“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
Failure, apparently, is an option. It happens. It’s part of the process. On the path to success, we will experience failure. It is unavoidable. However, it is beneficial. Yoda, in Star Wars, says, ““The greatest teacher, failure is.” We can learn a lot from it, if we choose too.
Paul may come across a little cocky and arrogant in Philippians 3:4-6. “Though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” But, he understands and freely admits that he’s not the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) of Christianity.
In Romans 7, Paul has a long dissertation about the struggles of doing the right thing, and then ends with “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He knows he’s got talent, but he’s not Jesus. He’s not perfect.
Throughout Paul’s letters there is a reoccurring theme of perseverance. Philippians 3:13-14 says, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” He was like Popeye. “I’m strong to the fin-ich cause I eats me spin-ich” (the cartoon character, not the chicken place for those who are too young to remember.)
For Paul, it was about the finish or “fin-ich”. We may stumble our way through the beginning and the middle, but we want to finish well. We want to be competitive. Not necessarily against others, but we want to push ourselves to be what the Lord has called us to be. Even though, it’s not necessary for our salvation, we want to please Him out of gratitude for all that He has done for us.
A few years ago I was the director of Family Ministry/Worship Leader at a church near Charlotte, North Carolina. I had been at the church for about a year and a half when the Pastor was moved mid year by the bishop to rescue a struggling church. I was very disappointed that she was leaving. She was a great friend, and we had a very healthy working relationship. It was an environment of mutual trust and respect. Creativity was encouraged and appreciated. We were truly partners in ministry. I enjoyed going to work everyday. I’m not saying everything was perfect at the church, but the boss and I were good, and that’s a big deal.
We all know that when leadership changes, it won’t be the same. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been through several pastoral changes throughout my career. Some have been good, and some have not. But, I was optimistic. In the beginning it seemed to be okay, but over time the relationship and the church environment grew more toxic, and got to the point where I dreaded going to work. I’m not placing blame. There are always two sides to every story. It just wasn’t a good fit. I endured for over a year, until I reached a point when I knew it was time to go. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, but I hadn’t crossed the finish line of that particular race yet. I had to finish.
I had to endure several more months before the Lord opened another doorway to ministry. It was probably one of the most difficult periods in my life and ministry career. It was difficult to stay focused. It was difficult to “finish well”. “Finishing well” is a relatively new buzzword in Christian leadership. Basically, it means that you want to do a good job, do your best, until you clock out for the last time. My dad always taught me to finish whatever I start, to not quit when things get difficult.
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “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.”(NIV)
Paul’s life and ministry were coming to an end. It wasn’t easy. He suffered hardship of many kinds. But, as he looked back over his life and ministry, he felt he could honestly say that he did his best. I’m not sure what percentage of effort he gave. Who can say? But, his message lives on almost two thousand years later. I’d say that is sufficient evidence to back up his claim.
Have you ever seen videos of long distance runners who are struggling at the end of a race? Some of them can barely move forward. They are staggering and falling down, but they won’t quit. They keep getting back up over and over again just to fall down again. They don’t have much left to give. There is very little fuel left in the tank, but they won’t quit.
One of the coolest things to see is when other runners, other competitors, stop and help a struggling runner cross the finish line. It’s powerful. It usually brings me to tears. It’s also a perfect picture of what Christ does for us. We can’t finish this race of life on our own strength. It’s only “by the grace of God”.
Galatians 6:2 tells us to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It’s comforting and encouraging knowing that Jesus has our back, but He also wants us to follow His example. It’s easy for us to get so focused on our own race that we are blind to those around us who are struggling, who have fallen by the wayside. Who am I encouraging today? Whose burden am I carrying?
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management