Begin with the End in Mind

The above title comes from a chapter title in Stephen Covey’s #1 national bestseller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  The book came out in the late 1980s and I can remember reading it for a leadership course. I was impacted by a number of points made by the author, but perhaps his second chapter impressed me the most.  I would like to give a lengthy quote from the beginning of that chapter. While Covey’s point was really very important, there is something of much greater significance to his point, far beyond what Covey likely had in mind. And I want to look at that after this story that he tells.

“In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.

“As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.

“As you take a seat and wait for the service to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family…the second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church…where you have been involved in service.

“Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of a husband, wife, father or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of a son or daughter or cousin? What kind of a friend? What kind of a working associate? What kind of character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?”

In a powerful way, Covey has actually hit upon an important biblical life principle. He uses a funeral (our own funeral) to get us to think about how we want to our lives to be remembered, and what kind of a legacy we would like to have. His point, of course, is that if you want things to end in a wonderful way, it is necessary to plan and work towards that end; thus the chapter title, “Begin With the End in Mind.”

For the believer, the greater application goes far beyond our earthly funerals and takes us to the coming Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10); an event that is as certain as the fact we got up this morning. So make some time, take a moment in a quiet space, and think deeply about what it might be like when we appear before the Lord Jesus. As you stand before the Lord in all His splendor and glory, you probably want to hear Jesus say to you, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  I certainly want that. And if that is your desire, then it is certainly a most excellent one. However, wishing it to be so does not guarantee it will take place.

In his “begin with the end in mind”, Stephen Covey observes that so much in the life of an effective person is “twice created.”  By this he means that there is a mental creation of that which we want to do, and then the task of creating the plan, with all its components, to bring about the desired end. If, as followers of Jesus Christ, we say that we want to hear Him say “well done, good servant”, we have done the first creation of mentally setting forth our goal in life. But that alone is not sufficient. We must “create” the plan for getting to the great goal of our mental creation. If you are building a house, you mentally come to know what you want (family room, great room, office space, place for the kids to play, certain features in the kitchen etc).  Then comes the task of creating the blueprint, the construction plans and so on, in order to bring that house to completion.

After we believers decide we really do want to hear Jesus’ word of commendation, we then need to plan on how we are going to get to that great goal. Fortunately, we don’t have to do this from scratch. The blueprint of the Scriptures has laid out quite clearly how we can achieve that great goal of “well done, good servant.”  While the following is not an exhaustive list, it will get us going.  Let me suggest for your consideration, seven basic areas to analyze and plan. None of this can be done quickly so don’t try to accomplish this between commercial breaks on a TV show.

(1) My walk with Christ. Without any doubt, this is the foundation for a believer hearing “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Jesus Himself was abundantly clear when He told us to “abide in Him”; that is, to remain in constant fellowship with Him (John 15:1-11). If we do this then our lives are guaranteed to be fruitful. There is a lot involved with this, as most of us know. We need to be confessing our sins, having regular uninterrupted times with Him, checking ourselves daily to detect the infiltration of idolatry into our lives and certainly dealing with the Lordship of Christ in the various areas of our lives. (Luke 9:23-34; 14:25-35; Eph. 4:20-32; 1 John 1:9; 1 Cor. 10:1-23). Objectively, how is my walk with Christ?

(2) My family. Each of us has a role in a family, both immediate and extended. It could be as a husband, wife, son, daughter, aunt or uncle, grandparent, cousins and so on. What would we want Jesus to say about our family life at the Judgment Seat? (Keep in mind that such details will be important there, as even a “cup of cold water” will be remembered. Mark 9:41). The husband who says he wants to be the best of husbands, but never spends time and focus on his wife, needs to rethink the way he is being a husband. The child who wants to be a “good child”, but challenges parental authority or only selectively obeys the parent, is likely not going to get positive reviews at their appearance before the Lord. If a parent wants their child to follow Christ, but does not purposely and regularly instruct them in the things of the Lord, then it is time to add planned instruction to the family schedule and likely remove some other things. If we come up short with our behaviors and actions in our family life, then it would be prudent to carefully make adjustments in what we are doing. (Eph. 5:22-6:4; Deut. 6:1-9; Col. 3:18-21).

(3) My stewardship. The scriptures don’t stutter when they tell us that the most fundamental requirement of a steward is that of faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:1-2). A steward is one to whom the master has given resources and responsibilities. Every believer is a steward.  We have been given spiritual gifts, natural abilities, financial resources, mental capacities, opportunities and jobs. (Eph. 4:7, 11-16; Gal. 6:6-10; 1 Tim. 6:17-19; 1 Cor. 4:7). The great question at the Judgment Seat will be “were you faithful with what I gave you?”  Best we ask that question now and be very candid in how we answer it.

(4) My church. The Church, the body of Christ, is very important to the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus. Every believer has privileges and obligations, as “believer priests” to function faithfully in that setting (1 Cor. 12:7-27; Heb. 3:1-5). A healthy local church requires more than 20% involvement (which is said to be the usual percentage of believers who are active in ministry).  Each of us has been given spiritual gifts which are to be used in that setting. Granted, some gifts/people are more prominent in any given local church. But prominence is not the issue; faithfulness in serving, giving, fellowshipping, and worshipping is the issue.  So how are you doing? Also, Jesus values as well the attempt to “preserve the unity of the church” (Eph. 4:1-3), and this is important as churches tend to split and divide over many matters. Are we healers or dividers?

(5) My employment. Being a diligent, hard-working, honest worker is one way that we honor Christ and represent Him well in this world. It makes little difference if we are in a profession that is seen as highly admirable or one that is not thought of so highly. Wherever Christ has put us, we are to work as though He alone were our boss (He really is). Do our fellow workers look at us and see those wonderful qualities that reflect well on our Father (Matt. 5:16)? (Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:7-12; Prov. 12:11; 22:29) Are there work related areas that need to be cleaned up or changed?

(6) My neighbors and friends. We realize that we also have both relationships and responsibilities towards those outside the body of Christ. To these we are to live as “lights” and are, therefore exhorted to be characterized before them as thankful people and not as complainers (Phil. 2:14-16). We are also the carriers of the “good news”, that good word that eternal life and the forgiveness of sins is available to them through Jesus Christ. We are to be alert to doors that the Lord opens for us in sharing our faith with others (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 17:17). How are we doing in this arena?

(7) My speech. I include this as the last basic category because Jesus indicated that how we talk is so very important (Matt. 15:11, 18-19) and reveals so very much about where we really are in our spiritual maturity. We are told that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21). The wise man or woman controls their tongue (Prov. 15:1-2; 16:27-28; 17:27-28; 18:2, 6-8, 13). The NT tells us that the tongue is one of the objective indicators of our spiritual maturity (James 3:2ff.). It tells us that we are not to let unwholesome words come out of our mouths but only words that build other people up (Eph. 4:29). Is our speech all that it should be? Any adjustments needed?

So we who want to hear Jesus say “well done, you good and faithful servant”, need to move beyond “creating” the vision of the end goal, and “create” the path to get there; a path really laid out for us in the Scriptures. How many of the above areas need adjustments, either significant or minor changes?

Such a second “creation” takes time; some quiet time. Such is needed if we are really serious about hearing “well done”. It takes more than wishful thinking, but requires candid analysis of how we are really doing life. For me, this was one of those exercises that changed the trajectory of my life (and is an ongoing process). It takes some effort to be sure, but it will be worth it all when we see Jesus (and we will).