Every part of a race is important, but beginning and ending well is critical. If a person has a poor start and stumbles over the finish line, it really doesn’t matter how the rest of the race went. This is true of all of life. If a person fails to give their best effort at the beginning, they spend the rest of their time trying to catch up. This often leads to a poor finish.
We measure our lives by years. Although the beginning of a new year is an arbitrary designation, it does mark a benchmark in life. At the beginning of each new year we get a chance to make a new beginning. We can determine to live a better, more productive life in the year to come. When we string a series of these “best efforts” together, our chances of finishing well increase.
Another way of looking at this is to think of life as a series of seasons. Sports revolves around set seasons. We are coming to the end of the football season. For many teams, their season is already over. (For the Cleveland Browns, it was over a long time ago.) Every coach is looking ahead to next season and how they can strengthen their team. Every team wants to end their season well and then carry that success into the beginning of the next season. The period in between seasons is a time to evaluate and prepare for the next season.
Beginning well is all about developing the proper perspective. The more that we understand our purpose and goal, the better we will perform. As followers of Christ, it is important for us to look at our lives through a set of three filters that help us to run the best race that we can.
We first need to look through the filter of our end goal. Who do we want to be and what do we want to have accomplished by the end of our race. Looking at the end goal can keep us on track and help us to avoid dead ends that can hinder our progress. As Paul looked at his life, he always kept the goal of truly knowing Christ before him. Paul clearly articulated that goal in Philippians 3:7-11.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
We next need to look at the seasons of our life. What season am I in right now? What are the pluses and minuses of this time of life? How can I best use this season of my life for the cause of Christ? Each season of life comes with challenges to face and opportunities to grasp. Knowing what season you are in can help you to make critical decisions about what is most important right now. Although in every season of life, there will be times of intense activity and times of less activity, we can never afford to put our life on auto-pilot and just coast. Again, Paul expressed this well in Philippians 3:12-14.
Not that I have already 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. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: 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.
The third filter is the present year before me. What do I need to do this year to move me toward my desired goals as a believer? How can I use this year to grow spiritually and to bear fruit for Christ? It is important, at the beginning of each new year, to set realistic goals that can motivate us to keep striving toward the ultimate goal. Every year counts. The way we live our lives in the present will share who we become and how we will end our race. So Paul challenges us to be intentional about how we live today.
Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
As we launch into a new year, it is important that we begin well. We can set a pace for genuine, spiritual growth in the new year. At the beginning of the new year, it is important to put things into proper perspective. To put it in sports terms; we need to look at the game, the season, and the legacy. Each game (year) builds toward a successful season. Each season builds toward an enduring legacy. What kind of a legacy do you want to build toward this year?