The Key to Success? Follow Through.

The Key to Success? Follow Through.

“No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day” (Luke 9:62, MSG).

Despite the numerous promises found in the Bible, people often fail to see the breakthroughs that God wants us to experience. God is faithful to do what He has promised, but spiritual breakthrough is not a one-sided endeavor. It is more accurately a partnership between God and us. Unfortunately, our human nature is usually to be good starters, but poor finishers.

How many of us have started a diet, but cave when someone offers us our favorite treat? How many have purchased gym memberships and stop going after the first month? What about a promising new job or educational program that we walk away from because (fill in the blank). Or the marriage that just didn’t work out. Or the DIY project that has remained unfinished for the past two years…

We must personally take action to stop procrastinating, making excuses, and overpromising while underdelivering. In order to see real change and authentic breakthrough, we must stop “starting,” and begin “finishing” what God has instructed us to do. And that means we need to learn how to plan, be intentional and follow through to the finish. Remember the admonishment of Jesus in Luke 14:

“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, all who see it begin to mock him,  saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?” (Luke 14:28-29).

In order for us to be the influencing agents on earth that He has called us to be, we must be able to finish! In fact, it is a godly characteristic we should try to imitate:

“…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 1:6).

“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Our God is a finisher! And when we learn to follow His lead, we too, will be finishers.

Hannah’s “Follow Through” Victory

Hannah’s story is found in 1 Samuel, beginning in chapter 1. The air had been sucked out of her life because she was barren and could not provide her husband, Elkanah, with children. In those days, barren women were considered cursed by God and were stigmatized by society. As such, the culture permitted her husband to marry another woman who could provide him with children, and Elkanah did.

He married a woman named Peninnah, and their family became a B.C. version of Sister Wives. Peninnah made Hannah’s life miserable and provoked her daily, reminding her of how “cursed” she was, and how blessed Peninnah was to have many children. This family turmoil caused Hannah to go through years of sorrow and depression, even going without food and sleep.

One year, after the family had traveled to Shiloh to offer sacrifice to the Lord, Hannah began to pray, weeping bitterly to the Lord. She promised the Lord that if He would give her a son, she would dedicate him to service in the temple. Eli the Priest saw her praying silently, with her lips moving and presumed she was just drunk. And what followed changed everything:

“…and [he] said to her, ‘How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.’ ‘Not so, my lord,’ Hannah replied, ‘I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.’ Eli answered, ‘Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him’” (1 Samuel 1:14-17).

When they returned home, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, the prophet Samuel.

Now, we might be tempted to think the story is over. Hannah got what she wanted. Her family shame and struggle was a thing of the past. When God removed the stigma on her life, she was no longer sad.

But real finishing is not getting what we want. Finishing is letting God use us to get what He wants.

Our lives are not our own. “We have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). That means, God is not our servant, rather we are His servants. And the cry of our hearts should be first and foremost “here I am Lord, use me.”

Hannah wasn’t finished. The reason why she was blessed was so that God could use her to be a blessing.

Remember Hannah’s prayer:

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head’” (1 Samuel 1:1:10-11).

And it happened!

Have you ever vowed to God or made promises in prayer? Have you ever sworn to do something (or not do something) if God would just answer your request?

And have you ever gotten what you want, thankful that the crisis is over, and forgotten to follow through on what you vowed?

Hannah’s story wasn’t finished, because she hadn’t yet followed through. She got her baby, and her shame was lifted. But she had to follow through by letting God use what he gave her for his purposes. She had to give her son back to God, which meant she had to take him to the temple at Shiloh to be raised by the priest Eli and trained to be a priest himself.

Imagine how hard it was for Hannah to follow through on her vow to God. She finally had her son, and yet she knew she must take him to a backslidden priest to be raised in an environment that was anything but holy.

That’s why only some become heroes of the faith — because it’s a lot easier to start than it is to finish. But if you never follow through, you will always wind up right back where you started, even if you got what you wanted.

If you never follow through, your marriage won’t change, your finances will stay the same, you won’t get that promotion, or get in shape. You won’t finish that degree or break that addiction.

If you never follow through, you will wind up right back where you started.

But not Hannah. She was able to muster the strength to release Samuel to God, and her experience demonstrates the importance and ultimate reward of “following through.”

Finish in Phases, One Step at a Time

There is an old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Translation: when it’s hard to finish, finish in phases.

In order to finish big, unmanageable things, we must break it down into a series of small, manageable steps. One step at a time, one victory at a time, one day at a time.

Think about creation as recorded in Genesis. Couldn’t God have created everything in only one day? Of course, but He gave us a pattern. If you want to finish something large, finish in phases, one step at a time.

And that’s what Hannah did.

Step 1: Hannah decided to change what she was experiencing. She decided to stop being the shameful barren wife.

Step 2: Hannah decided to go to the temple. She realized she needed God’s intervention.

Step 3: She decided to worship God. She decided to worship God regardless — not after she conceived a child, but before.

Step 4: She decided to pray and make a vow.

Step 5: God opened her womb and she conceived.

Step 6: She cared for her son until the time he was weaned.

Step 7: She took him to the temple at age of 3, to be raised in the presence of God.

Step 8: God gave Hannah 3 more sons and 2 daughters. (1 Samuel 2:21)

Hannah started in a hard place in life, but it all radically changed as she finished in phases.

Finish with Fire

In life, we know that there are times when we are more motivated to do certain things than at other times. For example when we are in a lot of pain we have a tendency to promise things in prayer. God, if you answer my prayer I will never do that again. God, if you do this for me just this one time, I promise that for the rest of my life I will….

Then once the pain has healed or become manageable, we are not as passionate about what we’ve started. We have a tendency to revert back to the way things were and abandon the process. So, we must be intentional about fanning the fire.

“I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God….” (2 Timothy 1:6).

We are responsible for ensuring our commitment to the things of God doesn’t go out. Our passion will stop us from thinking that “finishing” is when we get what we want.

When there is a constant fire shut up in your bones, trial and tribulation won’t put it out. Neither will time or social pressures.

But we’ve got to fan the flame. We’ve got to keep throwing spiritual kindling on our desire to let God use us to get what He wants.

Once Hannah made the decision to catch fire, she fanned the flame with her praise, prayer, and offerings. There is simply no substitute for these essential spiritual disciplines in keeping the fire of God lit in our lives.

When it was time for Hannah to finish, notice what pushed her over the finish line – she brought God a generous gift (1 Samuel 1:24-25). There is no fire for God without also being generous toward God. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Be faithful in your giving to stoke the fire of your commitment to God.

Finish for God

You’ve also got to be motivated to finish for God! (2 Timothy 4:6-8).  It cannot be about the applause or accolades of man. And it cannot even be about yourself; sometimes we actually sabotage our own success!

In order to follow through to the finish, we’ve got to live for an audience of One. We’ve got to have a desire to hear those words, well done, good and faithful servant, above everything else.

But even though Hannah followed through in phases, and she kept her commitment to God fired up as she put Him first, she still needed strength to do something so difficult.

I’m certain there was no smile on her face, nor was she full of joy. She struggled to fight back the tears, even as she followed through with her vow to God.

So how did Hannah finish?

Only through the grace of God — a force that was greater than anything she could muster on her own.

Following through to the finish is rarely easy. Hannah did everything she could, but the main reason she succeeded is because she finished through God’s grace — the grace that holds us up and equips us to do the impossible.

Whatever you have started but not yet finished – begin again, and take it step-by-step. Be generous toward God, stoking your fire for the things of God, and you’ll hear Him say, well done, as you follow through to the finish!

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Courtney Hale

Frank SantoraFrank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit Photo by Michele Roman.