Day 144

How to Finish Well

Wisdom Proverbs 12:28-13:9
New Testament John 14:1-31
Old Testament 1 Samuel 14:24-15:35

Introduction

You can finish well. You may have had a bad start in life. You may have messed up along the way. You may have made mistakes. You may have regrets. But you can finish well and that is what matters most.

Some start well but fall. In the recession, many of the companies, that business consultant Jim Collins had profiled in his international bestseller Good to Great, fell. Even the ‘mightiest’ of companies can fall.

In his most recent book, How the Mighty Fall, he examines the path towards doom. The first stage of the process begins with ‘hubris born of success’. As with Saul in the Old Testament passage for today, it is pride and arrogance (1 Samuel 15:23) that begins the process by which the mighty fall. Saul started well but did not finish well.

It is more important to finish well than to start well. In the New Testament, Saul (of Tarsus) started off very badly (as a persecutor of Jesus) but he finished well (as the great apostle, Paul).

Jesus, as always, shows us the way. His life was relatively short. He died in his early thirties, yet he finished well. He completed the work the Father gave him to do (John 17:4). This is my ambition in life. I want to complete the work God has given me to do.

How can you make sure you finish well?

Wisdom

Proverbs 12:28-13:9

28 In the way of righteousness there is life;
  along that path is immortality.

13 A wise son heeds his father’s instruction,
  but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.

2 From the fruit of their lips people enjoy good things,
  but the unfaithful have an appetite for violence.

3 Those who guard their lips preserve their lives,
  but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.

4 A sluggard’s appetite is never filled,
  but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

5 The righteous hate what is false,
  but the wicked make themselves a stench
  and bring shame on themselves.

6 Righteousness guards the person of integrity,
  but wickedness overthrows the sinner.

7 One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
  another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.

8 A person’s riches may ransom their life,
  but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes.

9 The light of the righteous shines brightly,
  but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.

Commentary

Take the long view

The writer of Proverbs encourages us to take the long view and stay in the way of ‘righteousness’ where ‘there is life; along that path is immortality’ (12:28). Avoid the temptation to focus just on the here and now. Act in the light of eternity.

What does a righteous life look like?

1. Listen to parental advice

‘A wise child heeds a parent’s instruction’ (13:1). Honouring parents is high on the list of God’s priorities. Family life and good parenting are so important. I recommend The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee.

2. Guard your lips

‘Those who guard their lips guard their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin’ (v.3). It is impossible to overestimate the importance of your words and of controlling the tongue.

3. Work hard

‘The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied’ (v.4). Work is a blessing. Success can be hard work. It requires diligent perseverance. Winston Churchill said, ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’

4. Love the truth

‘The righteous hate what is false’ (v.5). We are to hate dishonesty and love the truth. Mark Twain once said, ‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.’

5. Be a person of integrity

‘Righteousness guards the person of integrity’ (v.6). Integrity does not mean being perfect. It means being honest, real and authentic (it is the opposite of hypocrisy). In his book, Integrity, the clinical psychologist Dr Henry Cloud writes that integrity ‘is the key to success. A person with integrity has the – often rare – ability to pull everything together, to make it all happen no matter how challenging the circumstances.’

Prayer

Lord, help me to be wise, to honour parents, to guard my lips, to work hard, to speak the truth and to live a life of integrity.

New Testament

John 14:1-31

Jesus Comforts His Disciples

14“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, 31 but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.

“Come now; let us leave.

Commentary

Trust in the legacy of Jesus

Are you troubled, distressed, agitated or afraid? Jesus does not want you to be troubled, but to have peace in your heart (vv.1,27).

Jesus knew that his life on this earth was about to finish. He was about to leave his disciples (v.27); he was going back to the Father (v.3). Yet he said to them, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, distressed, agitated’ (v.1, AMP). ‘Peace I leave with you’ (v.27). Jesus does not leave you alone but passes on to you an amazing legacy.

  • Jesus has good plans for your future
    Jesus says, ‘There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home... I’m on my way to get your room ready’ (v.2, MSG). In Christ, your long-term future is totally secure.
  • Jesus is coming back for you
    The end of earthly life is not the end. Jesus told his followers, ‘I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am’ (v.3). You will be with Jesus forever.
  • Jesus has opened the way for you to know God
    Thomas asks, ‘How can we know the way?’ Jesus replies, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (vv.5–6).
  • Jesus reveals God for you
    Philip says, ‘Lord, show us the Father’ (v.8). Jesus replies, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (v.9). If you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus.
  • Jesus will do even greater things through you
    Jesus will do even greater miracles through his disciples than he did while he was on earth (v.12).
  • Jesus will continue to answer your prayers
    ‘From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do’ (vv.13–14, MSG).
  • Jesus will never leave you alone
    Jesus says, ‘I will not leave you as orphans’ (v.18). He says that he’ll ‘provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth... he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!’ (vv.16–17, MSG).
  • Jesus will continue to love you
    ‘Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them’ (v.21b).
  • Jesus and the Father will make their home with you
    Jesus said, ‘Those who love me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (v.23).
  • Jesus leaves you with peace
    ‘Peace I leave with you… Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (v.27). Peace comes from trusting that Jesus is there with us and in us. Jesus is our peace.

How is all this possible? The way in which Jesus passes on his legacy to you is through the Holy Spirit. He has sent the Holy Spirit (the paraclete) to live in your heart: ‘The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you’ (v.26, MSG).

The Greek word for the Holy Spirit, parakletos, literally means ‘one called alongside’. It has a multifaceted meaning – counsellor, advocate, comforter, encourager, helper, someone to stand by you, he who is to befriend you. For example, a mother is a paraclete for her child. She takes away the anguish of loneliness. She brings presence, security, peace and communion.

The Holy Spirit now lives in us to give us new strength and new love – so that we, the church, can continue the mission of Jesus to the world.

Jesus had thought it through very carefully and had made a great succession plan!

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you give me the Holy Spirit to live in me and to be with me forever. Thank you that you give me your peace and you promise to answer my prayers.

Old Testament

1 Samuel 14:24-15:35

Jonathan Eats Honey

24 Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food.

25 The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out; yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”

29 Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”

31 That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Mikmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. 32 They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. 33 Then someone said to Saul, “Look, the men are sinning against the Lord by eating meat that has blood in it.”

“You have broken faith,” he said. “Roll a large stone over here at once.” 34 Then he said, “Go out among the men and tell them, ‘Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with blood still in it.’”

So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first time he had done this.

36 Saul said, “Let us go down and pursue the Philistines by night and plunder them till dawn, and let us not leave one of them alive.”

“Do whatever seems best to you,” they replied.

But the priest said, “Let us inquire of God here.”

37 So Saul asked God, “Shall I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?” But God did not answer him that day.

38 Saul therefore said, “Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. 39 As surely as the Lord who rescues Israel lives, even if the guilt lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.” But not one of them said a word.

40 Saul then said to all the Israelites, “You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here.”

“Do what seems best to you,” they replied.

41 Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. 42 Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.

43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”

So Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die!”

44 Saul said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan. ”

45 But the men said to Saul, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

46 Then Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land.

47 After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. 48 He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.

Saul’s Family

49 Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. 50 His wife’s name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle. 51 Saul’s father Kish and Abner’s father Ner were sons of Abiel.

52 All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service.

The Lord Rejects Saul as King

15Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. 2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. 5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 6 Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.

7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

16 “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 But Samuel replied:

 “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
  as much as in obeying the Lord?
 To obey is better than sacrifice,
  and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
  and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
 Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
  he has rejected you as king.”

24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord.

32 Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.”

Agag came to him in chains. And he thought, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”

33 But Samuel said,

 “As your sword has made women childless,
  so will your mother be childless among women.”

And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal.

34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Commentary

Honour the Lord to the end

Saul started off very well. God had given him great success. In the passage for today, we can learn from Saul’s good example in the early days of his leadership. He headhunted good, ‘brave’ people (14:52) and mobilised them.

However, he did not finish well due to disobedience and arrogance. Partial obedience is still disobedience. Not only did he disobey God but he ‘set up a victory monument in his own honor’ (15:12, MSG). How different this is from Jesus who, as we see in today’s passage, had only one aim in life – to bring glory to his Father (John 14:13).

Samuel tells Saul, ‘When you started out in this, you were nothing – and you knew it. Then God put you at the head of Israel – made you king over Israel... why did you not obey God?... He wants you to listen to him! Plain listening is the thing, not staging a lavish religious production… Getting self-important around God is far worse than making deals with your dead ancestors. Because you said No to God’s command, he says No to your kingship’ (1 Samuel 15:17–23, MSG).

Power is so dangerous. It has a strong tendency to corrupt. Success can so easily lead to pride and arrogance. That in turn can lead to idolatry. Keep honouring the Lord.

Prayer

Lord, help me to follow the obedience and humility of Jesus. May the Spirit of truth lead and guide me and give me your peace.

Pippa adds

Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’ (John 14:1–3)

When I hear these words, which are often read at funerals, I can feel the power of them reaching into the depth of grief and bringing comfort and hope.

Verse of the Day

John 14:1

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me’.
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Henry Cloud, Integrity (HarperBusiness, 2009)

Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fall (Random House Business, 2009).

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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