Because many of you have somehow forgotten to buy my books (shameless link), I continue to make my primary living by directing sporting events. I am the faceless guy (actually I have a face; it just isn't on camera) that selects the camera shots that you see during a televised game. For 28 years I have directed Texas Rangers baseball. And all of those seasons have taught me a valuable spiritual lesson from our national pastime: It is important to be a good closer.
In baseball parlance, the closer is the pitcher who comes into the game in the last inning to protect a lead and finish off the win. It all comes down to this guy. If he does well, the collective efforts of eight position players and the pitchers who preceded him on the mound that night will have a happy conclusion. If the closer fails, then all of that effort is wasted. There is nothing more demoralizing than playing a great game for eight innings and seeing it all blow up in the ninth. So what is the spiritual lesson learned from this?
Closing out well is critical as a follower of Christ. I am praying and seeking to be a good closer in my faith walk with Jesus. Sadly that is not a given. Many great men of the Bible did not finish well. They allowed the efforts of many around them to end in frustration and anguish because they did not close well. The honest portrayal of human success and failure is something I love about God's Word. It is one important aspect that makes the Bible unique and real. Scripture does not spin the failures of godly men and women. Would you write a book attempting to persuade others to adopt your beliefs and deliberately choose to offer detailed accounts of adherents who failed miserably? With all due respect to Bill O'Reilly, the Bible is the original "no spin zone." The successes and failures are equally displayed. Men with great stories still managed to not close well. Examples? How about the story of Saul? How sad to hear words like this at the end of your journey:
"'How foolish!' Samuel exclaimed. 'You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord's command'" (1 Samuel 13:13-14, NLT).
Imagine when the prophet came to Eli and proclaimed this dire message. What a kick in the spiritual gut this must have been:
"Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me" (1 Samuel 2:30, NLT).
I would be willing to wager (note to Spiritual Hall Monitors---a figure of speech---no actual wagering occurred) that Saul and Eli were planning on closing well. They had moments of great leadership and fellowship with God. But they couldn't close. You know that Saul's story ended in madness. The results for Levi's sons were horrific. His family needed a man who could start well, stay strong, and close it out with integrity and faith.
I want to finish strong. I want to close this journey with an effort that honors the One who was willing to finish for me. Paul understood athletics. Sports can be a good metaphor for life and he knew that well. At the end of my life race I have a couple of options that I could hear:
a) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you (Galatians 5:7-8).
b) You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
I choose b) for the words I want to hear. Author Kenneth Blanchard says, "There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results."
I am committed to this journey with Jesus. And I accept no excuses in my own life. I will fall at times. But I intend to get right back up and follow Jesus faithfully, and I pray that I will close well.