I want to finish the Christian life well. To continue to press in to God, listen to Him, and influence others to do the same. But what if don’t? What if I fizzle out, forsake my First Love, fail to follow Him to my dying breath? I’m not talking about losing my salvation; I know my salvation is secure. What I am talking about is slacking in my obedience, and not consistently seeking Him till the end of my days. (I know I’m not very old, but I still think about these things.)
This dread of mine is echoed in the songs of old. I hear it in James Waddel Alexander’s O Sacred Head: “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
I sense it in Robert Robinson’s Come Thou Fount: “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” If you know this song, you know the first verse soars with a longing and love for God, but the fear of our own depravity overtakes this later verse.
So among the great hymn writers at least, the fear of not ending well is in good company. If I want more proof that this fear is indeed valid, I need look no further than the Old Testament Kings, who tended to start well and then finish poorly.
A classic example of this is Solomon, whose early wisdom led him to ask God not for riches, but for more wisdom. God granted his request for “an understanding heart to govern God’s people well and to know the difference between right and wrong.” Even so, in his later years his heart was led astray, and he embraced the idol worship of his thousand wives and concubines (I Kings 3, 4, 11).
Likewise, Uzziah initially did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, and he depended upon God for his military success. But when he became powerful, pride overtook him. His pride led him to dishonor God by entering the Temple and burning incense on the incense altar. Only the priests were allowed to do that, so as punishment, God struck Uzziah with leprosy. He then lived in isolation until his death (II Chronicles 26).
Other kings were the same. Asa banished temple prostitution and demolished idols in Judah. It is even said his heart remained completely faithful to the Lord throughout his life (I Kings 15). His full trust in God’s power, however, wavered in his final years as king. He no longer trusted the Lord to save him from the king of Israel, and he looked to the king of Aram for protection instead. Later when he developed a serious foot disease, he did not look to the Lord for help at all, but only to doctors (II Chronicles 16).
These stories haunt me. I do not want to relive these men’s lives. I do not want to have it said of me that in the beginning chapters of my life, I “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight,” only to falter in my later years. To stop trusting in the One True God, and to neglect my worship of Him.
How can I end well?
Perhaps clues to this mysterious question are found in the stories themselves. At an organizational meeting I attended last year, one of the breakout sessions took us to the story of King Joash. Joash is recorded as having done “what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoidah the priest.”
As long as Joash’s godly influencer was alive, Joash listened to him and managed to obey God. This is good news — sort of. Because after Jehoidah’s death, the other leaders of Judah persuaded Joash to abandon worship at the Temple, and to worship idols instead. This is really bad news. And when Joash was confronted by Jehoidah’s son for his idolatry, Joash had him stoned to death rather than repent (II Chronicles 24).
When Jehoidah died, Joash’s obedience died with him. Joash could be influenced for good or evil, depending on who was speaking into his life. The story of King Uzziah also gives this telltale warning. Scripture says he “sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God.” Again, as long as Uzziah listened to a godly man, he followed God. But when Zechariah was no longer available to influence him, Uzziah drifted from faithfulness.
So what does it take to end well? Well, if these stories are any indication, ending well means surrounding myself with faithful Christians and allowing them to speak Truth into my life. Ending well means I’m not done listening to other believers and submitting myself to their collective wisdom, until I die. I must never stop inviting wise counsel or stop listening to godly leaders. And I must choose my influencers carefully.
Proverbs 13:20 tells us to walk with the wise and become wise. When Joash and Uzziah walked with the wise, they made wise decisions. They obeyed God more closely. I want to walk with the wise. I want to stay faithful. I want to make God-honoring decisions all the way to the end. And I don’t want to leave a trail of brokenness in my wake. So I must stay in touch with God every day, keeping in step with the Spirit, even into my 80’s and 90’s. I must listen to the wisdom of believers I trust, and I must never presume I can walk this path alone.
God, help me walk with the wise, and become wise.