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Begin with the End in Mind

November 26th, 2014 · No Comments

bigstock-Vintage-compass-on-paper-backg-54136208“Begin with the end in mind” – That’s another one of Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. I didn’t want to steal Covey’s ‘habit’ for my title, but it’s a pretty good fit, so we’ll let it stand.

Covey asks you, gentle reader, to close your eyes and imagine that you have just walked into a funeral. He describes the décor and the lighting, the mood and the guests; then, he asks you to walk up the aisle to the casket, only to discover that, as you look down to view the ‘guest of honor’ – it’s you! This is your funeral!

Covey’s point is to imagine your life after it’s over; what would you have accomplished? What relationships would have been important? Who would be attending your funeral and what would they have to say about you? Covey’s lesson – ‘begin with the end in mind.’ Live your life today in such a way that would guarantee the kind of funeral you’d like to see when that day comes

… ooookay …

Sounds a little weird, but we get the point – whatever you do, picture the end result you wish to achieve before you begin. Covey offers the ultimate end result (to him) in his funeral scenario. It’s not a bad lesson; in fact it’s darn practical. Instead of just jumping into a project, a commitment or a job, ask yourself what the ‘final outcome’ is going to look like. If it’s what you want, keep that picture in your mind and work toward making it a reality.

Where Covey falls short, for me, is that I’m looking forward to a greater final outcome than my own funeral. I agree, ‘begin with the end in mind’ is great advice; but the ‘end’ for me isn’t death – it’s life.

For those who have been ‘born again’ into a new reality, what we’re experiencing here and now isn’t life waiting for death; it’s just the opposite – death waiting for life. “For while we are in this tent (this life on earth), we groan and are burdened because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal (already dead or dying) may be swallowed up by life (eternal life, the real final reality into which we’ve been born again). Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose.” (2 Corinthians 5:4-5)

My mission isn’t to live my life on earth in such a way as to have a great funeral; it’s to live my mortal life in such a way as to enter into real life, forever, when I finally dispose of this temporary ‘tent’ I’m wearing now. So, in light of this greater reality, how can we, as Mr. Covey recommends, ‘begin with the end in mind’?

*****

Jesus was talking to his disciples about the end of the age and told them a parable about what the Kingdom of Heaven would be like at that time. The story is recorded in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25:14-30 and in Luke 19:12-27.

A man of noble birth was going on a long journey to another country where he was to be crowned king. Before he left he called in three of his servants to give instructions as to how his affairs should be conducted while he was gone. To the first servant he gave a substantial amount of money and told him, “Put this money to work for me until I return”. To the second servant he gave half as much as the first, with the same instructions, “Put this money to work for me until I return.” To the third he gave half as much as the second; his instructions to the third servant were the same, “Put this money to work for me until I return.”

The man was gone for a very long time, but eventually he returned. He called his three servants to him for an accounting of the money he had left them to invest on his behalf. The first servant had doubled the money given to him by his master. The second servant had also invested wisely and doubled the amount of money entrusted to him. To each of these servants, the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” The third servant approached his master and said, “I knew you were a hard man, always expecting a profit from the work of those who serve you. So I dug a hole in the ground and hid your money fearing I might lose it if I invested poorly. But here’s your money, safe and sound, the same amount you gave me when you left.”

His master cried out, “You wicked and lazy servant! You knew I was a hard man; you knew I require a profit from all those to whom I entrust my wealth. You didn’t even put my money into a bank to earn a little interest! “Take the money from this man” he commanded, “and give it to the servant who made the most from my money. And toss this wicked, lazy servant of mine into a place where he will suffer forever.”

Wow … the master was a hard man. While he was gone (and it was a long time) his servants were living in the master’s house, eating his food, and enjoying the comforts of their employment. I’ll bet it was pretty easy for those servants to forget that they were there for a purpose; they were there to make a profit, so that when their master returned he would benefit from their work. The master had been gone such a long time, that I’ll bet it was pretty easy to let the assignment he had given them slip their minds.

But the master did return and he did require an accounting. And the third servant was correct; the master wasn’t to be taken lightly. You make him a profit and he’ll reward you richly; you squander his money and he may have you killed while he watches (Luke 19:27).

Everyone likes what happens to the first two servants in this story, but we tend to sweep the fate of the third servant under the carpet.

Fact: This parable, like all parables, is really a story about us. Our Master left for a long journey. He has invested in us and he expects a return on that investment, and there will be a day of accounting. He’s been gone a long time and, living in the Master’s house and eating his food, it’s easy for us to forget the work He has assigned us. But He does expect us to turn a profit with what we’ve been given. For those who remember that and invest their Master’s wealth wisely, magnificent things are in store. For those who squander his wealth or hide it in a hole in the ground because they’re afraid to act on behalf of their Master, a terrible fate awaits.

Covey was on the right track but, like the rest of his success philosophy, eternally speaking, he falls dismally short of the mark. ‘Begin with the end in mind’ is great advice, but don’t bother imagining your own funeral, you won’t be there anyway (remember, that body you’re wearing now is just a ‘tent’ you’ve been loaned for a short time. The real reward for a life well lived is the day your Master looks at what you’ve done to ‘turn a profit’ with what He has given you and says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

Whatever you do today with what He has given you, remember to ‘begin with that end in mind.’

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