Starting Well, Ending Well in the Christian Life

Starting Well, Ending Well in the Christian Life September 3, 2018

Sack race!; Virginia State Parks staff; Wikimedia

Last Saturday, I attended the wedding of a young couple who are friends of mine. They were surrounded by family and friends, including their church family. The love and joy they expressed for God and one another were contagious. Yesterday at church, a young man shared a testimony about his summer overseas mission trip. His love and joy for God and those he saw come to Christ were also contagious. Thank God these young people are starting out well. I pray that they and the rest of us who are Christians will be ending well the race of the Christian life.

Prayers and best wishes were offered for the newly wedded couple and the young man, who returns to a regional state university for his sophomore year. All those gathered at the wedding and at church committed to being all in with them. They realized that part of ending well what one has begun well includes vital connection to community. This is certainly the case in marriage and in the Christian life. Such vital connection is critical for the young couple and the young man as they continue on their way. Trials will arise that will test their resolve and possibly rob them of their love and joy. The same is true for us who are married to Christ as his church.

Doubts and disappointments of various kinds appear on the path of the Christian life. In some cases, the doubts and disappointments are the result of unfulfilled expectations. At this juncture, I don’t think the newly married couple or college student have too many unfulfilled expectations. They are still just getting started.  However, difficult surprises may loom large just around the bend.

That’s not to say they haven’t thought about what lies ahead. They certainly have. There was a lot of planning that went into marriage (and not simply the wedding) and the overseas mission trip, for example. A lot of planning, but not so much overthinking. Overthinking and over-analyzing can take away the joy in a marriage, and in the Christian life. Love and joy involve spontaneity, and there was spontaneity in abundance on display at the wedding and during the testimonial given yesterday at church.

For all of us who are disciples of Jesus, we should ask ourselves how closely connected we are to vital Christian community? Do we have loved ones who speak into our lives and keep us centered on Jesus? What kind of expectations do we have for Jesus? Are we counting the cost and planning for the future, as best as we can? We must give consideration to these matters without overthinking and losing the spontaneity of our faith.

Doubts and disappointments will certainly present themselves on the path of the Christian life. Is it fair to say that the Lord Jesus himself experienced doubts and disappointments along the way? I think so. Here I am reminded of Hebrews chapter 12. The Hebrew Christians were experiencing severe trials and persecution, hurdles and possible entanglements that could easily distract and and disrupt them in their efforts to run the marathon race of life. While their blood had not (yet) been shed, some of their property had been confiscated. Some were tempted to abandon the faith and the fellowship of believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). In the midst of their doubts and disappointments, the writer of Hebrews offered this word of hope and exhortation bound up with Jesus’ example:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:1-6; ESV)

Jesus did not allow the doubts and disappointments that he endured on the way to the cross to steal his joy and keep him from ending well his sojourn here below. In fact, the joy set before him made it possible for him to endure such trials and tribulations in the marathon race of the spiritual  life. He did it for us, he did it for the great cloud of witnesses, so that we could enter into the joy of our salvation.

Jesus’ confidence in God’s love made it possible for him to endure the discipline, doubts and disappointments of the cross. His love for us also certainly factored in his resolve in ending well. The joy of communion in the Spirit with his Father and his people for all eternity also helped him discern between rightful expectations and harmful ones.

In what or in whom do we place our confidence in the Christian life? What kind of expectations do we have? Are we prepared to deal with the struggle with sin which easily trips us up like bags in a sack race. How vital is our connection to the local church and a community of believers who share in the joy of our salvation and who keep us focused on Jesus? Like this young couple and college student, are we planning well without overthinking our relationships? Their unbounded love and joy were certainly contagious and motivational. May their unbridled enthusiasm inspire us and free us from cynicism and quiet despair. Following their example, may we get up. May we continue running well so that we will all be ending well–that is, “until death do us part.”

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