As a track coach I preach and preach to my athletes about the importance of strong finishes. Digging down deep and giving it your all as you close in on the finish line can make a big difference. Strong finishes are about determination and courage. Perseverance and focus. Discipline and commitment.
Strong finishes of course don’t just pertain to races on the track, but to projects and commitments we make throughout life, like the finish line that is fast approaching; Yes, the end of Lent is just around the corner with Holy Week and Easter on the horizon.
Jesus arguably had the strongest finish in the history of mankind. His strong finish included temptation and suffering, which he endured for our sake. As followers of Christ, we are called to walk in his footsteps. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21. Just take note: Strong finishes are momentous not because they are easy; strong finishes are remarkably significantly because they are hard!
This is a Lenten checkup with suggestions for a strong finish. No, it will not be easy to finish strong, but out of love for the Lord, I ask you to join me in taking on this challenge. If you do an honest reflection you will probably find yourself in one of these three categories: The Oops category, the Ouch category, or the Oh My category. Or, you might fall into several of them. Read and see.
The Oops category is for those who may be saying, “What? It’s Lent? Oops…I am sorry to say that I haven’t done anything!” Or maybe this is you… “Yeah, I know it’s Lent – I kind of thought about it, but I’ve been overwhelmed with the business of life, and oops, I really haven’t done much to strengthen my relationship with the Lord.”
Strong Finish Suggestion: This one is obvious. You can’t have a strong finish if you’re not even up and going. It is never too late to start! So, get up and go! Don’t despair on the time you have missed, focus on the good you can still do. Make a commitment now to do something in the areas of prayer, fasting or almsgiving. Don’t spend too much time pondering the options, just pick something and get going. Here is a list of ideas to get you started. What-to-Do-for-Lent
Scripture Meditation: Matthew 21:28-31 “What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not.’ But afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will or his father?” They said, “The first.”
Prayer: Lord, I am sorry. I really haven’t done much this Lent so far. I know there is still time. I will start today. I know I can do this with your help. Please fill me with determination and courage to finish strong.
The Ouch category is for those who may be saying, “Yes, I know it’s Lent. Yes, I made commitment to do certain things, but I have failed. My attempts to do more prayer, fasting or almsgiving have not come to fruition. I have fallen down on this spiritual journey.” Or maybe you have done OK in some of the areas you were focusing on, and not so good in others. Remember that Jesus fell down on his journey to a strong finish. Three times!
Strong Finish Suggestion(s): Yes, it is hard to get up and try again when we have fallen. The temptation to quit is strong. Our Savior experienced that same temptation on Holy Thursday when the immensity of what laid ahead of him was so overwhelming that he pleaded in prayer, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let our will be done, not mine.” Luke 22:4.
Note that he was in prayer. It is important that we do the same! When we have fallen and we’re on our knees, that is the perfect time to pray and ask the Father for help. He will strengthen us just as he did his son. Keep your focus on doing God’s will and get back up when you fall. Every. Single. Time.
Scripture Meditation: Psalm 118:13 I was falling, but the Lord helped me. Hebrews 12: 1-3 Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.
Prayer: Lord, I offer you my failures and my attempts. I know you can give my stumbling direction. I reach out to you in my fallen state and ask for your hand to help me get up, to keep my focus on you, and to persevere for a strong finish.
The Oh My category is those who might be saying, “Yes, I know it’s Lent. Yes, I made a commitment to do certain things, and Oh My! I have done pretty good in all my commitments!!” Maybe you picked some things that were kind of easy, or maybe the commitments you made turned out to be not as hard as you thought they might be. (Or maybe you did pick some challenging things to do and have worked really hard at keeping your Lenten promises. Good job!)
Strong Finish Suggestion(s): Keep doing what you have been doing, but now it’s time to dig down deeper for God. Ask the Lord to show you what else you can do to have a remarkably strong finish. Maybe if you gave up cheese for Lent, he might ask you to ramp it up and give up all dairy products! If you promised to pray more during this holy season, he might challenge you to now ask other people to pray with you. I don’t know what your kick-it-into-high-gear task might be, but if you examine yourself honestly, asking the Lord for direction, he will show you.
Scripture Meditation: Mark 10:17-21 And as he was setting out on his journey a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him… “You know the commandments: Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor our father and mother.” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him, loved him, and said to him, “Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”
Prayer: Lord, I thank you for the spiritual journey of Lent in which you have traveled with me so far. Thank you for enduring temptation and suffering for me. I accept the challenge of walking in your steps. Please give me an extra outpouring of your grace to strengthen my discipline and commitment that I may finish strong for you.
I could finish this piece with words of a coach screaming, “Come on! Give it all you’ve got! Dig down deep! Push! Push!! Push!!!” I could tell you about the importance of crossing the finish line with maximum intensity so you can hold your head high, knowing that you did your best. I could tell you how strong finishes can strengthen your will and fortify your character.
This is not about running a foot race to earn yourself a medal. This is not about finishing a stellar project at work so you can get a promotion. And it’s not about finishing strong to raise your self-esteem. This is about finishing strong for God! This is not about finishing in 1st place…it’s about finishing with grace!
This is about dying to self. (No, it won’t be easy.) It’s about focus and discipline in doing God’s will. (No, it won’t be easy.) It’s about growing closer in your relationship with the Lord. (No, it won’t be easy.)
This is about preparing for the glorious “finish line” of Easter. But quite honestly, it’s about something much bigger than that.
It’s about life. It’s about striving to finish the race of our life in a manner that glorifies God. It’s about following in Jesus’ footsteps in a way that attracts others to join the spiritual journey. And hopefully when we cross THE final finish line into everlasting life we will hear the words, well done, good and faithful servant!