As I sat down at the computer to write what was on my heart, the phone rang. On the line was a district superintendent who told me the sad news that one of his pastors had just surrendered their credential. "Conduct unbecoming a minister" was the reason given. The superintendent told me of the heart anguish within the pastor, the spouse and family, and throughout the entire congregation. This pastor's life journey was not going well.
I had already planned to title this article with a phrase from William Culbertson's public prayers. The president of Moody Bible Institute from 1948 to 1971, he reportedly closed his prayers with the plea, "And, Lord, help us to end well!"
Since I will retire from the general superintendency at the general assembly in June, this phrase has been on my mind: "Lord, help me to end well!" By reading the Scriptures, and by living life, I have learned that a good beginning does not guarantee a good ending. Consider King Saul, Samson, Lot's wife, Demas, and most famous of all, Judas.
I don't want to live like that. I don't want to finish my "one walk across the stage of life" with the last scene being one of disgrace. Please, Lord, help me to end well!
Author Warren Wiersbe writes about popular British preacher F. B. Meyer, who said to his friend F. A. Robinson: "I do hope my Father will let the river of my life go flowing fully to the finish. I don't want it to end in a swamp."
These words have also rung in my ears since I read them a few months ago. I don't want my life to end in a swamp. The good news is that we do not have to end that way. We don't have to run out of fuel. We do not have to finish as a disgrace to the entire family.
God's powerful grace can enable us to end well.
To finish our lives or ministries with sweet victory within means we must "sharpen the blade" often. In fact, one of the men with Elisha who was cutting trees to help build a new dwelling lost the entire ax head in the river. He didn't have an ax head to sharpen--he had no ax head whatsoever.
Fortunately, as the Scriptures tell us in 2 Kings 6:1-7, he didn't keep beating the trees with his wooden ax handle. How futile that would have been. He stopped to cry out for help, and God miraculously brought the ax head to the surface of the water. With the ax head reaffixed to the handle, he resumed his work.
How many of us in ministry, whether we are clergy or laity, have either lost the ax head or let it become so dull that it is totally ineffective? It is time to stop beating the trees with a dull ax handle. We must confess our need to the Lord, seek a new and fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit, and have our spiritual ax head replaced or resharpened.
If we ask, the Holy Spirit will come and sharpen our spirits. If we don't sharpen the ax head often, little things neglected will become big things. Little negative attitudes will become bitterness, little cynical statements will become blatant skepticism, and little private sins will cause us to end in a swamp.
I have learned that if I do not want to end in a swamp, I dare not hang around a swamp. If I want to end with a sweet spirit within, I cannot nurture a critical spirit throughout the journey. If I want to close my life with great victory, I cannot be known as a person who murmurs.
Ending well does not start at the end. It starts at the beginning and is cultivated every day we live.
Again, the scripture is so true which states, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6:7-8, NKJV). We will reap what we sow, even in our attitudes!
Don't misunderstand me--I don't plan on dying at the coming general assembly--I'm just retiring. My ministry, I trust, will continue to go forward. I sense that I still have a lot of life to live and many sermons to preach. But the desire remains, "I don't want to end in a swamp!" And I don't want you to end in a swamp either!
If the pastor who surrendered their credential because of conduct unbecoming a minister will repent, forsake sin, submit to an accountability group, and walk the road of restoration, that individual can end well, too. God's grace is powerful enough to forgive, revive, and restore. My prayer for the pastor, for you, and for me is Culbertson's prayer, "And Lord, help us to end well!"
James H. Diehl is a general superintendent emeritus in the Church of the Nazarene.