Finish lines belong to the sports world and refer to the white line across the track showing where various races were to end. But they may also be used as a metaphor for the life of faith, indicating the terminus of our earthly existence. Here’s story from the Old Testament about Asa, king of the tribe of Judah, the southern part of present-day Israel.
King Asa ran well at the outset of his reign. His story begins, “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.” He cleared his kingdom of the vestiges of paganism.
It says in 2 Chronicles 14:2-5: “He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands. He removed the high places and the incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him” (2 Chron. 14:2-5).
Outstanding achievements! And there were more. He fortified villages and towns to make them safer. Because he trusted his exploits to the Lord, his army of 580,000 men defeated the armies from Ethiopia though they were twice the size in numbers. He should have finished such an illustrious and devout career with a big hurrah!
But later when he needed to defeat the armies of the northern kingdom — Israel — he did not put his primary trust in the Lord. Instead he gave away treasures from the temple and his own palace to the King of Syria to win his military support. Then, into this picture came a prophet, Hanani, to chide him: You trusted a foreign army, he charged, instead of trusting the Lord.
The prophet then added, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron.16:9). From now on, Hanani continued, you will be at war. Asa was angry at this. He put the prophet in prison and began to be abusive to his subjects.
Less than two years before his death Asa suffered from a disease in his feet. Perhaps it was a severe case of gout. The Scriptures report, “Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians” (2 Chron. 16:12). Something at his core had changed. He was clearly no longer a man of faith in the Almighty God, putting him first. He had started his race strong, but how would he finish?
After a long reign his death was elaborately observed with a giant bonfire loaded with aromatic spices. He was buried in a tomb he had prepared for himself in the City of David. The state paid him appropriate honor. But the last days of his life were not his best and, so far as faith is concerned, he did not finish strong.
How different life’s closing days would be for the Apostle Paul. Here are his words near the finish line: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day…” (2 Tim.4:7,8).
There is no question that in spite of his adversities the Apostle Paul intended to finish strong in faith with a keen loyalty to his Savior and Master — and to keep himself on the stretch for him. He was but one of thousands across the centuries whose motto for themselves and challenge for other believers has been: “Finish strong!”