In the United States people sometimes speak about “making it” in life. This can mean a person is getting by, they are earning just enough money to live on. However, if someone says that a person has “made it” in life that means something entirely different. It means more than just getting by, it means the person has risen to a place of wealth or power, or both. From outward appearances their life looks easy.
One of the unfortunate realities concerning wealth and power is that these are uncertain, a person can “make it”, that is, do well in one season of life and subsequently lose it in the next (see 1 Tim 6:17). Opportunities, wealth, or health can take a downward turn and negatively impact all that a person has worked to achieve. As Christians our primary desire should not be to secure wealth or power in this life. Rather, we should seek to live in such a way that near the end of our life we are able to look back and know that we have done our best for the Lord, that we have fulfilled the call He has given us. Obviously that it not just going to happen on its own. We need to apply ourselves to that end. So, what can we do in order to get to that place?
As Christians our primary desire should not be to secure wealth or power in this life. Rather, we should seek to live in such a way that near the end of our life we are able to look back and know that we have done our best for the Lord.
Some would say that we need to have a disciplined spiritual life. That is, we need to pray, read the Bible, and attend church regularly. Those things are definitely important and will do much to help us stay on the right track. But is that it, or is there more that we should do? I think, more is required. The spiritual disciplines mentioned above can in large measure be inward-focussed; we do them to benefit ourselves. In the remainder of this article I would like to focus on one important aspect of the life of the apostle Paul that can be helpful to us.
Paul is a good person for us to study. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7 NIV). That was his assessment of his life. Every true Christian should want to truthfully be able to say the same about him or herself at the end of their life. But how did Paul do it?
The great apostle practised the spiritual disciplines. We know he gave himself to prayer for he wrote on numerous occasions about praying (1 Cor 14:18; Eph 1:15–23; Phil 1:3–4; Col 1:3). We also know he was a man of the Scriptures. They were the subject of his preaching (Acts 13:16–41; 17:2–3) and it is clear from both Acts and his letters that he was familiar with the Old Testament (Rom 4:7–8; 9:15; 1 Cor 1:19; 2 Cor 6:2; Gal 4:27). He was also familiar with New Testament truths, the historical facts about Jesus as well as some of Jesus’ teachings (1 Cor 11:23–25). Church attendance was also important to him. He spent a year in the church in Antioch (Acts 11:26) and at a later time was in a worship service there when he and Barnabas were called to go out to preach the gospel (Acts 13:1–2). He spent considerable time in some of the churches he planted (Acts 18:11; 19:10). In addition, he planted other churches! All of these characteristics of Paul’s life are commendable, but I think there was something else he did that enabled him to make the statement he made in 2 Timothy 4:7.
Paul knew what he had been called to do, he had been “called to be an apostle” (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1 NIV) who was responsible to preach the gospel (Rom 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:11; Titus 1:3). In order to bring people out of darkness and into light (Acts 26:18) so they could enter the kingdom of God’s Son (Col 1:13) and receive forgiveness of sins (Col 1:14). This calling was something that occupied his mind, he repeatedly made references to it in his letters.
Perhaps, like Paul, we may need to write our calling down (multiple times), or we may need to find another way to help us remember it. Remembering it is one of the keys to fulfilling it.
In addition to the repeated mentions of his call to preach the gospel, Paul made a very powerful statement in Acts 20:24. In this verse he expressed his life’s goal. He said, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24 NIV). Some of his language in the text is similar to what he later wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7. If Paul had not had this focus in mind, he probably would not have been able to reach his life’s goal of fulfilling God’s call on his life. His words in Acts 20:24 show that this was something that occupied his mind. We need to be like Paul in this regard. The thought of being faithful to our calling needs to occupy our minds as well. I am not suggesting that we should be obsessive about this, but we should periodically ask ourselves if we are being faithful to our call.
Perhaps, like Paul, we may need to write our calling down (multiple times), or we may need to find another way to help us remember it. Remembering it is one of the keys to fulfilling it. The calling each one of us has received is important; it fulfills a need. In view of this we need to make every effort to ensure that we fulfill it. May the Lord grant each of us His grace so that we can say along with Paul “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”.