School buses are no longer heard on my street morning and afternoon, but instead I can hear sounds of children playing and see them riding bicycles for hours on end. These are the sure signs of summer and the evidence of the school year coming to a close.
We have come through a time of graduations and celebrations for accomplishments. Diplomas, grade cards, certificates, and awards have been passed out. They do not reflect all of who that person is, but a measure of how each person finished a course of study. Looking at the results can be a sobering time because the information shows not only how each person started the course, but also how they finished it as well.
During the time in my life that I spent as a teacher I learned very early that some of my students would start the year with lots of enthusiasm and determination to make it a good year. Others sometimes started slowly and had difficulty grasping the new concepts or recalling the foundational ones from the year before. They would stumble more than a few times early in the year.
What became clearer to me each year I was teaching was that I could not always predict how each student would look as the year would end. Some of those who started strong would remain consistent in their efforts even though the work would get harder every month. Others who started strong would demonstrate difficulty in maintaining commitment to the discipline of more study being needed to keep their grades at a good place. They lacked the perseverance and sometimes the support from parents at home to help them stay the course.
Some of those who started the year faltering and unsure and might have been expected to fail met their own expectations. That was not true for this entire group, however. Some of this lackluster group at the beginning of the year kept plodding along and faced their fear of failure and did not give up. They asked for extra help. They doubled up their study efforts and they grew in skill and also confidence. They looked for the support they needed at every turn. The source of their motivation varied from person to person, but in the end this group actually saw the measures of their performance improve and they finished well (sometimes to their own surprise)!
I recall my own years as a student in every season from elementary school to the time I entered graduate school in mid-life. Everything did not always come easily for me and I was prone to lack confidence more than once, but as each season progressed I developed more skill and commitment to the goal to finish well. I looked for support from others who could be helpful and I kept my focus on the prize.
As I watched with great joy the graduations of two grandchildren a few weeks ago, listened to the speeches such events always include, and saw the celebration of those seated in robes and wearing the mortarboard caps, I celebrated with them. The truth is that more chairs should have been filled, but not everyone who started the race to the goal finished.
It caused me to consider something beyond this scene or my time in the classroom. How will I finish in the most important things in my life? Will I finish well?
If I look backwards over the course of my life, I see a line that was not always straight. Sometimes it zigged and zagged a bit. There were places I faltered and got lost along ‘the yellow brick road,’ places where I chased what John Eldredge would call “less wild lovers”. When I read the book he wrote with his good friend Brent Curtis, Sacred Romance, the chapter about chasing after other things more than the wild love of God was a powerful one for me.
Each season of my life, of your life, gives you and me choices and decisions to make. We make some of those without much thought or consideration of where they will lead or the consequences, but as we move into successive seasons of life we hopefully learn from such mistakes.
By mid-life we are tempted to look at the years ahead and set goals for ourselves about what we yet hope to attain, how much we can save, or how we can grow our portfolio or ministry. Hopefully, we give more consideration to the criteria the Lord will use as we finish our life on this earth. In truth, those are the things that will often be what is most spoken about at our funeral than the size of our bank account, the number of awards we have on our walls, or the number of people we attracted to ourselves.
What does it mean to finish well? What does it take?
As I read in the Bible I see how many heroes of the faith had a path that was not always straight as well. Some started poorly and lashed out at Christ like Saul (later Paul), but with conviction, grace, mercy, and sanctification became a great lion of God. I see some who started strong like Peter who faltered along the way and yet regained his footing in the end to launch the church. Their stories and all the others give me hope as I look at my own life.
What I know for certain is that I do want to finish well and live my life for God’s glory! I rest in His grace and mercy and look more avidly each day for His guidance as I listen to His Holy Spirit’s conviction when I slip.
A favorite passage of mine is one written by Paul in Philippians 3:12-14:
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
We may stumble, but the key to how we finish will be what we choose to do next!