This week I sat down with a young man who will be graduating from college later this year. As one would hope, he is full of anticipation about the future and a career in commercial real estate. My own energy began to build as he eagerly hung on every word I was sharing (please excuse my excitement . . . it’s not often that I get that response). One thing I told him as we were sorting out options for getting started in this industry was to begin with the end in mind. That business leadership axiom is usually an encouragement to set clear goals. However, I explained to my young friend that what he should determine, now, is what type of person he wants to be when he reaches my age.
Many people embark on new beginnings every new year: that first entry in a new journal or calendar infuses one with energy and hope. That first workout, when health clubs are filled with people full of great intentions to gain better health. (I hear those percentages aren’t so high by June). If we want to start well, we should begin by setting our sights on finishing well.
Judah’s King Asa is a good example of someone who started well. In the early years there was peace in the land, and he excelled in the eyes of his subjects; but more importantly, “Asa did what was pleasing and good in the sight of the Lord his God” (read 2 Chronicles 14:1-7). Later when Judah was attacked, Asa led his army–even when outnumbered three to one—with great dependence on God and won a great victory. Over the years, his outstanding leadership resulted in renewed faithfulness and national reforms. For thirty-five years Asa ruled Judah with confidence and dependence upon God . . . then something changed.
In year thirty-six a crisis arose that exposed how much Asa’s heart had drifted and his trust had shifted (Read 2 Chronicles 16:1-10). Somewhere along the line, he began relying on his own resourcefulness rather than God’s. For example, when Israel’s King Baasha threatened Judah, rather than calling out to God, Asa bought off the assistance of an enemy. When Hanani the prophet confronted Asa about his unwillingness to turn to God, rather than listening as he had in the past, Asa threw him in prison. The rest of the story is a heart-breaking tale: “[Three years later] Asa developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the Lord’s help but turned only to his physicians.” Apparently, he never turned back to God and within two years he was dead (2 Chronicles 16:11-14).
Sadly, Asa’s story is not unique. It reflects how many men and women of faith begin well but finish badly. Most of us have witnessed this tragedy . . . and each of us is capable of drifting away from a singular path. Where did Asa go wrong after thirty-five years of faithfulness? How can we avoid the foolish pride that led to his demise? From year to year, people judge the excellence of our work by achievements like reaching professional milestones or accumulating material wealth or how many people work for us. I readily acknowledge God’s faithfulness to me in very tangible ways over four decades in business and ministry. The future seems bright to me, even after 2020. By God’s grace, if good health allows, I might live another twenty-five years. But when I recall Asa’s baffling ending, I return to the advice I gave the young man: begin with the end in mind.
After all that Asa accomplished and accumulated over a lifetime, he made the fatal mistake of making too much of those things and too little of the One who had directed him, provided for him and protected him. It really doesn’t matter if it’s February or September, whether you are 35 or 75. Let us all determine to carefully guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and fix our eyes on God, who will accompany us all the way to the finish line.
Serving Him with you in the marketplace,
Lord, I am thankful for all the ways You have demonstrated Your faithfulness in my life. I have every reason to bank my future on You. I have every reason to count on You to meet all my needs and desires. If I attempted to add up the number of times you have protected, provided, guided and blessed me I would run out of time. However, I have seen enough of life to remain sober, fully aware that I am capable of drifting away from You just as Asa did, so help me God to keep trusting only You and to finish well. Amen.
“God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.” [paraphrase of 2 Chronicles 16:9] Eugene Peterson