Begin With the End in Mind

Without proper motivation, it is hard to go on.  If  we ask ourselves why we are doing something and we don’t have an answer, it is hard to keep giving our best efforts to the task at hand.

Unfortunately, when many churches are asked why they bother to do what they do, they often do not have an answer.  Likewise, when many believers are asked what difference their faith makes in a practical sense, they, too, are at a loss for words.

Before the church can answer these questions of “why,” individual believers must first come up with an answer as to what difference it makes to be a Christian and specifically, a grace believer.

At times, we can become like David, vexed and frustrated at the pride and wealth of the wicked:

“For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.  They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.  Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment.  Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish.  They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily.  They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth.  Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.  And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?  Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.  Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.  For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.  If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children.  When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (Psa. 73:3-17).

Notice how David was able to cope with these thoughts.  As long as he considered the “present tense” of things, he could easily be discouraged.  The same is true of us today.  At the present time, the world system does seem to be winning.  But like David, our answer lies in considering not the “now,” but the end.  Notice verse 17, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.”

Understanding the end is essential in maintaining a proper perspective—both of the wicked and of ourselves.  Without understanding our end (and theirs), it is all too easy to become discouraged and distracted.  Perhaps this is why Paul writes in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  We faint or become weary and quit when we lose sight of our goal.

When we forget what it’s all about, it is easy to get caught up in the world’s definition of success.  Soon we start thinking that success is measured by material things, by power, or by fame.  Then, as we start to measure ourselves by these things, we begin to compare our measure of things, power, or fame with that of the world, and most believers will always come up short—especially those involved in ministry.  But when we “begin with the end in mind” (to borrow the words of Steven Covey) we can make proper decisions in the meantime.

Today most people seem obsessed with the idea of preparing for retirement.  They fret, worry, plan, and save for their “golden years.”  They understand that they only have a limited window of opportunity to maximize their investments for retirement.  They realize that retirement age will be upon them before they know it; but unfortunately, they fail to give much thought to what comes after retirement.

Actually, we have quite a long time to prepare for retirement.  On average, we probably will have twice as long to prepare for retirement than we do for retirement itself.  Unfortunately, many people do not start to think about retirement until they are in their 30’s or 40’s.  The longer they wait to prepare, the greater their sense of urgency.

With the recognition of the need to prepare for a relatively short earthly retirement, it is sad that we do not recognize the need to prepare and invest for spiritual things.  For this earthly retirement, we have about 40 years to prepare for 20.  But for our heavenly retirement, what is 85 years compared to eternity?  What about the person saved later in life?  The Apostle Paul was just such a person.  He had invested the first third or half of his life in the wrong things.  He looks back and realizes that all of his life before Christ was nothing more than spiritual “junk bonds”—worthless (Phil. 3:7-8).

But after his conversion, the Apostle Paul maintained a sharply focused life (Phil. 3:10; Acts 20:24).  In his epistles he urges us to have the same focus and dedication in pursuing our spiritual aims (I Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 3:13-14).  He says that we shall reap IF we faint not (Gal. 6:9).

Like physical investments, our spiritual investments must be made for the long haul.  Longfellow is quoted as saying, “Many men do not allow their principles to take root, but pull them up every now and then, as children do flowers they have planted, to see if they are growing.”  Some folks approach their spiritual investments the same way.  Rather than allowing their spiritual fruit to abound to their account (Phil. 4:17), they make withdrawals and wander from the path of wise spiritual investments.

Investing for retirement requires sacrifice.  We have to understand the principle of delayed gratification.  At times, this sacrifice will seem especially burdensome.  If we forget why we are doing what we are doing during such times, we will be tempted to abandon our plan.  The same is true spiritually.  If we ever forget the true end of all things we will be tempted to start living for the “now.”

Many people suddenly find themselves at retirement age and are filled with regret and remorse because they did not make preparation for this final chapter of their life.  If failing to prepare for this creates regret, imagine how the person feels who finds himself in eternity—saved, but spiritually bankrupt because he just never got around to making those spiritual investments.  Like the person who didn’t plan for retirement, he had good intentions—he always intended to get ready, he always planned to do something, but time kept marching on and before he knew it, it was too late.

Notice what Paul says in I Timothy 6:17-19, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”  Notice his words—“laying up in store”—this speaks of spiritual investments.

Distractions are a constant source of temptation to any investor.  In this life, there is always that new car, a bigger house, or an extended vacation to tempt the investor to divert his retirement funds.  Would he enjoy these things?  Most probably, he would.  But he would pay the price later on.  Likewise, the world constantly tempts us to divert from our spiritual investments.  Satan is always sending us spiritual junk mail and ringing our telephone with his latest offer of temporal pleasure.  If we do not remain focused on our goal, if we do not remember the end of all things, we can easily give in to Satan’s schemes.

What can we do to remain focused and on track spiritually?  Well, one key is to understand—really understand, the relevance of the mystery to God’s plan for today.  We read in Ephesians 1:3 that we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.  Notice where the sphere of our blessings is found—in the heavenlies.  Nowhere in Paul’s epistles are we said to be blessed with all blessings in the here and now.  We understand that, as the old song goes, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.  My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.”  If we fail to understand that we have a heavenly hope, not an earthly hope, we will more easily be sucked into the whirlpool of this world system.  There we will find ourselves trying to measure spiritual things with a materialistic yardstick—and that just doesn’t work!

In this era of economic prosperity, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing our material and economic standing with others.  And human nature being what it is, we usually compare ourselves to those who are much better off, than we do to those who are not so blessed.

However, by understanding the dispensation of the grace of God, that message given to Paul and passed on to us, we can begin to learn how to have spiritual discernment.  We can learn how to “redeem the time”—to make the most of our opportunities today in making our spiritual investments for tomorrow (Eph. 5:16).  We understand that we are not to expect material blessing during this present age—at least not as a result or indicator of true spirituality.

We understand that the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  As Paul said in II Corinthians 4:17-18, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

An “eternal weight of glory!”  This is the end that we should have in mind!

Are You Running to Win?

“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (I Cor. 9:25).

Paul’s epistles have much to say about the competitive sports of his day. He uses the gymnasium and stadium, the races, the boxing and wrestling matches, to drive home vital spiritual lessons.

As he witnessed the intense enthusiasm of the masses and the grim determination of the contestants in the Greek games, he was gripped with the challenge to believers to put as much into the issues of life and death as these put into their games.

How rigidly the contestants, then as now, controlled and denied themselves! How tirelessly they trained themselves!

“Now they do it,” says the apostle, “to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible one.”

In this pleasure-loving, self-indulgent age, believers are prone to forget that the Christian life is a race and that the divine Judge is watching their performance. He observes those who are running with all that is in them—and He likewise observes those who have so indulged themselves in the things of this world that they can hardly run at all.

Realize it or not, the race will soon—perhaps very soon—be over and the prizes awarded. Let each of us, therefore, ask himself: How will I fare then? Am I heeding the exhortation: “So run that ye may obtain,” or do I scarcely care whether or not I receive the approval of the One who gave His all—Himself—to save me from a just and certain doom and to bless me with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies?

May God convict us, beloved, and help us to arise to meet the challenge that faces us every day while the millions of the lost about us continue their course to Christless graves, and a confused and divided Church points them in a dozen different directions.

May He give us a burden for the lost—and the saved. May He convict us of our responsibility for their condition. May He help us to live lives of true, practical devotion to Christ, rather than mere sentimental devotion; to practice self-control and self-denial, to put our all into the race, so that when we stand before Him He may confer upon us a garland of victory that will never fade away, and with it everlasting joy that we have brought honor, rather than reproach, to His worthy name.

Berean Searchlight – September 2000

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