January 25, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“This then is how you ought to pray, [begin by saying] ‘Father, our Father, hallowed is Your name.” (Matthew 6.9)
I have heard coaches encourage their teams saying “How you start will determine how you finish.” It is popular in education to promote a “backward design” when planning lessons. What that means is to teach with the end in mind. In other words, it is asking the question “How do you want to finish?” For an athlete, the goal is to finish first in whatever competition is before them. For a person, the life coach is promoting the goal mindset of accomplishment or overcoming an obstacle. For a student, it may be a passing grade or a perfect score. I would hope that in every situation the true goal or the true end is a life lived to the fullest degree of perfection that can be achieved. We will not all achieve in the same way. Paul does declare, “We will all run the race but only one will finish first.” He does not downplay the completion of the race which is before everyone of us. The confession is that completion of the race, the fighting of the good fight and ultimately living the right life is as valuable or more valuable than “coming in first.” I am not speaking of a “better luck next time” mentality. I am suggesting an attitude of living life to the fullest which comes in doing the Father’s will. Jesus promoted the life of the servant as “finishing first.” It takes a certain self-embracing to finish first in a race or competition which does not always include the role of others in the accomplishment. Putting self first above all is a guarantee to finishing near the back of the pack. But, finishing has its own reward. In faith, finishing is the greatest reward acclaimed by the Father who will declare “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”
It stands to reason then that when Jesus taught the disciples how to be successful in prayer and in life and in ministry, He promoted a strong beginning. He taught them with the end in sight. He wanted them to start strong to finish strong. Jesus knew and would demonstrate for the disciples and non-disciples that the inbetween times will be tough. We know them to be hard, difficult and challenging ourselves. The Lord’s Prayer after the beginning “Father, our Father” and before the finish “…for Thine is the kingdom, power and glory forever,” lays out provisions for those inbetween tough times. So, knowing where Jesus desired His followers to end up, He showed them how to start the momentum rolling with such a pace that even when those tough times came, they would overcome them just as He did. Starting with our “eyes on the prize,” as Paul would espouse, helps to maintain that focus and momentum when the enemy stands before us to encourage defeat, failure and emptiness. Remembering that “the enemy” is a liar should assist us in running the race of faith because whatever is said we know the truth as well. The problems exist today because the truth is not taught as much or as well as it certainly has been and certainly can be. We are so focused on the problems, the challenges and the self-critical versus self-embellishment viewpoint that the end is a critical mass event. It not only seems distant and unobtainable but we fear the “light at the end of the tunnel” is not us nearing the end but is a train of judgment barreling down the tracks toward us with no intention of stopping. Let’s stop right there for a moment and take that snapshot. If the “end is judgment and death” and reflects then how we began, then why did we rush headlong to meet it with such intensity and desire? If what we see God as is “judgment and death,” then why would we believe there is any good end to anything we do? But, God is love. He is the beginning and the end the same without ceasing. If God is love, then God is life. He created life out of lifelessness. He presented order and reformed chaos. He took scattered resources and aligned them in such a fashion that life not only existed but existed in wonder and awe. If that was our beginning because of God, then why would we choose any other ending than the end God intends and presents to us? And what is that end? It is, of course, Jesus Christ!
He is our new beginning! In Him all things are made new. The old is put away and passes away by having faith in Jesus as the Christ of God and our personal Lord and Savior. He is the source of our inner strength and our outward manifestation of faith, hope and love. And we know what Paul said about that triune reality: the greatest of these is LOVE! Isn’t that how we want to finish? Isn’t being loved by God and loving one another in the way that God loves us (which is unto eternal life) our true hope and dream? And if “love is our aim,” then we ought to start off with the truth of love. The truth of love is that it begins with a good, good Father in whom there is no deceit or failure. He gives His children at least one good gift. That is what good fathers do! Thus beginning our day, our new day, with God our Father is telling us and others that is how we intend to finish. God is our beginning and our end. God is with us from start to finish. It may not be an easy road to travel sometimes, but it will never be travelled alone and on our own. Yes, God is with us all the time. We may act like He isn’t. We might lean in the direction of the enemy’s lie and convince ourselves that God is at a distance. But, when we pause to honestly reflect, we will see “if not for the grace of God where I could have ended up would be far worse than where I am.” I like how that sentence finished: I AM. That is the name of God as it was given to Moses in the wilderness. It is a combination of two words which have the opportunity to speak of ourselves saying “I am this or that.” It is also a combination of two words which can indicate our belief that God is here and nothing can separate us from His love. He is the great “I AM.” Interesting that it formulates the promise which Jesus gave to His disciples before He ascended into Heaven. In that moment of commissioning, He said to them “I AM with you always.” Good to know, isn’t it. He is there at the start. He will be there at the finish. He will be there from start to finish. He learned it from His Father and so, too, can we.
Father, in Your Son you have taught us how to begin and end life and how to live it from start to finish. You have show us the way, the truth and the life. There is nothing more that we truly want and need. We receive it today and we share it with others in Jesus’ name. AMEN.