Begin with the end

I am not a very fast reader, in fact if the story of the tortoise and the hare were about a reading race, the tortoise would be the hare and I would be the tortoise.  In fact my wife can read five books in the time it takes me to read one, and that maybe a generous ratio.  Because I know it is going to take me a while to read a book, I generally go to the back and read the summation of the book or possibly the last 10 pages to see if the book is going to get my attention.  The other way I decide whether I want to read a book or not is by reading the first 50 pages.  If it hasn’t captured my attention in 50 pages it is hopeless and so I put the book down and many times never pick it up again.  I can hear my English teachers moaning now, because unfortunately this is nothing new for me.  However, if it is a book I like I generally finish it within a week’s time (again I’m a really slow reader).  In my defense, most of the books that I read I am reading for learning to help me in my God-given call as a pastor.  And so they are a little more laborious than say the Calvin and Hobbs, which I would read quickly and repeatedly.  I choose my reading material very carefully.  If I am looking at our church’s discipleship strategy or wanting to develop another strategy for the church, I will read books specific to those areas.  In other words, I begin with the end in mind.  The question that goes through my mind is, what do I want to learn or apply when I am done with this book.  And so as I read through the book, I am looking for only those things which answer that question.  Which gets me to thinking, what if we as Christians and we as churches approached discipleship this way?

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  Do you see Paul talking about beginning with the end in mind in these verses?  What is it that at the end of his life he wanted to accomplish?  He wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t be disqualified.  One side note, this is not talking about the loss of salvation, he is referencing that he wants to make sure that he practices what he preaches.  So if Paul didn’t want to be disqualified at the end of life, how was he going to make sure he wasn’t?  First, he decided to get into the race.  Then he spent his life training in such a way that would guarantee him not to be disqualified.  Paul had an objective, and then he worked backwards from the end of life to the beginning of his Christian life (getting in the race).  This provided him with a clear path that was focused, simple, and concise on how to live the life that would accomplish his objective.  I think too many pastors (myself included) preach and teach about discipleship, but we never show our people what it means to be a disciple.  This leads to frustration and confusion.  Pastor, it’s not that your people don’t want to live out a life of faith, it is because we are not giving them a simple, focused path on which to do it.

My advice for pastors, churches, and individual Christians is to sit down and ask yourself, what is my goal or my objective that I want to obtain by the end of my life?  What does a disciple of _________ (insert your church name) look like?  Then work your way back to where you are now.  Not only will this give you a path to follow, but it will also give you a mold or a form to measure and judge things with.  What I mean is if you have something come up in life and you are not sure if you should do it, you can ask yourself, how will this help me accomplish my stated goal or objective?  If it does, then follow through with it.  If it doesn’t, then it is not for you.  This can help you people pleasers and those who struggle with saying “no” to be able to say “no.”  Now hear this, it is very easy to write this down, it is entirely different actually doing it.  This is where prayer, Bible study, and utter dependence on God has to take over.  I truly believe if we would do this, our lives would be a little less stressful, we would gain a sense of accomplishment, and most of all we would grow in our faith.  I shared this quote Sunday and I want to share it again.  James Merritt said, “spiritual success is setting the right goal and building your life around reaching that goal.”  What is God’s goal for your life, your ministry, your church?  Once the God-given goal has been identified, spend the rest of your life pursuing the fulfillment of that goal.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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