by Paul Louis Cole
Morgan Uceny, the world’s leading runner, fell during the 2011 world championships, only to get back up and make it to the 2012 Olympics. Then, as the world watched her run the 1500-meter race in the Olympics, she fell again. Morgan will be remembered not as an Olympic gold medalist, fastest woman in the world, but as the runner who fell. The focus of her entire life… the preparation, the dreaming, the practice, the coaching, the sacrificial effort when no one was watching. Gone.
“You were running so very well, who bumped into you and caused you to lose stride?” the Apostle Paul asked the Galatians about their Christian faith. Another translation reads, “You were running the race nobly. Who has interfered in (hindered and stopped you from) your heeding and following the Truth?” (Galatians 5:6).
Paul called life a race. If life is a race, it is a marathon, not a sprint. That means, we can get up and get back in the race when we fall. In Psalm 37:23, 24 we read that when we fall—not if—God will lift us back up. To finish strong, to finish life well, when we get knocked down, we must get back up.
Victory is always on the other side of a fight. Perhaps the largest obstacle to finishing life well is…ourselves. Though in Christ we are already champions, we each have to run our own race and win the battle in our own minds. It takes tenacious faith to keep racing.
What you do in life becomes history. What you put into motion becomes legacy.
David Wilkerson is a man who finished well. As a young preacher in 1958, he went from the country roads of Pennsylvania to the murderous dens of inner Harlem to reach young men for Christ. Though risking death on every hand, the power of God used David to reach thousands of young people. So amazing was the transformation, The Cross and a Switchblade, chronicling the story became a bestselling book and movie, and “Teen Challenge” centers sprang up nationwide. In 2011 at his death, at 80 years of age, he was still writing books, preaching and helping to start churches–active to his very last day.
Observe the contrast between David Wilkerson and the life of another unlikely champion of humble beginnings who led a nation. In Judges 6 through 8, we read how Gideon hears the voice of God and acts on it. This unlikely of all young men becomes a champion. Gideon tore down the altars of Baal. He started a revolution in the nation of Israel, which had succumbed to the satanic rituals of its neighbors. He formed an army and won great battles to set his nation free, give them prosperity and turn the nation back to God.
We still celebrate Gideon as an example to our young men and women. A young man who changed his nation for God! Yet, this great man did not finish well.
The last we read of Gideon is, “After Gideon died, the people of Israel turned immediately to worshipping Baal.” What a tragedy… what a bankrupt legacy.
Gideon had 70 sons, and hundreds if not thousands of strong, trained warriors. But, not one of his men stood up and said, “This is wrong, we will not go back to Baal, we will follow the God of Gideon and of Israel.” Not one stood. His son Jotham later stood up to those who murdered his seventy brothers, yet Jotham, while defending his family, still did not lead his family or nation back to God.
Strong passion at the start is no indicator of strong purpose at the finish. Gideon started well, but finished weak. Just because you start well, does not mean you will finish well. Just because you have passion doesn’t mean you have the strength to finish it. A strong start can still produce a weak finish.
Dr. J. Robert Clinton, in his seminal study of 1500 major leaders in the Bible and in the modern Church, discovered that of these great leaders over hundreds of years, only 30 percent finished well. Of strong leaders, 70 percent started strong and finished weak! I’m sure most of these leaders believed they would finish strong, but they did not.What makes any one of us think that we won’t be one of the 70 percent who flame out? How can we finish in the 30 percent? Here are three keys, not a comprehensive list of spiritual traits, but three of the most important areas of character you must have to finish strong, to leave a legacy, to build a great life.
First: Stay focused on the finish. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12: One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
We could look at it this way through reverse engineering. What do you want your epitaph to say? The wonderful and powerful Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, ordered her own tombstone to read: “RUTH GRAHAM End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”
What you do in life becomes history. What you put into motion becomes legacy.
How do you want to finish your life? Keep that as a focus. It’s the same as teaching children to play basketball. When they begin, they look only at the ball. They must be taught to lift their eyes, to see where they are going and focus on the basket.
The power of the life of Jesus Christ, in His masculinity and humanity, was His focus. He never wavered from His identity and His task. Not one time, for a moment. To be like Jesus is to focus, to cut away the distractions and disappointments that so easily hinder us.
Second: Keep walking. Don’t stop, don’t panic. If you fall, pick yourself up in His strength and keep walking. Jesus was never in a panic. The disciples were, however, many times. Jesus came as the “Prince of Peace” not the “Prince of Panic.” My father taught, “Failure isn’t fatal, quitting is. A champion is not one who never fails, but one who never quits.”
The Bible tells us that there will be difficulties, but that God is our strength. We need endurance. Don’t quit! “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith” (1 John 5:4).
We are in a battle. The enemy wants to destroy you and wipe you out. This is not some little slap fight. This is hand-to-hand mortal combat with only one left standing—let it be you!
Three: We must maintain intimacy with God. Gideon lost his intimacy. He tore down the altar of Baal, but by the end of his life, he created an image to worship in his hometown. He worshipped the acts of God, not God personally, intimately, Himself.
We were created by God to be intimate with Him. He created everything that exists by His Word, but for us, He formed us with His hands, then leaned close and breathed His breath into us. We were made to come alive in His presence.
Prayer produces intimacy. Intimacy and worship are learned corporately but practiced privately.
King David wrote: “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, O Lord, I shall seek’” (Psalms 27:8).
So important is intimacy with God, that Jeremiah said, “the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord” (Jeremiah 10:21).
Gideon was a powerful man who began to live on his past victories. He was ready just to “do church” the way they always did it. And when he died, everything he had worked for, sacrificed for, wept over…was gone.
Victory is always on the other side of a fight. There are always obstacles and battles, but when we focus, keep walking, stay intimate—in other words, follow Christ with all of our hearts—we can finish life strong.
Paul Louis Cole is President of the Christian Men’s Network Worldwide and Founding Pastor of C3 Church in Dallas, Texas. CMN is active in 138 nations, connecting over 86,000 leaders. Paul writes, speaks and travels extensively encouraging and advancing the men’s movement around the world.Paul has been a business owner, global marketing consultant and award winning television/film producer for over 30 years… and he has a lifetime membership at Starbucks. You can read his blog at www.paullouiscole.com.