Finishing Well:
Closing Life’s Significance Chapters
By David.
W.F. Wong.
Singapore: BAC Printers. 2006, 203 pp.
Review by Dr Ng Peh Cheng

The life journal of a Christian disciple has many chapters. Each chapter of life’s experience has a beginning and should have an end before the next chapter. What is the quality of the "ending" in each chapter of the disciple’s life? Ultimately, what is the quality of the concluding chapter in the entire journal? The author, with his experience as a pastor, theological educator, counsellor, trainer and administrator, has collected sufficient data to support the unhealthy habit among Christians to "leave behind a trial of unfinished tasks" (pp. 12-14):

Students who begin a course of study with enthusiasm but fail to finish it.
Couples who are married fail to stay married.
Grown up children who leave home with poor closures with their parents.
Many relationships that begin well grow stale and jaded, and end poorly.
Some have become disillusioned with the faith and have gone back to the world.
Some have become pre-occupied with their career and money, and have lost their focus on God.
Some have risen high only to be brought down by scandal and financial misconduct.

David Wong’s book addresses this issue of adopting a lifestyle of "poor closure" and his intention is to mentor readers in the art of finishing well. He believes that, "How we finish is all that matters in the end,"

On this side of heaven, we want to close with the words, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim 4:17).

On the other side, we want to hear the words from our Lord, "Well done, Good and faithful servant!" (Matt. 25:21,23).

The "art" the author is imparting to the readers is based on the biographical analysis of 13 characters in the Bible, upon which he draws the "Twelve Principles of Finishing Well" (chapter 17). He begins the book with a definition of "finishing well." The definition contains three elements as seen in the successful closure of the Apostle Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Chapter 2). The element of "Towards God" defines our faithfulness to God’s calling in the "how" to live to "finish the race and complete the assignment given." "Towards ourselves" defines our conscience and integrity in discharging responsibilities in a manner that leaves no matters unresolved, e.g., unkept promises. Also, the element of "Towards Others" values people in "finishing well" and is measured by the "lives of people we have touched" (p. 26).

The lifestyles of five leaders in the Old Testament were examined but only one began well and ended well (chapters 3 to 8). David quoted Dr J. Robert Clinton’s findings on his extensive study of leaders in the Bible that "less than 30% finished well, that is, "two out of three leaders in the Bible did not finish well" (p. 13). The conclusion is disturbing because unhealthy examples still exist among Christian leaders in the contemporary world. But, the author is confident that the negatives can be reversed by "forward planning, focus and hard work" (p. 17) following the example of the Apostle Paul who walked in the footsteps of the "best example of a good closure - a perfect finish - the Lord Jesus Himself" (p. 26).

Saul, Solomon, David, Samson and Eli began well but did not end well. The author presents the reasons that led to the failures of these leaders effectively with questions, illustrations, humour, personal experiences, encounters and observations. Readers, for example, are asked to ponder on this moral dilemma, "Who has committed the worst sin? Saul or King David?" According to the author, Saul’s sin of "pride is the worst of all sins. The sin of lust may be forgiven; the sin of adultery may be forgiven, even the sin of murder." Why? (p. 34). Another question to think about, "Did King David finish well although his lifestyle was no better than that of Saul or Solomon?"

The life stories of Moses and John the Baptist demonstrate another aspect of "finishing well." That is, finishing well does not always mean a happy ending (Chapters 9 and10). The results or fruits to reap from their faithful labour did not happen in their lifetime. The correct perspective to adopt would be,

Finishing well may take more than a lifetime. Certainly our perspective on how we finish must extend beyond our lifespan. In this life, not all desires are fulfilled. We can finish well even when we do not get what we want. God may surprise us with his measure of grace, his sense of timing, even a tinge of humour (p. 95).

Samuel was able to begin well and end well because he possessed the vital characteristics of resilience to persevere to the end.

Through the disappointment with Saul, Samuel emerged no doubt with some emotional scars. His experience with Saul was a betrayal of sorts. Such betrayal can devastate us and turn us into cynics – or it can sober us and help us grow in discernment and maturity. For all the let-downs Samuel faced – with his mentor, his (sic) sons, the people and his protege – he emerged resilient (p. 84).

How does one develop resilience? The answer may be in one word, "experience." That is, experience closing the chapters of hurts (Joseph), grief (David), loss (Naomi), doubt (Job), failure (Peter) and success (Paul). The author examines each of these life incidents substantially to explore what it means to "finish well." Peter, the Apostle, failed a number of times but gradually learned to swallow his pride and he "closed the chapter of failure well" (p. 158). The challenge is facing and accepting the reality to find closure to develop the resilience to move on and finish well.

Failure comes in different forms. . . . We can fail as a disciple or follower of Jesus. We can fail as a father, as a mother, as a son or daughter, as a friend. What steps can we take to close such a chapter? (p. 158).

The list of discussion questions found at the end of the book is useful for further reflection and research. The "foreword" of the book may give the impression that the book is written for leaders only. Parents, students and lay professionals in the marketplace will find the book relevant and stimulating to contemplate.

To finish well at the end, we have to begin to finish well now.

To finish our life well, we have to finish each chapter of life well.

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