Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family (1995) by Steve Farrar
After I finished reading Stu Weber's great book Tender Warrior, I proceed to read this one. I was pleased when I read Stu Weber's comment: "Of all men's books available today, Finishing Strong is the one most encouraging to me at this mid-stage in my life." Edwin Louis Cole, the author of Maximized Manhood (first book that gets me interested in Biblical manhood), also comments, "It is a gold mine of truth, the treasure of which is almost invaluable to anyone who wants to finish life strong." These comments fuel my curiosity, enough to spark the desire in me to read it – after I ‘taste' the first chapter – I was hooked and I love it! "In the Christian life," emphasized Farrar, "it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish."
He starts the book with a story of three men: Billy Graham, Chuck Templeton, and Bron Clifford. In their mid-twenties, around 1945, these three young preachers were very active in evangelism. One seminary president, after hearing Templeton preach one evening to an audience of thousands, called him "the most gifted and talented young man in America today for preaching." Graham and Templeton were friends. In those early years, Templeton was the most famous and called by a local newspaper as a man who "best used of God." Clifford was yet another gifted and powerful preacher "the church had seen in centuries.” It was said of him that young Clifford had "touched more lives, influenced more leaders, and set more attendance records than any other clergyman his age in American history." But as you read this review, I bet some (if not, most) of you know and heard about Billy Graham. So – the question is – how come you've never heard of Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford?
Steve Farrar writes, "Templeton left the ministry to pursue a career as a radio and television commentator and newspaper columnist. Templeton had decided he was no longer a believer in Christ in the orthodox sense of the term… By 1950, [he] no longer believed in the validity of the claims of Jesus Christ." How about Clifford? Farrar continues, "By 1954, Clifford had lost his family, his ministry, his health, and then… his life. Alcohol and financial irresponsibility had done him in. he wound up leaving his wife and their two Down's syndrome children." He died at the age of 35 from cirrhosis of the liver. He died, as John Haggai puts it, "unwept, unhonoured, and unsung." In 1945, these three young men – Graham, Templeton, and Clifford – with extraordinary gifts were preaching the gospel to multiplied thousands in America and beyond. Within 10 years, only one of them – a faithful man of God, Billy Graham – was still on track for Christ. Only one finishing strong. In Christian life, it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish.
Steve Farrar also told a story of John Bisagno and his father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck having a conversation. Dr. Beck advised young Bisagno like this: "Stay true to Jesus! Make sure that you keep your heart close to Jesus every day… It has been my observation that just one out of ten who start out in full-time service for the Lord at 21 are still on track by the age of 65. They're shot down morally, they're shot down with discouragement, they're shot down with liberal theology, and they get obsessed with making money… but for one reason or another 9 out of 10 fall out." The 20-year-old Bisagno was shocked! I was shocked when I read it. Farrar continues the story of how Bisagno went back that night and wrote down names of 24 young men who were his peers and contemporaries, who "were sold out for Jesus Christ… trained for ministry… committed young preachers." Bisagno recalled: "I'm now 53 years-old. From time to time as the years have gone by, I've had to turn back to that page… and cross out a name. I wrote down 24 names when I was just 20-years-old. 33 years later, there are only 3 names remaining of the original 24." In Christian life, it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish.
One more story and I'm done. Steve Farrar told a story of John MacArthur Jr. (my favorite author and preacher) when he was approached by a man after his preaching service in Scotland. The man asked, "Is your father named Jack MacArthur?" John said yes. The man then continues telling him how his father and two other men impacted his life and ministry. He asked John, "Where is your father now?" John told him that his father was preaching and pastoring. The man then asked, "Is he still faithful to the Word?" "Yes, he is still faithful and still standing." "What happened to the other two men who were ministering with your father?" the man finally asked. John replied, "I'm sorry to report that one has denied the faith and the other died an alcoholic." Only 1 out of 3 was stilling standing strong (If you read the Book of Numbers chapter 13, there you will also find only 2 out of 12 men – Joshua and Caleb – finished strong!). In Christian life, it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish.
I have to say that not every man should read this book. It's a dangerous book. If you don't keep it, you'll lose it; if you take hold of what Farrar taught in this book, you'll be a rare, exceptional, teachable man of God. And that's the danger… statistically, only one man in ten will finished strong. Let me put it this way: (only) men who are tired of the status quo and (only) men who desire to be faithful and finishing strong should read this book. The desire is a great motivation to read this book. If you have that longing, it doesn't matter how you start – you can always finish strong. The danger is you have to make tough choices and an experience or two of personal brokenness. There is a price of finishing strong and only a few will make it. But I tell you – IT'S WORTH IT. One way to finish strong, one that Farrar emphasized over and over again, is this: “We finish strong by fixing our eyes on Jesus." But practically, how? Read this book.
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.