Finishing Strong

 “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day ~ and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” 2nd Timothy 4:6-8

Those of us who have a heart to know God and to do His will want to finish this journey strong.  We long to be faithful servants with the ministries God has placed before us, whether they are extensive ministries like Paul’s, or ministries just within the four walls of our own homes.  These verses bring us to the time where Paul is reaching the end of his life and after passing on some final words of instruction to Timothy, and to us, Paul speaks with confidence as he assesses the life he has lived, and his faithfulness to the God he served. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Oh that each one of us will be able to speak these words with the assurance Paul did as the number of our own days come to a close!

These past few weeks have been a time of change and transition for me.  Another school year has come to a close and with it, the need to say goodbye to a group of boys I have been teaching for years.  Graduation is always a bitter sweet time.  It is a time of celebration for my students, and me ~ for all we have accomplished in our time together, but as so often is the case with endings, it brings with it a time for letting go and a time of reflection.  Have I been faithful with the responsibility God has given me not only to teach, but to impact the lives of these children?  Can I say with the certainty of Paul, that I have fought a good fight, and done as God would have me do?

These questions are ones that constantly stir in this heart of mine, that wants so much for my life to be a fragrant offering to the God I so love, but they are questions that are difficult to answer.  Truly, how can we know the measure by which God judges the deeds of man?  God’s ways are not our ways, and all the ways others judge us, and all the methods we use to measure our own success, might be worthless in the eyes of God.  Someday, when we stand before Him we will know, but for now, all we can do is live with the measure of faith that God has given us, and rest in His boundless grace.

A chapter of my life came to a close last weekend as I served my last Sunday as the Director of our Children’s Church.  My journey has brought me to a place where I must step down from this ministry that I so love, to do as God is calling me to do.  In order to be faithful in one area, I must let go of another, and it has not been without a flood of tears.

As God would have it, this final Sunday was also the Sunday where my church was recognizing and celebrating the life and ministry of our Pastor who recently retired.  Now here is a man who has kept the faith, and on this day, in a packed sanctuary, story after story was told of the impact our pastor has had in his years of ministry. Words simply cannot express the impact of a life lived fully for God, and I could not even begin to express the gratitude for all that God has taught me through His faithful servant.

This is the pastor who showed me faith, and who, without even knowing it, was leading me to Jesus.  God revealed His Word to me through his teaching, and he was the one to baptize me as I publicly professed my faith in Christ.  My first pastor has impacted me in so many ways, but if I could only share one thing about the faithfulness of this servant, it would be that he loves with the heart of God.  He is full of compassion and when he looked at me years ago, he saw not who I was or all I had done, but who God was creating me to be.

It was in the midst of this grand celebration for a pastor finishing strong, that I stood feeling alone, confused and hurt, with the weight of my decision, and careless words and questions trying to fill my heart with doubt.  Was I making the right decision?  Did I really hear God?  How could I walk away?  Was I finishing strong?

I love the Lord and want to serve Him with all my heart, and all the talk surrounding me that day about faithfulness and finishing strong created in me a desire to measure my own success.  Did I measure up?  Was God pleased with my ministry?  I wish that I could say that I had the confidence of Paul in saying that I’ve been faithful, but this passionate heart of mine longed to do more; it wasn’t ready to let go of the ministry and children I cared so much about, but it was time.

As the service drew to a close, I was full of sadness, but trying to have a celebration all my own of the years I had ministered to the children in KIDDS’ Church.  My last act of service of that morning was to bring all the children to the front of the church to celebrate with our Pastor.  One of the boys was looking a little overwhelmed, walking down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary, so I went to him and took his hand.  This little guy is someone I have built a special bond with over the year.  He is shy or quite possibly just loves the attention I give him when he insists on sneaking into KIDDS’ Church through the back door each Sunday morning; I’m not sure which it is, but it doesn’t matter.  We both have enjoyed this little game we played each week.

As I stood holding his hand at the front of the church, he looked up at me with a smile that melted my heart and filled me with joy.  We sat up there while the pastor spoke, my little friend full of mischief and full of smiles.  It was a moment that would have seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary, but it was a moment full of the love of God.  In this young boy’s smile, I felt the pleasure of my God with me, and with my ministry, which was six years full of little moments like these, sharing the love of God and the Word of God with the children of our church.  In his little smile, and in the love I feel for him and all the children I have ministered to, I feel God.  It’s so like the tender love of my Father in heaven to use my smiling little buddy to give me a gift I will never forget ~ the realization that in this last sweet moment of sharing the love of God, I finished strong.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13



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