Starting something is hard. Whether it’s a new job, a new exercise routine, starting a family, starting a company, or even starting a church.
Starting something is hard, but it’s easier to start something than to complete something.
I spend a lot of my teaching time trying to get us to start things: to start following Jesus, to start some new rhythms, to start giving, to start serving, and we even have a course at Epic called Start. But I’m not doing that today. For today, I want to give you a message I’m calling Finish.
Yes, starting matters so much. But as I think about all of the stories we hear of people walking away from their faith for all kinds of reasons, I want to use this message to encourage you to have a plan to finish.
Shauna and I talk often about our vocational dreams – what we want to do with God and for God in our lifetime. But when we hear of another moral failure by a celebrity pastor or when we see people abandon Jesus altogether, we sometimes say this to each other:
Let’s just make it our goal to finish well.
I don’t think we have to choose between finishing well and going after the God-size dreams for our lives. But I do think this:
Who cares what we accomplish if we don’t keep our faith to the end?
Luke 14:28-30 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
As we think about our own transformation and as we think about orienting our entire lives around Jesus, let’s make it our aim to be able to finish. It matters how you begin and it really matters how you end.
2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
This is what we’re after. Fighting for our faith to the end, finishing our race, and keeping our faith.
So, what are some of the things that will keep us from finishing our race well and how do we combat them?
Distractions and Idols
Mark 4:18-19 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
What’s the remedy for distractions and idols? Giving our attention to what matters most. Do everything you can to keep God first.
Psalm 27:4 One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
Trials rarely leave our faith in the same place as it was before the trial came. They tend to strengthen our faith or weaken our faith. As a pastor, the pandemic highlighted this for me more than any other season I can remember. For some people, their faith grew more than it ever had. And for others, some who were our strongest leaders pre-COVID, I watched their faith dissipate in that season.
What does Jesus intend for our trials to do to our faith?
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The testing of our faith is meant to help us build a faith that endures to the end.
It produces the perseverance that will help us go the distance.
Other People. We’ve talked about this recently, but I’ll share it again.
Proverbs 13:20 Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
What kind of Jesus-centered community will you attach yourself to in a deep way?
John 6:66-69 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Others are going to walk away from their faith in God. When they do, what will you do?
Trials will come. While you wouldn’t choose trials, keep your faith during them and watch your faith grow deeper and stronger.
Temptations will come. Recognize them and ask for the Spirit’s power to help you overcome.
Distractions will come. When they do, ask God to keep you focused on Him.
You will probably sin again in your life, so don’t let that take you out either.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Valleys will come, so before they come, we can tell ourselves, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”
The Wilderness will come…those seasons when you’re dry spiritually, and you feel like God has abandoned you. Take your wilderness cues from Jesus. When he was alone and tempted, He kept reminding Himself, “It is written” and he held onto the words and promises of God.
The evil in this world will continue to rear its ugly head and you’ll wonder if God is really on His throne and really committed to doing something about it. Instead of walking away from your faith, use your faith to lament and cry out to God to make things different.
A person who claims to follow Jesus is going to let you down at some point and you’ll wonder if it’s worth it to keep following Jesus. Remember ultimately that you’re following Jesus, not one of His followers.
Let’s talk about some words that go together, but used to not be my favorites: patience, waiting, perseverance. But developing patience means we don’t have to abandon our faith when what we want to see isn’t happening overnight. When we were in London in May, I heard someone say this and found it so helpful:
Vision from God is the source of my patience.
When we know and trust God, we can wait…because we know He’s working and He’s going to finish that work in us and through us. Don’t jump ship when things aren’t happening as fast as you want them to.
Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
As we think about orienting our entire lives around Jesus, we can never lose sight of this:
Jesus is a finisher.
This was the aim of his life:
John 4:34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to FINISH his work.”
At the end of his life, he offers a prayer that lets us know he accomplished this.
John 17:4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.
So we’re orienting our entire lives around the greatest Finisher the world has ever known. He ran his race. He kept his faith. He finished. And the Great Finisher is committed to helping us finish our race.
Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Will you make a plan to finish well?
Will you be honest about what likely stand in the way of you keeping your faith?
And though this has been about finishing, I want to also give many of you an opportunity to start your faith journey by placing your faith in the finished work of Jesus. What does this mean? It means you realize that Jesus finished everything necessary to offer you life with Him forever.
Jesus, save me from a life without you and bring me into a life with you.