01 August, 2013

It's Not How You Start that Counts

This morning I received an email from an acquaintance in which he was asking me to pray for him as he was launching (as he put it) "a bold new adventure" in his ministry. In my response to him, I asked him if he had finished the last "new adventure" that he started. He fired back a list of reasons why he needed to start over. I told him that in the last 9 years since I've been the pastor here, this was at least his 5th time to start over and that he always had a litany of excuses why he felt God was telling him to move and start over. I told him that I felt he was not understanding the difference between the voice of God and his own desires. Now please understand that I'm not trying to slam this fellow at all. No one reading this knows who I am referring to except me, him and God, so this is not a personal attack. In reality, I'm not writing this ABOUT him at all, but rather about the tendency that people have to want to start new projects all the time without ever finishing the last one. I've had folks in my church, who eventually left me, because they always wanted me to give them an assignment or ministry to do in the church. The problem is that they never finished the one given to them before, or if it was finished, someone else had to finish it for them because they fizzled out. It just a fact, may people are good starters, but they simply don't know how to finish. In our Christian life, we had better come to grips with the fact that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It does not matter how great you look coming out of the starting blocks... the question is, "Did you finish?"  I remember when I was in 8th grade and I went out for cross country. (Uh, no... I did not make it.)  There was a guy named Don that I still remember vividly. If you saw him, he was picture of a runner. He looked like bones with taut muscles stretched over them with a thin layer of black skin. He was just what you picture as a runner. He was blazing fast. And he could jump like no one I'd ever seen. He thought this combination would make him a great cross country runner. Problem was, his body was designed for short bursts of power, and that's it.  I remember vividly Coach Reed laughing at him and telling him, "Donald, if there was a medal for starting great, you'd win it every time!"  Coach finally persuaded Don that he was out for the wrong sport and convinced him to convert to track and field. He went to state and set numerous school and city records in those events, but when it came to cross country, he was simply not qualified.  Many of us are like Don. We WANT to do something, but we don't recognize that we are not cut of the type cloth for that, and rather than find where we fit in, we keep floundering in the wrong field, starting over again and again and again.  Sometimes we just have to be brutally honest with ourselves or listen to someone else who is being honest with us when they tell us that we are in the wrong field or ministry. That does not make us a failure, but rather puts us on the right track to succeed when we do get ourselves in the proper assignment.

I think there are a lot of people who are just like the guy who emailed me today who mean well, but they are in the trap of seeing every new trend and happening in ministry and they want to jump on board that new wave. But they've not rode out the last wave yet. Maybe they are in the wrong field. I don't know, but I do know that if you are not able to stick with it in the hard times, you will never succeed at anything. I'm not a marathon runner and don't pretend to be, but I've talked with enough people who are and they all tell me the same thing. When running the long distance, there comes a point that you "hit the wall." At that point, many give up, but if you are going to finish the race, you have to keep your eyes on the big picture and push through the pain. Once you push through, there is a second wind that hits you and you are able to finish the race. My fear is that many of those in the ministry quit when they hit that wall. That's when they feel called to move to a new church or a new area rather than fight through the fatigue and strain where they are. It's hard. Trust me, I know. But if you want to finish the race, you have to quit looking to start over. Finish your current assignment. That's what God has called us to do.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up 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 loved His appearing."  (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

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