What compels a person to strive for excellence? What pushes a person to succeed? What motivates a person to do their best? Certainly, a number of motives might be in play – some laudable and others not so. I believe that deep within every individual is a desire to finish well. Using grounded theory, a qualitative research methodology, J. Robert Clinton and his team of researchers studied the lives of Christian leaders – biblical, historical, and contemporary leaders to ascertain how they finished the race. Over 3800 case studies have underscored the findings. One of the startling facts is that only 30% finished well. According to Clinton, anecdotal evidence from today indicates that this ratio is probably generous. Probably less than 1 in 3 is finishing well today.
Four types of finishes were defined in Starting Well by Richard Clinton and Paul Leavenworth. These finishes were used to analyze the case studies of biblical leaders where enough data was available to determine how they finished.
Cut off Early: These leaders are taken out of leadership by assassination, killed in battle, prophetically denounced, or overthrown. Some of this activity was directly attributed to God. Some of these were positive and others were negative. (Abimelech, Samson, Absalom, Ahab, Josiah, John the Baptist, James)
Finished Poorly: These leaders were going downhill in the latter part of their ministry. This might be reflected in their personal relationship with God or in terms of their competency in ministry. (Gideon, Samson, Eli, Saul, Solomon)
Finished So?So: These leaders did fairly well but were limited in their ministries because of sin. They did not complete what God had for them or had some negative ramifications surrounding their lives and ministries even though they personally were walking with God. (David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah)
Finished Well: These leaders were walking with God at the end of their lives. They contributed to God's purposes at a high level. They fulfilled what God had for them to do. (Abraham, Job, Joseph, Joshua, Caleb, Samuel, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jesus, John, Paul, Peter)
Clinton defines Finishing Well as referring to reaching the end of one's life, having been faithful to the calling God has placed upon that life...is about Christ followers being more passionate about Christ and His mission as they fulfill their life purpose than they were at the beginning. It also entails a life that experiences the depth of God's grace and love...it is living out one's destiny and the making of one's unique and ultimate contribution in expanding God's Kingdom.
How we ‘finish’ is all about legacy—the ‘aroma’ left in the lives of people who have come within our sphere of influence. Have I fulfilled my divinely ordained purpose? Have I made progress in leveraging my giftedness (spiritual gifts, natural abilities, and acquired skills) for eternal ends? Will the substance of my life leave a positive impact that will endure after I am gone? Although starting well is important, finishing well is crucial.
Within the soul of every human being God has placed a sense of the eternal that compels us to seek answers to the following questions having to do with purpose, progress, and permanence (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11).
- Why am I here? PURPOSE
- Am I making any headway? PROGRESS
- Will what I do have any lasting significance? PERMANENCE
What is also true is that God has wired us for three reasons—a CAUSE to die for, a CHALLENGE to embrace, and loved ones to PROTECT just like Our Lord. He had a cause to die for—the salvation of mankind. He had a challenge to embrace—the crucifixion. And He had loved ones to protect – humankind.
Finishing well takes into consideration all of these matters. You are not an accident, a coincidence, a happenstance. You were on the heart of God before you ever came to be (Psalm 139:1-18). God indeed has plans for you and determined your purpose in advance of your birth (Ephesians 2:10).
So the big question is “How will you finish?” Tangential to this main question are the following questions.
- How will you be remembered?
- Who has been left better off because of you?
- If you left this world today what type of finish would be true of you?
It is never too late to begin living a legacy worth leaving in the lives of others.
- What are you doing now to determine God’s purpose for your life?
- What are you doing now to facilitate God’s giftedness in you?
- What do you intend to do going forward to finish well?