|In a NASCAR race, there are starts and stops, and cars take turns|
being in the lead. But at the end, only one finishes in front to win.
Ready or not, NASCAR’s 2014 season gets underway with preliminary events this weekend and the Daytona 500 Feb. 23. If you’re not a NASCAR fan, fear not. My goal isn’t to discuss “stock car auto racing.” (Doesn’t that sound redundant?) I want to comment on a fundamental principle that guides the sport – and most other sports: It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Before every race, drivers boast about what great cars they have. “We’ve really got sump’n for ‘em today,” they promise faithful fans. But by race’s end, only one team gets to celebrate, having proved they really did have “sump’n.”
During the race different cars take the lead. But then they crash, have miscues in the pits, experience mechanical failure, or fall behind faster cars. They looked good midway through the race, but only one car reaches the finish line first. What’s true for NASCAR is also true for life: It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Recently I received a card and photo from a long-time friend, Bob. He just turned 94, and is doing something not many nonagenarians do – taking a mission trip to China. At age 94! He committed his life to Jesus Christ as a young man, and for more than seven decades his passion has been singular: To tell others about the Jesus who radically transformed his life, and lives of countless other people he’s known throughout his lifetime.
You might disagree, but in my view, that’s what finishing well looks like. Rather than devoting his hours to a favorite rocking chair, Bob’s still finding ways to talk to people about Christ. No matter where they are.
Finishing well, however, isn’t confined to ending your time on earth without making a fool of yourself. Finishing well is equally important in your teens, 20’s or even middle years. For instance, many people begin college and start well, but lose interest, decide goofing off is more fun than studying, or get caught up in destructive pursuits. Promising lives derailed into disappointment. High school’s “most likely to succeed” becoming failures.
Couples exchange wedding vows with bright smiles and high expectations. But they discover the challenge of “two becoming one” is harder than they thought, or think the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, or decide their spouse isn’t as much fun as he or she used to be. So they divorce, another marriage piled on the social scrap heap, often with children suffering collateral damage.
Sales executives start strong, ticketed for corporate stardom. But for one reason or another, their determination, energy, drive and enthusiasm fade and eventually they’re just hanging on.
Years ago I was changing jobs. My boss, not pleased I was leaving, changed the employment terms for my final weeks before I moved to my new position. I wasn’t happy with the changes and was tempted to stop working on the projects I hadn’t completed. “If he doesn’t appreciate me,” I thought, “I’ll show him.”
Coincidentally, I’d started working on an article about NASCAR titled, “It’s Not How You Start, But How You Finish.” Driving to a spiritual retreat, I grumbled and complained to God. “It’s not fair,” I thought, knowing He was listening. After a few moments, I heard a still, small voice in my mind. God, apparently tired of my muttering, asked, “What’s the name of that NASCAR article you’ve been writing?” Oh, right.
Humbled, I doused my anger, decided to forget “my rights,” and resolved to conclude my employment by finishing what I had started as well as I could. And I never regretted it for a moment. If I’d failed to fulfill my obligations with my former employer, I might still regret it today.
The apostle Paul knew nothing about NASCAR, unless the C stood for “Chariots” in those days. But he knew about finishing well. Encouraging believers in the city of Philippi, Paul wrote, “Not that I have obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
And in his final letter to Timothy, a young man he’d mentored for years, Paul stated, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:6-7).
In reality, the apostle’s start hadn’t been good. He’d zealously persecuted the same people – followers of Christ – that one day he would become. But his poor beginning was more than overcome by his unwavering faith and determination to finish well.