How many of you have ever bowled? played golf? played tennis? thrown a ball or swung a bat? kicked a ball? Though these activities are quite different, at least one skill is common to them all.
One of the most valuable metaphors or analogies we can apply from recreational or team sports is the concept of "follow-through." After contact is made with the ball, or after it is released, the arm or leg continues in a continuous, unbroken arc.
It took me years to understand this concept, and even now I find myself goofing up because of poor follow-through. I find it embarrassing to admit (but instructive to mention) that I received a mid-semester warning slip from my college Physical Education instructor that I would fail bowling unless I learned to execute a proper follow-through.
If God were to give us mid-semester progress reports on our spiritual follow-through, how many of us would be getting warning slips? What ever came of those commitments we made 15, 25 or 30 years ago at the time of our baptism—at the time of our first love for God's truth? Anybody who is called can have red-hot enthusiasm for the truth, but without the vital follow-through, the initial flush of first love can and does fizzle out.
Ecclesiastes 7:8 suggests that "the end of a thing [a completed arc or swing, in our analogy] is better than its beginning." While the initial stages are important, God is much more interested in the result. Our backswing may be impressive, but do we hit the ball into the cup?
It always used to amaze me that something I did after I released the ball could have any influence on the ball's trajectory. One golf expert explained to me that the error always occurs before the release. The completed motion must be realized in the imagination before the swing has started. The mental arc of the arm, leg, bat, club or racket has to be envisioned and maintained until the movement is concluded—not when the ball looks as though it might make it, and certainly not at the beginning.
Notice Exodus 19:8. The people of Israel enthusiastically proclaimed their intention to follow God's law, but God gives them their final report card in Hebrews 3:10-11: "I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.' So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.'"
Today, God's people have an extra component to help them with their follow-through. We rehearse this additional aid every year at Pentecost: God's Holy Spirit. With this Helper, especially, we are as obligated to understand the seriousness and solemnity of our commitment as our forebears back on Mount Sinai.
The follow-through begins with the will and commitment to carry an action through to its ultimate completion. We call this intent to complete our follow-through "counting the cost."
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish." (Luke 14:28-30)
The time for wavering, vacillating or indecisiveness is before we make the agreement, not after the process has begun.
Our society has a deplorable philosophy about commitment and follow-through. Authors Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, in their book Making a Marriage, claim that lack of commitment, the willingness to follow through, constitutes the primary reason the divorce rate is so abominably high in this nation—and particularly in Los Angeles County, where more than 60% of new marriages end in divorce. Young people try on marriage partners like pairs of shoes. When they tire of a partner, they discard him or her for a new one.
Students taking courses at our local colleges and vocational schools show a similar short attention span. The typical attrition rate for extended day classes runs about 60%, roughly the same as the divorce-to-marriage ratio in Los Angeles County.
The unwillingness to follow-through rears its ugly head in the increasing slaughter of human life in the abortion clinic, rivaling—even surpassing—the slaughters in Dachau, Buchenwald and Auschwitz. It is frustrating to hear feminists talk of a woman's right to control her body. Obviously, some of them have not exercised any control when it really counted!
Private debt has caught up to public debt. Uncle Sam has dutifully taught us the fine art of deficit spending, as well as the lack of follow-through in exercising control over our lusts. We have learned to charge all our desires to the Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover card, and leave the phone off the hook when the creditors call.
God makes it abundantly clear what He thinks of people who make commitments but fail to keep their word—fail to follow through:
» When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. (Deuteronomy 23:21)
» It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, and afterward reconsider his vows. (Proverbs 20:25)
» When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5)
Point of No Return
Many people in the greater church of God have reached what Dibar Apartian, in his 1966 Good News article, termed "The Point of No Return." He writes, "Once the distance ahead is shorter than that already traveled, a plane can no longer turn back to its starting point—however serious its mechanical difficulties may be."
Metaphorically, some of us have serious mechanical problems, but we cannot go back or land at our destination. We cannot run from our problems no matter how badly we want to—not any more than a woman in the delivery room can say she does not want to have her baby! We gave up our choice to decide whether we wanted to go through with it—to finish our course—when we accepted God's calling and were plunged into the waters of baptism.
Two verses illustrate this:
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
In the words of the Mafia Godfather, "You people know too much to get out of this alive." By pulling out of our commitment, we stand the same chance as a tiny, premature fetus ripped from the womb.
God's Holy Spirit prompts us to follow through, the exact opposite of timidity and fearfulness. Paul writes, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7).
If we allow God to continue working with us, He will lead us to the ultimate follow-through:
And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you. (Philippians 1:6, The Amplified Bible)
God has already envisioned the end of the arc or swing. The only thing that can hold us back is our timidity or faintheartedness. We hope that the similar lesson of Lot's wife has not been lost on us either.
Jesus uses yet another metaphor to hammer the follow-through point home: "But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God'" (Luke 9:62).
I remember many times when my brother and I used to pull cockleburs and Canadian thistles out of our bean field back on the farm. One of the most discouraging or demoralizing things we could do was to look back too early and see how little progress we had made.
Even after attending services for 20 or 30 years, if we look back to see how little progress has been made in our spiritual lives, we tend to be discouraged. An overwhelming urge to run away from our problems wells up. To this natural inclination to run and hide, God tells us, "Don't do it!"
Hebrews 11:38 describes God's perspective: "Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." Timidity and indecisiveness have no place in God's plan. "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart," (Galatians 6:9).
Long-time member Jesse Bates once used the metaphor of the field stake providing a guiding image to the farmer on his tractor. The plowman better not take his eyes off either the furrow or the stake at the end of the row! As soon as he looks away, any small movement can skew his aim.
Yet it is possible to modify and adjust the direction of our trajectory if we concentrate on it. In other words, it is not too late to make a course correction or adjustment while the swing is in motion—just as long as the completed arc or trajectory is maintained as a guiding image.
Unfortunately, we can botch the most carefully executed swing in the last few milliseconds if we take our mind off the goal. Consider Proverbs 25:26: "A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well." Ecclesiastes 10:1 conveys the same point: "Dead flies putrefy the perfumer's ointment, and cause it to give off a foul odor; so does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor."
One could blow a whole lifetime of overcoming by the wrong follow-through. In I Samuel 15, when Saul was ordered to kill the Amalekites, he carried out about 87.6% of the objectives. Perhaps this percentage of the swing is defined by the time the ball is released. Perhaps we have just about reached this percentage up to this point in our lives.
Will we, like Saul, proclaim, "I have performed the commandment of the Lord" (verse 13)? But Samuel replied to this effect, "What a minute, Saul. Did you follow through? Weren't you supposed to obliterate every trace of the Amalekites, including their possessions and King Agag?" (verses 14).
Then Saul said, "But, but, but—the people took of the plunder, not me!" (verse 15). Then and there God rejected him as Israel's king (verse 26).
Responding to the present fiasco in the church, some have said, "I've had to put up with incredible stress for umpteen years. I'm tired of it." A friend said he has totally burned out. "Come back and talk to me in 20 years about this, and I might become interested again." Sadly, this attitude is fairly typical following the atomizing of our former affiliation.
The church at Ephesus had a good initial swing (Revelation 2:1-3). For the most part, they were diligent, perseverant and resistant to false teaching. But they lacked follow-through in that they lost their first love (verse 4). God warns them to rekindle it or lose their eternal life (verse 5)!
Some veteran members of God's church have come precariously close to losing their first love. Losing love on the physical plane is full of anguish, but on the spiritual it is infinitely worse. As Jesus says of this age, "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:13). Such lawlessness was the basis of the many doctrinal changes we endured over the past decade.
In describing this anti-law movement, Jesus says, "And you will be hated by all men for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Mark 13:13). We have a responsibility—not only to ourselves, our family, our church, but to the whole human race—to follow through on our task of overcoming.
We cannot let down—end our follow-through—until we are face to face with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God.