Avoiding the Sinkhole
Well begun is half done,” says the old adage. But we should be dedicated to finishing strong. The apostle Paul ran the race of life in order to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24). He did not want to be “disqualified,” or laid aside as useless (v. 27). And indeed he did finish his race (2 Tim. 4:7). In this, our Lord Jesus, as in all else, is our model in that He could say, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (Jn. 17:4). So Paul aspired to finish his course with joy (Acts 20:24).
Yet how many have faltered down the stretch. Many have been the dropouts along the way. Like the Galatians, they began “in the Spirit” but sought to be “made perfect by the flesh” (Gal. 3:3). Paul analyzed their experience: “You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (5:7).
John Bunyan’s timeless allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, insightfully depicts one of the most perilous stages in the Christian walk. As Bunyan’s characters Christian and Faithful near the end of their trek, they enter the dangerous Enchanted Ground that coaxes people to sleep. But if you fall asleep, you never awake.
The enemy of our souls would deflect and destroy our effectiveness for God even as we come down the last lap. After all, “There’s no fool like an old fool!” Then there is the age-old tale of the tortoise and the hare. The fast start out of the gate does not guarantee the constancy required for victory.
A Notable Launch
No king in the southern kingdom of Judah began his rule more auspiciously than good King Asa who “did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lᴏʀᴅ his God” (2 Chr. 14:2). His early years were peaceful but devoted to uprooting idolatry in the kingdom (v. 3), and he “commanded Judah to seek the Lᴏʀᴅ God of their fathers, and to observe the law and the commandment” (v. 4). He was thorough and expansive in his crusade against every vestige of pagan intrusion into the lives of God’s people.
King Asa took prudent precautions for the nation’s security. He was a man of vision and rectitude. When a massive enemy force of a million came against him, he did not panic but prayed (v. 11). His outpouring of intercession was in humility and a deep sense of dependency. So the Lord gave King Asa a great victory and much spoil. But a time of “success” and prosperity can also be dangerous.
A Word Fitly Spoken
Our gracious God mercifully sent the Spirit-controlled prophet Ahaziah to warn Asa of his danger: “The Lᴏʀᴅ is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (15:2).
Believers need both the encouragement of the Scriptures and its warnings as well. Life contains hazards that can shipwreck a ministry and a testimony: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Happily, when King Asa heard the warning, he intensified his activities to purify worship in his realm; and he summoned huge convocations in which the Lord’s presence was powerfully manifest (2 Chr. 15:8–9). This was a time of covenant-renewal and great generosity in giving by the people (v. 11). They sought the Lord, and He gave them rest.
Even the secret idolatry of Asa’s own mother was exposed and disciplined. Although not every objective was achieved, the Scripture testifies, “the heart of Asa was loyal all his days” (v. 17). Such a conspicuously high level of spiritual commitment is refreshing to consider. We give praise to God.
A Tragic Tumble
How then shall we understand the ensuing fiasco? In the 36th year of his reign, King Asa lost his spiritual poise. In the face of a threat, he did not depend on the Lord as he had previously, and he made alliances with the Syrians. The seer Hanani came from the Lord and rebuked him for his folly:
Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand….For the eyes of the Lᴏʀᴅ run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him….From now on you shall have wars (16:7, 9).
King Asa refused to hear the message, imprisoned the messenger, and began to oppress the people (v. 10).
Even in the 39th year of his reign, when he was grievously ill, he did not seek the Lord (v. 12). What went wrong? What soured this sweet saint of God?
Scripture here is silent, but we may well surmise that the seeds of spiritual sedition had been sown in Asa’s heart and not dealt with over time. He meant well and preserved appearances; but some hidden erosion, some undetected dryness in his walk with God, ultimately caused him to turn from the Lord in his advanced years, thus leaving us with this doleful, final verdict. He did not end strong.
Samson the judge, King Saul, and King Solomon all began with exceptional promise. Many illustrious servants of the Lord, both lay and clergy in a variety of ministries today, have squandered their spiritual capital. The law of spiritual entropy insists there is a tendency for things to run down, to become random and diffuse. We need to seek spiritual concentration in these days and not allow the springs of devotion and inner renewal to shrivel into spiritual sinkholes.
What speaks to my own heart as I view the landscape of our times is the urgent exhortation of Hebrews 12:1–2:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.