wife once commented that it seems that the majority of those who run marathons are of the older generation. She concluded that this is because perhaps we have more time to train than the younger people who have various educational, work and family responsibilities. She might be right. And there is definitely a parallel when it comes to the Christian life. As we get older, and especially as we near retirement age, we do have more time. So how will we use it? Will we waste it or will we lace up our spiritual running shoes and go the distance and finish—and finish well?
May the Lord deliver us from being consumed with our younger days of victory and may He grant us the grace to run far, to run intentionally and to run hard as we seek to finish well.