Finishing Well

It happens about this same time every semester: students work feverishly to complete assignments, and faculty work diligently to grade them. Procrastination is no longer your friend. It’s easy to complain about the load or bemoan the fact that you didn’t start yesterday, but neither of those contributes to the completion of the assignments we carry today. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. But the next best time is today.”

I remember thinking as a student, “If I’m ever in that position, I’ll do it this way.” Some of those thoughts inform how I teach to this day. Other times, I have come to understand why my professors did things how they did them and have gained a better appreciation for them after the fact.

This point of the semester is a time of both physical and spiritual preparation. In many ways, the lessons one learns as a student will be the lessons that govern how he or she serves in ministry. It’s unusual for someone to be a lazy student and turn out to be a diligent minister. Rather, the habits you are developing today will be those habits you take into the church.

As a student, you don’t control the assignment or the deadline, but you do control your approach to them. In most cases, you determine how feverishly you will have to work at the end of the semester to complete assignments that have been part of the syllabus since the beginning of the semester. The danger is that work done hastily does not always receive one’s best effort.

The Bible both illustrates and instructs on the importance of finishing well. Some of the things we learn from Scripture on our journey include:

  • Recognize what God allows in your life today as a time of preparation intellectually as well as habitually. God is teaching you something that may or may not be covered in the textbook. But you may be learning and developing habits that will form and transform your ministry.
  • Be Diligent. Your hard work honors the Lord—even in your schoolwork. Paul reminded us that a diligent worker is one who doesn’t have to be ashamed (2 Tim. 2:15). Don’t wait until the finish line is in sight to “kick to the finish.” Run hard the whole race.
  • Give your best energy to what matters most. Do you ever put off working on something important until the time of day when you are least effective? Bob Buford, in his excellent book Finishing Well, said, “What keeps most of us from focusing on the things that matter is all the things that don’t matter” (106). Don’t be easily distracted. Work your hardest on those things that matter most. Give them your best attention and your most productive time of the day.
  • Do it unto the Lord. Colossians 3:17 (cf. 3:23) says, “Whatever you do in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord.” Any activity, if it is done to honor the Lord, can become an act of worship: your study, your writing, your devotional life, even your conversation. You and I need to ask ourselves, “Am I honoring God by the level of effort that I am putting into this?”
  • Do it with a good attitude. Solomon said, “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22). Good attitudes, like cranky ones, are contagious. Don’t forget: it is a privilege you have to be called and to prepare. Your professors are probably not looking for ways to make your life difficult. Moreover, the witness of your attitude speaks as loudly as your testimony. A surly attitude won’t make the task any easier; it’ll just make you more difficult.

I opened the mail the other day to learn that a ministry hero of mine had gone on to be with the Lord. News of his death caused me to reflect on his impact in my life and the model of faithfulness that he set. It reminded me, first, to be thankful for the impact of a godly man in my life. But it also caused me to reflect on the value of a life lived unto the Lord, the accountability of influence we all carry, and the joy one must have in finishing well. The Apostle Paul reminded us of that.

Paul said that he had fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith. But it occurs to me that fighting the good fight and keeping the faith have a reciprocal relationship to finishing the course. You’re not likely to finish the course unless you have fought the good fight and kept the faith. And, you’re not likely to have fought the good fight or kept the faith unless you have finished the course that the Lord has laid out for you.

As a student preparing for ministry, your short-term and long-term goals are the same—to finish well. Where you are is one step in the journey. Finish this step well. Hopefully, the successes we earn by reaching the finish lines today will prepare us for the larger goal that lies ahead for all of us.