One of my favorite characters in the Lord of the Rings is Samwise Gamgee. He presents as real and very human. In this tale of the struggle between light and dark, Samwise exhibits a faith, loyalty and a strength of character that go far beyond what we would expect of the average hobbit.
Close to the end of the book as Sam and Frodo labor their way up Mount Doom, Sam senses the heaviness of their task, and feels the inevitability of their death. He thinks:
“. . . we are going to die, and we should just lay down, curl up in a ball and sleep and die. But then – then something happened – even as hope seemed to die in Sam, it was turned into a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.”
At the end of the journey, Sam came into a clear perspective of the goal and was renewed in hope and strength. He was able to finish strong and help his friend to do the same.
Changes in the Dark
Laying in the dark craigs of Mount Doom, Sam was being turned into something of greatness.
Scripture teaches us that dark/difficult times indeed do make us stronger, and lift us to a higher version of who God is forming us to be. We know that God uses all things in our life, even those shadowy dark times, to conform us to the image of His Son.
- Romans 8:28-29a – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.29For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son . . .”
In December of 2021 I was diagnosed with a somewhat rare blood disorder a myeloproliferative neoplasm. In my case, it was caused by a mutation which affects the bone marrow and how it produces platelets. I was told there was no cure but the immediate risk of a heart attack or stroke from too many platelets could be managed by medication. At this time my doctor and I are trying different rotations of the medication in order to find what manages the platelet number most effectively. Both the medication and the mutation can produce other significant issues that we seek to control. Already it has affected the production of red blood cells in my body, limiting the amount produced and changing their size. All of which diminish the life force energy in my body.
So, as I sit in the craigs of Mount Doom, or as the scriptures say: “walk in the valley of the shadow of death,” I must choose how I will face life “in this shadow.” What will I let this threat of darkness form in me? Despair, anger, bitterness, doubt, fear, self-pity; or faith, peace, hope, and light? It is a choice as to how I will live this time, and since we are all terminal, it is a choice that all of us should be considering.
What do I need to finish strong?
Faith in Salvation
We know we will die, but when we face this reality daily in our life – fears, insecurities and various feelings pop up. One of the first things I did was to ground myself in the truths about my relationship with God, and about my salvation.
The Spirit called to mind truths in God’s word that affirm to me that my salvation and the security of my relationship with God does not depend on what I have done, achieved, my heritage or my social standing.
The truth is Jesus died to procure forgiveness for my sins, He gives me His righteousness, and He brings me into God’s presence here as well as after death. I trust these eternal truths in order to resist doubt and fear and to help me finish strong.
- “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” Romans 3:23-24a
- Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1
- In Him and through faith in Him we may enter God’s presence with boldness and confidence. Ephesians 3:12
Practice Living in the Presence of God
Each day, I will live in my relationship with God. Those of us who are “Christians” believe we have a relationship with God, but at times, we do not live with God’s presence as a reality.
Living as if the presence of God in our lives is real is different from reading the Bible and praying, although those activities are an important aspect of the presence of God in our life.
Making God’s presence real in my life is a way of moving through my day as if God was right by my side. So, I use the imagination God gave me and I insert myself in scripture truths. Such as from Psalm 23, I picture myself as a lamb leaning into the Good Shepherd, Jesus, as we prepare to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
It is not only a way of thinking, but also a way of talking with God throughout the day; acknowledging Him before I do something; consulting with Him about decisions I make, sharing with Him how I am feeling at any given moment. (Prov. 3:6; 16:3; 1 Peter 5:7)
In the morning I have coffee with God and talk with Him about my sins, my struggles, my plans for the day, people I love, and people that I will interact with during the day.
Sometimes the intensity of the activities of my day and the speed at which they transpire can block my awareness of God’s presence, so I slow down, draw boundaries, and deliberately take time to intentionally redirect my attention to God.
Practice Gratitude and Praise
I have a choice as I walk this valley, I can let the darkness and shadows, rule me, or I can look for the light. There is so much light in praising and thanking God. A grateful heart radiates light, faith and power.
Since the diagnosis, I have made it a rule ( a principle to live by) in my life which is to praise God when the sunrises; thank Him for breath of life each day. When the sun sets, I acknowledge His name and thank Him for this day. (Ps. 113:3, From the rising of the sun to its setting, let the name of Yahweh be praised.)
Meditating on His love, grace, and mighty works, brings light and strength in my mind and heart. I will praise God for He is my light and my salvation and He will help me finish strong.
- The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. Exodus 15:2
- Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Hallelujah!150:6
- You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.16:11
Someone once said, “Until God opens the next door, praise Him in the hallway. “
Keep Building into the Lives of Others
Time is our greatest currency. I will invest in the people that God puts in my life for their good and God’s glory. I refuse to waste another minute, because the clock is ticking. I will give to others the faith, love, grace, peace, joy, and hope God has and is giving to me.
Acts 13:36 reports of David and his life; “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors …”.
In this stage of life God makes me more keenly aware that I do not live on this earth for my own purposes and desires. I belong to God and He to me and I belong to you and you to me. (Romans 12:5; John 17:20-21; Eph. 4:12)
I ask myself these questions to help me finish strong:
- What am I doing with the time God has gifted me?
- How many people will be stronger because I am here?
- How many people will have a change of mind, perspective, and purpose because I am here?
- How many people will know more about God because I am here?
- How many people will believe in God because I am here?
- Am I bearing forward the image of God or just shining my “self?”
It is my prayer that you and I will find the purpose that God has for us, and that we will live it out to the very finish.
There is so much more that I am learning about finishing strong, like how I hope to build into my family while I am here with them.
This whole experience is a wake-up call to me about how I am living out my relationship with God. Am I on the “religious treadmill” or am I truly walking with God?
There is one who has gone before us and faced the darkness for us all. In Gethsemane, Jesus faced the darkness. He allowed it to descend on Him; he allowed it to crush Him, so that He could bring us into the presence of God. In the darkness of the cross, Jesus finished strong for you and me.
It does not matter if God grants me a miracle cure and fills me with strength and energy, what matters is that I live in faith in Him and honor Him with this life He has graciously given me through Jesus.
Wherever you are on your journey with God, at the beginning, mid-way or end, please take time to think about your relationship with God, and how you will live it out each day in order to finish strong with God.