Winning the Race of Your Life
By Ed Delph
October 25, 2021
Recently I turned 72 years old. My desire at this stage of my life is to finish strong.
What is finishing strong? A bit of Internet humor says, "Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will sit in a boat all day, drinking beer." Now don't get it wrong here. Beer isn't the issue. Sitting in a boat all day, every day, to the exclusion of everything or everyone else is. After all, nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool. Foolish, all-consuming trivial pursuits divert us from finishing strong.
Did you know that the Bible mentions more than 1,000 leaders? Dr. Robert Clinton, whose life is devoted to the art of leadership, has studied almost all these leaders. From among this group, he has narrowed the field down to 100 prominent leaders. But, first, he wanted to know how many finished strong in their personal, family, and church lives.
After careful study, Dr. Clinton found that the Bible gave enough information about only 49 of the 100 leaders to determine how they finished. So he broke these leaders into four groups: 1) cut off early, 2) finished poorly, 3) finished so-so, 4) finished well. You may or may not recognize some of the names, but let's try to understand what these four basic categories of finishing life represent for us.
In his book Finishing Strong, author Steve Farrar quotes Dr. Clinton’s results: “Cut off early means that they were taken out of leadership by assassinations, killed in battle, prophetically denounced, or overthrown.” Those cut off early include Abimelech, Absalom, Ahab, and Josiah. Some of these leaders were good, but most were terrible. Most have a rather tragic story that explains their finish.
Farrar goes on to explain the other three categories. “Finished poorly” means they were going downhill spiritually or in their competency during the latter part of their lives. Typical examples of finishing weak were Gideon, Eli, or Solomon. In other words, these leaders were barely able to crawl across the finish line. Either that or they were carried across the finish line.
“Finished so-so” means they did not do what they could have or should have done. They didn’t complete what God had for them to do. They were pretty good guys like David, Jehoshaphat, or Hezekiah, but they didn't finish strong. They were in the middle of the pack.
"Finished well" means they were walking with God at the end of their lives. They were strong in faith, family, and community. Examples are Abraham, Job, Joseph, Joshua, Caleb, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, John, Paul, and Peter, to name a few. This category is where we hope to be at the end of our life, right?
The first three groups of leaders were as gifted and called as the fourth group, but why didn’t they finish well? Farrar observes, “All of these leaders were gifted, and all had very impressive strengths. So how come they didn’t finish strong? The answer is this. They all didn’t finish strong because they didn’t survive the ambushes in life. Getting through life’s ambushes is what separates the professionals from the amateurs. Men and women who get through the ambushes are generally the ones who anticipate the ambushes.” This thought is worthy of our consideration.
Consider King Solomon. Even though he had more wisdom than anyone else in his generation, he didn't anticipate some ancient and potent ambushes. What were the ambushes? Too many women ambushed him. Money ambushed him. A neglected family ambushed him. Ouch! Many leaders have suffered the shipwreck of betrayal and sex, extreme love of money, and being so busy leading that they didn't invest time with their families.
There were consequences to those ambushes. Solomon had over 700 wives and 300 concubines. Farrar says, "No wonder he didn't finish strong. He was exhausted." Solomon had so much money that there was silver lying on the streets of Jerusalem. Solomon's wives turned his heart against the Lord, and his son Rehoboam split the nation of Israel shortly after Solomon died. I get the feeling Solomon didn't spend much time with his son.
Let me add the ambush of pride and status in Solomon’s life. A good self-image is one thing. Excessive pride is another. The nineteenth-century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, "The greatest fault is to be conscious of none." As a result, experts often end up as 'ex-spurts.'
Let’s get smart. There are ambushes everywhere. Life is like a race. It’s how well you finish life that counts. In a football or rugby game, a team can have a terrible first half but play strong in the second half. Some teams start strong, have horrible second or third quarters, and then win in the fourth quarter.
The same is true in life. If you are living, and I assume you are or wouldn't be reading this article, even those whose life has been so-so in the first, second, or third quarter can finish strong in the fourth quarter. Remember, you are not racing against others so much as you're racing against yourself. It's your race to win or lose. God is always there to help you finish.
While life’s ambushes may open the door to calamity, God’s grace closes the door. So, let us live in such a way that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry!
Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com