This week I will turn 60. According to Psalm 90, 70 years are the days we are divinely allotted, although 80 is not beyond the reach of the strong (90:10). Either way, I know that I’m closer to the end of my days than I am to their beginning, and the Psalmist urged those who knew this to him to squeeze some wisdom out of this. “Teach us to number our days,” he prayed, “that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
The rest of Psalm 90 is a lament. It is a description of how for many of us “our days decline in fury and our years end with a sigh” (Psalm 90:9). It’s not a pretty picture. Robert Clinton understands this, and has tried to do something about it. Dr. Clinton was the professor of Christian Leadership for many years at Fuller Theological Seminary out in Southern California. His work on “Bible-Centered Leadership” has been an incredibly important component of my life and ministry, and now his work on “Finishing Well” is stepping onto the stage of my life and is providing me with a map for the next, and final stage of my journey.
Dr. Clinton begins his work with the disturbing observation that very few Christian leaders have finished well. Researching the lives and track-records of 1,500 Christian leaders down through the centuries, Dr. Clinton concluded from the evidence that only 1 in 3 have finished well! For a definition of what “finishing well” means, Paul’s famous last words will do: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). What I hear Paul saying in these words is that he didn’t let down his guard as the end approached. He didn’t coast across the finish line. He kept faith with who he was and what God called him to do right to the very end. Paul “followed-through.” And Dr. Clinton’s research suggests that very few Christian leaders do.
Lots of things conspire against us in the close of our days to blunt our influence and silence our voices. “This is how the world ends,” poet TS Eliot wrote, “not with a bang but a whimper.” And Dr. Clinton’s research indicates that the 6 “whimpers” of failed leaders at the end of their journeys are: (1) Pride; (2) The Misuse of money; (3) The Abuse of power; (4) Sexual failure; (5) Plateauing (they stop growing); and (6) Shaky Social bases (Family Problems). In contrast, there are also six characteristics of those few leaders who actually succeed at finishing well –
1. They maintained a personal vibrant relationship with God right up to the end.
2. They maintained a learning posture, learning from a variety of sources, but especially from life itself.
3. They manifested Christ-likeness in character as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
4. Biblical truth is lived out in their lives so that conviction and promises of God are seen to be trustworthy and true.
5. They leave behind a legacy – a lasting contribution.
6. They walk with a growing awareness of a sense of destiny – that God has had His hand on them in a special way for a special purpose – and they see some or all of that destiny fulfilled.
That’s a rather tall assignment, but it’s the one to which I find myself increasingly drawn with greater urgency and intensity. I am convinced that it is “the heart of wisdom” which the Psalmist indicated would be the fruit produced by learning how to “number our days.” I plan on finishing well – it is the prayer of my heart this week. And the best road map from here to there that I have found is the one that Dr. Clinton provides, and so the journey begins… DBS+