(taken from zionfellowship.org)
by Dr. Brian J. Bailey
The Apostle Paul compares the Christian life to being like a race. He exhorted, “…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” Heb.12:1-2. In a race, what counts is how we end.
These words became very real to me through an experience I had as a young pastor. Due to many pressures that I was enduring, I had asked the Lord to end my life and take me to heaven. In answer to my prayer, one night an angel came and woke me up around 3 am. He stood a little above my bed and I came out of my body and stood by him.
Looking down at my body, I realized that my life was over and I could no longer serve the Lord upon this earth. A certain sadness came into my heart, and then the angel turned and we began a very speedy journey towards heaven past the moon and the stars. The gates to eternity became clearer and clearer as we traveled, faster than the speed of light. But the nearer we approached, the heavier my heart became.
When we stopped before those golden gates, my life was shown to me in a series of pictures from birth to death. Some pictures were blank because I had asked the Lord for forgiveness for those offences. There was absolutely no record of those failures. Praise the Lord!
But then I was shown God’s plan for my life, which had been decided before the foundation of the world. I saw that I was dying before my time, and my heart was overcome with sadness. I cried out in agony that I might be permitted to return to earth to fulfill His plan. This was apparently granted, for although I heard no voice, the angel at my side turned with me, and we went speeding back to earth and arrived at my bed. There was my body, lying next to my sleeping wife. The angel touched me and I went back into my body.
Later when I asked the Lord why I had that experience, He told me that I was to warn His people what it is like to stand at the judgment seat of Christ. Not only will we answer for those deeds done on earth, but we will also be judged as to whether or not we have fulfilled the Lord’ s purposes for our lives. To run a good race and complete God’s plans for our lives we must consider three areas: the character we develop, the ministry that we gain, and also the fruit of that ministry.
The most essential aspect of life is our character, for that can decide whether we enter the gates of heaven or not. It is of further importance for a minister, because upon the foundation of his character the work of God entrusted to him will stand or fall. I have known many seemingly great ministries and churches that have collapsed because the minister fell into serious sin. We should therefore be constantly thinking of how we can become further conformed to His matchless purity in all love and wisdom. A good name is worth more than all the treasures of this universe.
In the Song of Songs 1:6 the Shulamite says, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but my own vineyard I have neglected.” Here she is aware that although she had diligently cared for the spiritual state of others, her own vineyard (meaning her own spiritual state) she had not kept. Our heart should be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and with diligence we should ensure that the weeds and thorns (the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21) are not permitted to take root. We are told to pursue holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord, Heb.12:14.
Some people say, “Christ has already paid it all and there is nothing more that we can do. We do not have to live a holy life.” They think that He understands their ways and their problems, and He also understands why they cannot obey Him. We must be very careful, because God has given us grace to overcome every sin in our lives. The Apostle Paul declares that we are to be “more than conquerors through him that loved us,” Rom.8:37. In other words, there is absolutely nothing in our lives that we can use as an excuse for why we cannot obey God, for “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20).
Developing proper character also depends very much on our making the right decisions. Before we make decisions we should ask, “Lord, what is the end of this matter?” We do not want to enter into a path or career that is going to fail or become a dead end later on.
When I was a young minister in Switzerland, I was considering taking further courses in theology at Oxford and Cambridge. As I was contemplating this God graciously gave me a vision of two angels. The angels looked so similar, I could not discern the difference between them. They were both beautiful (see 2 Cor.11:14). They stood before me, and behind each one was a path. The path behind one angel led through those universities, and I saw that in those universities the teachers were anointed by demons. Then I saw the path disappear. I realized that if I continued my studies in that direction I would end up a spiritual wreck.
The other angel who was standing before me had a very straight path of righteousness that got brighter and brighter “unto the perfect day,” Prov.4:18. The Lord said, “Trust Me. I will lead you, guide you, instruct you, and give you revelation from my Word. I will show you truth. You do not need Greek, but grace.” Mercifully, God gave me the grace to trust Him. The problem so often is that we think with our natural minds that something would be a good idea; but God knows the end of the matter.
Billy Graham had a friend named Charles Templeton. At the beginning of their ministries he had greater meetings than Billy Graham with crowds of around 40,000 people. Then he decided to get more education; so he went to Yale University, and lost his faith. He ended up writing several best sellers on his belief that God did not exist. Near the end of his life he was asked how he felt about Jesus. This is what he said Strobel’s book The Case For Faith: when Strobel asked him to evaluate the life of Jesus, Templeton began by praising Jesus as a great moral genius and “the most important human being who has ever existed.” “And if I may put it this way,” Templeton added as his voice began to crack, “I… miss… him!” With that, tears flooded his eyes, he raised his left hand to shield his face, and his shoulders bobbed as he wept.
We certainly do not want to have that testimony at the end of our life. If Charles Templeton had only asked God what the end of his studies would have been, his life might have been very different. The most important thing is how we complete and end the race of life. Ecciesiastes 11:3 tells us, “…In the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.” Solomon is saying that the spiritual condition of someone at death is how he or she will remain for all eternity. Oh, may we have an abundant entrance (or rich welcome) into the kingdom of heaven, as is mentioned in Second Peter 1:11.