When Finishing Well isn't Finished Well

Photo by Jonathan Ruchti


A discussion that’s come up recently with some friends has been the idea of “finishing well.” 

When someone says, “I want to finish well,” I wonder how often they mean “I want to build a monument to my accomplishments”? This is probably because I’m naturally a bit pessimistic. 

I guess the question that’s been coming to mind is—is that really what we’re called to do? 

Do we want to “finish well” and try to protect our idea of what our legacy should be—and in the process see it crumble all around us? 

Do we hold so tightly to our ideas of what we think our place in history should be that we fail to see it slipping through our fingers? 

Do we spend so much time thinking of the perfect exit strategy that we don’t consider how we can prepare those coming after us? 

Is that what we want our legacy to be? 

Paul knew what it meant to finish well. He wrote to Timothy, 

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. . . . [A]lways be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth 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 Tim 4:1-2,5-8) 

Undeniably Paul speaks here of finishing well. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he writes. He persevered until the end. 

But how do we know that he’s done all this? Go back to verse one: 

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus . . . preach the word . . . fulfill your ministry. 

“I charge you, Timothy—Run the race. This is what I’ve been preparing you for. I’ve run the race, now it’s your turn. Keep running,” he says. Paul got this better than anyone. 

He understood that a legacy isn’t about our accomplishments; it’s about preparing the next generation. 

Finishing well doesn’t necessarily mean going down as the greatest person who has ever lived. It doesn’t mean building up an organization to unparalleled levels of success. It doesn’t mean having a big church (or small church if that’s your thing). It doesn’t mean having huge book sales. 

The more I look around and see what happens to men and women who make this their focus, whether in business, the church or wherever, the more I’m convinced that it’s the wrong way to look at things. 

Finishing well means being faithful, to prepare someone else to carry on the work—and to see them excel beyond your greatest imaginings. 

We finish our race, but it doesn’t mean the race is done. 

It means we get to pass the baton.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

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6 Replies to “When Finishing Well isn't Finished Well”

  1. Excellent reminder of this truth, thank you. I pray that more Pastors build their asociate leadership with this in mind and ALL fathers lead their families in this way, may it be so in my home Lord.

  2. Your conclusions are precise and perfect, but I have strong doubts about the premise upon which they are built. It leads to a disconnect.

    I have never met a pastor that when truthfully asked and answered, has strong desire to lead 20,000 sheep instead of the 100 entrusted to his care.
    It is all about him or her. Finishing well is about MORE, MORE, MORE.
    But the Good Shepherd would leave 99, to search for the one missing out of a hundred…never pondering a stadium filled 30,000.

    Taking a head count at Billy Graham Crusades always appalled me, for the dynamic was getting souls to Christ, not counting the success of your effort.
    Besides, one never knew if fellow walkers to the stadium front were adjusting to a social pressure, or a change of heart. God alone knows; thus head count is appalling. Nor do I recall Christ taking a head count in His ministry.

    But I guess my problem with this “finishing well” proposition, and you concluding based on your premise, reserves the judgement of “finishing well, on too thin a slice of infinity.

    “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
    — 2 Corinthians 5: 20

    An ambassador has no authority whatsoever. They carry the message from THEIR authority, their President, their KING, and deliver it to another place far away. They are carrier pigeons at best.

    But when it comes to souls, and their destination in heaven or in hell alone — no other choices — being an ambassador is not just delivery of message. It is “GOD making HIS appeal through us”. The time frame is forever, all eternity. And it is GOD at work in this race, not us. The King make the appeal.
    We are merely Christ’s ambassadors.

    Whenever I see a newborn baby, I see the face of God….making His appeal anew, to a new generation of ambassadors. But often, I fail to recall the Catholic nun who approached me about Jesus Christ and made an appeal.
    And I NEVER ponder who appealed to her, or the person that appealed to THAT one. ALL may or may not have finished well, but for me, ALL have truly finished well, or I would be a wanderer without a light.

    How many people finished “well” to provide that message to me?
    ALL were ambassadors and God made his appeal to Keystone through them.
    This becomes a far greater slice of infinty, than the period of my own birth to death.
    Indeed, the entire 2,000 years since Christ does not begin to count as a grain of sand of time, should you add up all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the globe as centuries of time for each grain. That would not even add up to a “beginning” of eternity.

    Thus, a slice of infinty is always less than an MRI scan slice, and about as revealing as finishing well.

    In reality, God’s appeal began in the Garden.
    The Cross was required to seal the deal, for no person could untie the knots we had gotten ourselves into.

    At the lovefest known as Woodstock, Joni Mitchell penned and sang a refrain to that title song:

    “We are stardust, we are golden,
    We are billion year old carbon,
    And we got to get ourselves back to the garden. ”
    — Joni Mitchell , “Woodstock”

    Much was a protest to the Vietnam war, but the refrain rang true to finishing well. That chorus was repeated over and over, intermingled with the story of Woodstock. But the final chorus was changed.

    “We are stardust, we are golden,
    We are caught in the devils bargain,
    And we got to get ourselves back to the garden. ”
    — Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”

    Even here, Joni had a clue to ambassadorship and message of getting back to the garden. But she failed to recognise we are treasures in clay jars. It is NOT the carbon that matters; it is the treasure within the carbon.

    To “finish well, we must accept all the ambassadors who preceded us from when the hand of of God crafted Adam, and see our part in the period from then, until the 2nd Coming.

    And, in the final analysis, that entire time period is ….. a slice of infinity still.
    Oh how little we are!
    But as a chain is as strong as its weakest link, the remnant woven by God as he makes his appeal through us as ambassadors, will link together all of those who spend infinity in heaven; while another remnant ribbon will thread generation after generation of souls….linked together in hell.

    Finishing well is nothing more than moving the thread of others closer to heaven, rather than to hell. It is so small an increment, it is not even noticed.
    Quick! Name anyone off the top of your head who died in 1010!
    NONE are recalled by any of us, and that is but a thousand years ago; referred in the Bible as a “Day” for God.

    Look at babies as often as you can.
    They are closer to the garden than you are, after all the years of running, and a reminder that ambassadors ALWAYS return to the King from which they were sent out. (unless corrupted to be a double agent and work for the opposing side ever so slyly).

    For some, the King is the Trinty all.
    For some, the king is lucifer/turned satan.

    Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to run, is tempered by Saul at the stoning of Stephen. When we look at a baby, we can see the beginning and end, as joy.
    But it is difficult to see the middle, and whch king will be served by free will of that baby.

    “We are stardust, we are golden,
    We are caught in the devils bargain,
    And we got to get ourselves back to the garden. “

    1. Hey Keystone – I think, in part, where my argument is coming from is being frustrated that people–especially Christians–fail to see that their “legacy” isn’t about whatever they’re doing here and now (the “too thin a slice of infinity” as you so aptly put it). That it’s about Jesus. His Kingdom, His glory and not our own. But we keep trying to build our own little kingdoms here on earth that are only going to crumble into dust, instead of being faithful to our King who has sent us.

  3. I wish more pastors understood your statement, “He understood that a legacy isn’t about our accomplishments; it’s about preparing the next generation.” Jesus did that, too. After His baptism, the first thing He did was begin to train His replacements. As a new pastor of a long established church, I’m trying to do the same thing, but it is difficult to get the current congregation to make the cultural change in the nature and mission of the Church. However, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I’m confident that we can make a difference not only in our community, but in preparing the next generation to be ready to carry out the commission of Christ.



    1. Thanks for your encouraging comment, Jim. God bless you in your faithful pursuit.

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