Finishing Well

Written by Alan Pilbeam

Soon after reaching the ‘oldest-old’ stage of life, Jim Packer wrote a small book to encourage others who are passing the 85 year mark. It was called ‘Finishing Our Course with Joy’ and was published in large print to make reading easier for those of us like those in Eccl 12:5 – whose hair grows white like almond blossom and who drag themselves along like grasshoppers! He makes three helpful suggestions – live each day as if it was our last; avoid nostalgia and live in the present; be ready for the Lord when he calls. We’ll look briefly at each.

1. Live this day as if it is the last

‘Live this day as if thy last’ is how Thomas Ken puts it in his hymn ‘Awake my soul’. A knowledge of God’s will and the wisdom to see where my daily work fits in to it are both required if I am to please Him in every way, Col 1:10. And William Tyndale thought ‘as touching to please God there is no difference between washing dishes and preaching the word of God’. Both can be done for His glory. So to preview each day with this in mind and to review it at the end of the day are important practices and the more so as we are increasingly aware of our final accountability, 2 Cor 5:10.

2. Avoid nostalgia and live in the present

Consciously living in the presence of God was the aim of Brother Lawrence, working in the monastery kitchens in 1666, the same year my school was founded! He said he was “happy to pick up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him alone, purely, and nothing else, not even His gifts’. So to cultivate the awareness of the presence of Jesus, as He promised in Matt 28:20, is another essential for finishing well. Jim Packer was well aware that looking back to the ‘good old days’ was unhelpful, but certainly recognised that the insights of Christian writers of the C16th and C17th can illuminate the present for us!

3. Be ready for the Lord when he calls

Another promise of Jesus is that He will come and receive us into His presence, John 14:3. Apart from the basics of will making and planning, as far as possible, the disposal of our possessions, we will also prepare for this, as for the last lap of a long distance race, by concentrating on the finishing line and making the greatest effort. Retirement is not a biblical word and as Packer says ‘ministry skills to not wither with age, they atrophy with disuse’. And a key to this is Christian hope. Hope is the spring for faith and love, Col 1:5, so we focus on this in our latter years. Another C17th writer, Richard Baxter, set aside the time each day between sunset and lighting the lamps to meditate on heaven. This transformed his ministry, and his book ‘The Saints’ Everlasting Rest’ remains a classic today. This rest was not dozing off in an arm chair, but active life in a resurrection body in the renewed heaven and earth, using all our senses and enjoying to the full God’s amazing grace.

I trust these thoughts from God’s word will cheer us on!