On the morning of April 13, 1888, Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist who was the inventor of dynamite, opened the morning paper expecting to read the obituary of his older brother Ludvig. However, he was startled to read the headline, “The merchant of death is dead” The newspaper reporter in Paris had made a careless journalistic error and cited the death of the wrong brother. Alfred was reading his own obituary rather than that of his brother. Although he had made a fortune from explosives, he realized had he truly been the one who died, he would only be remembered as a merchant of death and destruction. Alfred was disappointed with how he would be remembered and he resolved to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life. Alfred would only live eight more years, but his last will and testament requested that his fortune of millions of dollars be used to create a series of prizes for those whose contributions greatly benefit mankind. The result is the most valued of prizes given to this day. We know them as The Nobel Peace Prizes.
Have you ever wondered how you will be remembered? Like a ship sailing on an open sea, our life is leaving a wake of memories behind us. Although not all of the waves we have left have been good, we each hold to the hope that in the final analysis the positive will far outweigh the negative. Perhaps the Apostle Paul was pondering the same question as he sat in a Roman prison awaiting execution. He had an infamous past and had gone so far as to label himself the chief of sinners. However, in the final words he would pen from prison, he tells young Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” It was the words of a man who was not nearly as focused with leaving the legacy of a great name as much as he was interested in leaving the inheritance of a great example. American humorist Evan Esar wrote, “You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.” It is not what is etched upon a tombstone that is remembered most, but rather what is carved upon the hearts of others. Abraham often acted without God, but was remembered as a “friend of God.” David often had a heart for women, but was remembered as “a man after God’s own heart.” The quantity of our failures is not the measuring stick of our legacy. Our legacy is built on the quality of our living in spite of our failures. What are the traits of a life well-lived?
It is a life faultless in its character. Paul said first, “I have fought a good fight.” The idea is someone who has pressed and struggled fairly for the prize in competition. Having faced countless trials, testings, tribulations, and temptations, his message had been perfected and his motives had been purified. He was in it for all the right reasons. It was a simple explanation for a life and ministry that had stood the test of time. I find it interesting that as a skyscraper is being built, construction teams spend months just digging a hole. The lesson is obvious: the depth of the foundation determines the height of achievement. In other words, if the foundation is not right, the structure will never stand. A life that succeeds on mere talent alone will ultimately arrive at a destination where character cannot sustain that success. Perhaps that would explain why Haman was hung on his own gallows not long after being promoted. Perhaps that would explain why Saul “took a sword, and fell upon it” after his elevation to a throne. The great danger we all face is choosing reputation over character. Alan Redpath wrote, “The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, but the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime.” Building a life of character is not always easy, but it is always worth it!
It is a life faithful in its calling. Paul said second, “I have finished my course.” The idea is that of a runner who has completed his race. However, the root form of the word implies the runner was in extreme peril and had to exert all his effort in order to overcome. In order to make it to the finish line in one piece, he had to be free from stopping, straying, and being sidetracked. His was a determination to stay at the task until the job was done. God’s purposes are rarely accomplished by great people. God will use average people who dare to find, follow, and fulfill the revealed will of God for their life. Faithfulness is best defined as the ability to do the most you can, with what you have, where you are. David was only a teenage shepherd with a slingshot and five smooth stones, but it was more than enough to conquer a giant. Shamgar only had an ox goad in his hand, but with it he “slew of the Philistines six hundred men.” Gideon’s men only held trumpets and pitchers in their hands, but “all the host ran, and cried, and fled.” Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give me an unconquered heart which no tribulation can wear out; give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.” When faithfulness is hard is when it is most required.
It is a life free in its conscience. Paul said last, “I have kept the faith.” The word “kept” means to keep a constant eye upon, to guard and maintain with great care. It is the idea of a track athlete being vigilant to stay inside his running lane to ensure he was not disqualified. As he came to the end of his race, Paul was saying, “I have given my all to run the race right, and my faith is as strong at the finish as it was at the start.” We have often heard this saying used about athletes, “he left his all on the playing field.” It is an expression that carries the meaning they gave it everything they had. The Lord is never impressed by a half-hearted effort. When Elisha performed the miracle of filling vessels with oil, the miracle continued until “there was not a vessel more.” When Mary emptied the bottle of perfume on Jesus, He noted, “she hath done what she could.” When Jesus watched the wealthy give their tip to God, He noted about a widow, “she…did cast in all that she had…” There is no reward for making it to the finish while still holding pockets full of reserve. Thomas Carlyle wrote, “Men do less than they ought unless they do all that they can.” Do not miss the opportunity to do every day those things you would gladly do on a dying day.
As Paul’s journey would come to an end, his words indicate there was no unfinished business and no regrets. Tom Elliff once said, “A man knows he is growing old when his regrets outnumber his dreams.” Regrets are a weight that slow down progress and mar a life into mediocrity. However, the good news is you are still alive and reading this. Don’t ever forget that it is not too late to be what you might have been!
Your Most Proud Pastor,
© 2013 Alan Stewart
Alan Stewart: Dr. Alan Stewart has served as Senior Pastor of Rechoboth Baptist since December 1999. He attended The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Moody Bible Institute, Covington Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Prior to pastoring the Tennessee church, Alan was an evangelist for 15 years. He has preached revivals/pastor’s conferences in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. He also preached crusades/conferences in India, Hungary, and conducted a crusade in South Africa in August of 2009. Pastor Alan is married to Jeanne, and they are blessed with two children – Sierra and Seth.