Choosing to Finish Well

I had a short stint running track when I was in middle school. It was enjoyable until the coach put me in an 800 meter race that I had not prepared for. As a sprinter, I applied what I knew and started out strong. But halfway through I had nothing left and ended up coming in last place. Not only was that the last track meet I ever participated in, but it was also the day it dawned on me that what is reserved for the end of a race is just as important, if not more so, as what is put in at the start.

Of course, beginnings are important. Poor starts in athletic events, and life itself, can make winning seem impossible. But even with a disappointing outset, the end is never fully determined until the crossing of the finish line or the ticking of the last second off the clock. It’s true of races, soccer matches, and football games. The way a person or team finishes, more than how they begin, says much about who they are and what they value.

This is true for how life and faith are lived out as well.

They Were Chosen, But . . .

The Bible is full of stories of people who started out well but are now remembered for their poor finishes. Saul, the first king of Israel, comes to mind. He seemed to be such a humble unassuming guy when he was first anointed to lead Israel. But by the time his reign ended, he was ignoring all the instructions of God’s law and prophets and was a paranoid and unstable man. And then there was Judas. Chosen by Jesus as one of the Twelve, he had every opportunity to be remembered as one of the pillars of the Christian faith. Instead, he ended up being a thief and then betraying Jesus to the religious leaders for a bag of silver.

Strong beginnings in life are helpful. But it is how one finishes that speaks the loudest and most powerfully impacts those watching.

Another interesting biblical character is Asa, king of Judah. While so many of Israel’s and Judah’s kings are on the “bad list,” Asa is one of the few who is said to have done well. He dared to do from the beginning of his reign what the other kings were scared to do. He cleansed the land of idolatry and called the people back to Yahweh worship (2 Chronicles 15). As a result, we’re told that God blessed him with riches and freedom from war for a long time. But then something subtle began to happen. He forgot where the blessings came from, assuming they were just naturally his. And when another kingdom eventually attacked, he did not turn to the Lord for help as he had in his early days. Instead, he sought aid from a neighboring kingdom.

His story then goes downhill from there. A prophet comes to confront his refusal to trust in God. Rather than responding humbly as he did when he was first starting out as king, he becomes angry and throws the prophet into prison as well as at the same time inflicting “cruelties” on some of the other people of his kingdom. He is then stricken with an illness. “Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12b ESV). Asa died a bitter man stubbornly stuck on the road that had turned away from God.

But how did this happen?

Doing It Right

There are so many things in life that I cannot control. If my opportunity to “finish well” is dependent on other people choosing well for me or circumstances aligning in my favor, or my health giving me no trouble, then it all seems to be a matter of luck and there’s nothing I can really do about it. But, I think there are things I can choose today, if I have finishing well set as a priority for life.

King David is an Old Testament example of one who is remembered as having come to the end of his life still holding onto the values with which he began. Yes, he had a few rocky seasons, but they in the end were not what defined him.

In contrast, it was the pride of Saul and Asa that tripped them up. They took the credit for their strong beginnings and turned away from what they were initially rooted in, God’s gracious favor. Taking matters into their own hands, when they felt strong, was when their trajectory changed. Even with their dying breaths, they seemed to not get it. But those of us observing from the outside can see that the ends of their lives are not what we want for ours.

David also found himself in a place of strength and submitted to the lies of pride. His adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, were the fruit of his hubris. But when a prophet confronted him, he responded differently than Saul or Asa. He agreed with God, humbled himself and contritely accepted the consequences of his sin (which was painful). Yet David is still remembered as a man after God’s own heart. The Messiah was henceforth often referred to as the Son of David. I would say he finished well, ultimately caring more about what God said about him than anything else.

So, if I set Finishing Well as a life goal, how might I go about pursuing it?

One word: humility.

Remembering Life is a Gift

Humility springs from a life of heartfelt thanksgiving, recognizing that there is no good thing that I have that I have acquired on my own. It’s at work in me when I remember that I am a life-long learner and that God is wanting to teach me through the most unlikely people and circumstances. It’s activated when I admit my mistakes and sins and when I forgive those I have the right to hold grudges against. Humility will faithfully lead me to the finish line where I can hold my head high and say, “It is well with my soul.”

Concerns about a good finish are not just for old people or those close to the end of their lives. The sooner we care about the long-term trajectories of our lives the more likely we will have less to regret. It’s a life-long goal. Just as it is a principle for athletes in all the various sports, it can be applied also to so many aspects of life. Walking in humility at my work and with my colleagues, with my children and with my spouse lays the foundation for a life well lived. Remembering in all my dealings with others that God values the long-term process of relationship over the short-term product of “being right” or “getting things done.”

With what thoughts and emotions will you look back on your life? What are you choosing today that may tarnish how you are remembered tomorrow? Walking humbly in the present paves the way for glory in the future.

This is God’s way.


  • Who do I know that has finished their lives, their work, their relationships well? What do I see in them that leaves me with that impression?
  • How much have I given thought to how I want to be remembered. What, if anything, in my life will cause people to refer to me as one who lived and finished well? At my job? In my ministry? With my family?
  • What’s my definition of humility? How much do I value it as a quality to actively seek in my life?
  • Jesus, how can I live today so that I finish well tomorrow?

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