I imagine you agree with me on this: how we “finish” is more important than how we “begin.”
In the Christian life, the ultimate finish will be having our Lord say to us at the end, “Well done, My good and faithful servant!”
What will it take for you and me to hear those remarkable words from the One who means everything to us?
To finish life well requires that we live life well. This certainly includes knowing how to “never give up.” It means having a relentless spirit. How do we acquire that? And why is it so important?
Honestly, I am concerned that many believers are not going to finish well. God once gave me a sobering vision that relates to the theme of this book. A man was rowing a boat against the river’s strong current. He was straining hard to advance against the flow of the water—a tough task, but doable.
Other boats, bigger and luxurious and containing parties of people, frequently passed him flowing downstream. The people on these boats were laughing, drinking, and at ease. Occasionally they would look over at the man battling the current and mock him. He had to fight for every inch of progress while they did very little to absolutely nothing for theirs. After a while the man grew weary of pressing against the current.
Tired and discouraged, he put up the oars. For a few moments he continued to drift upstream from the momentum, but soon came to a standstill. Then something sad and terrible happened: though still pointed upstream, his rowboat began to drift downstream with the current.
Soon the man noticed another party boat. This one was different from the other party boats for—like his own rowboat—this party boat also was pointed upstream, yet was flowing downstream with the current. This boat also carried people who were laughing, socializing, and at ease. Since it was pointed upstream—the direction the man had wanted to go—he decided to hop on and join with them. They now became a close-knit group. Unlike the other party boats that faced and traveled downstream, this boat pointed upstream. But, sadly, it continued flowing downstream with the current.
What is the interpretation of this vision? The river represents the world and the rowboat is our human body that enables us to live and function in this world. The man in the rowboat is a believer; his oars symbolize God’s unmerited grace. The party boats depict those joined in one purpose, and the river’s current represents the flow of this world, which is under the sway of the evil one. By the oars of grace, the man has the ability to resist the current and move
upstream to his destiny in advancing the kingdom of God. His physical strength represents his faith. Sadly, his strength wanes and he grows weary of the fight. He doesn’t think he has what it takes, when in reality he does. Consequently, he eventually runs out of steam and quits.
Once the man quits rowing, the boat continues moving forward (upstream) for a short time due to sheer momentum. And this is where deception moves in. He still sees some fruit in his life, even though what produced it no longer propels him. He erroneously thinks he can live at ease—no longer alert and vigilant—and still lead a successful Christian life.
Finally, the boat comes to a standstill, and then it begins to drift backward (downstream)—slowly at first, but eventually at the same speed as the current.
Here’s the telling part of the vision: while his boat is still pointed upstream, he drifts backward with the current. He now has the appearance of Christianity—knows the talk, the songs, and the mannerisms of the kingdom—but in reality he is conforming to the ways of the world (see 1 John 2:15–17).
Eventually our protagonist spots another boat, a party of other “believers” like him. They all consider themselves part of the church because they, too, are pointed upstream. They know the talk, the songs, and the mannerisms. However,
they are at ease because they’ve settled for a fruitless “Christian” life and are under the sway of the evil one who controls the current.
Those in this “Christianity boat” are no longer persecuted or mocked by the nonbelieving world. In fact, they are accepted and sometimes hailed by the world’s influencers. They no longer press, press, press forward as the apostle Paul encouraged every Christian to do: “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). In fact, these drifting believers have little or no resistance to the ways of the world.
Consider what the apostle John wrote:
Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (1 John 2:16–17, msg) The vision I’ve described for you depicts three types of people: the believer, the unbeliever, and the deceived.
- The unbeliever just flows with the current, oblivious to the reality of wanting, wanting, wanting.
- The believer must press, press, press in the fight of faith to attain kingdom advancement.
- The deceived hides his or her motive of wanting, wanting, wanting through “Christian appearance” and the misuse of Scripture.
I know this vision presents a disturbing view of people of faith today, but it forces each of us to ask a vitally important question: “Which person do I resemble?” After all, God’s Word commands us to…
Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out.
If you fail the test, do something about it. (2 Corinthians 13:5, msg) After seeing this vision and becoming aware of its interpretation, I became even more convicted by these words written to the Hebrew Christians: Lift up your tired hands, then, and strengthen your trembling knees! Keep walking on straight paths.… Guard against turning back from the grace of God. (Hebrews 12:12–13, 15, tev)
As children of God, we should desperately want to finish well for His glory. You and I should never want to turn back from God’s grace by growing weary, putting up our oars, and drifting with the current of this world’s system. We need look no further than Scripture to find examples of what happens when people do or do not finish well. Consider Solomon, son of David and the wisest, richest, most powerful man of his time. He achieved heights that no human being for generations before or many afterward even came close to. However, he faltered—put up his oars—in the latter part of his reign, turning his heart from God to align with the world’s system.
Because Solomon had many foreign wives, more than likely he experienced tremendous conflict within his household over being single-minded in his allegiance and obedience to Jehovah. In order to keep peace, he did not remain loyal
to Jehovah, but rather built altars for and even worshiped his favored wives’ foreign gods.
Solomon suffered greatly from his folly, but his children and grandchildren were affected even more profoundly. The kingdom that was entrusted to him, one that was strong from his father David’s faithfulness and grew even stronger
with Solomon’s excellent start, suffered, was divided, and eventually withered from his failure to finish well. Israel’s history would have been significantly different if Solomon had remained relentless.
Now let’s compare Solomon with John the Baptist. John was resolute and held fast to truth, valiantly living and proclaiming it. He, like Solomon, was faced with adversity, but John’s potential consequences were far worse, for it
wasn’t a wife or several but the king of Judea who didn’t embrace the truth John proclaimed. Solomon faced a conflicted household, but John faced jail, torture, and possibly even death. Yet in the face of such cruel and extreme consequences, John remained immovable in his stance for truth, both in how he lived and the message he proclaimed. The result: John’s legacy is superior to Solomon’s. Not only did John and Solomon face adversity—a rapid river’s current—but so do you and I. We are in a serious battle against the world’s vain, shallow values. Its influence is powerful. Deceptive. Alluring. It’s far too easy to grow weary, to think it’s okay to cease our perseverance, give in, and drift with the prevailing currents. But the only way for you and me to finish strong is to be relentless in our faith. In doing so we will become something to be reckoned with, a genuine threat to the kingdom of darkness.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Relentless by John Bevere. Copyright © 2011 by John Bevere. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.