“I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”
- John 17:4
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you
have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”
- 1 Peter 1:22-23
What happens at this stage
The Completing Stage begins with a fresh surrender to the purposes of God. Having become convinced of the inadequacy of our old way of living life, we make a fresh commitment to trust, honor and obey the Lord in every area of our lives. We begin to understand the words of Jesus: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his will” (John 4:32).
Following our transforming inner journey through the Broken Phase of the Deepening Stage, Christ turns our attention outward again. Now we reconnect with the active world in a new way. We study, learn and serve again, but with a very different attitude. We do it not to gain God’s favor or to “feel good” or “be fulfilled.” We do it because it is who we are and what God calls us to do. We do it because we love Him and choose to honor Him through our obedience. We cannot not do it. We have begun to love what God loves and hate what He hates. We naturally detest evil. We delight in giving ourselves away to serve others. We become deeply connected to our calling. Through faithful perseverance, we are becoming “complete”. As James observed, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).
Early in this stage, a coach or guide is especially important. A mature coach can help us learn how to live in the new way of the Spirit, rest in God’s presence and provision and draw on His boundless resources as we serve others in His name. The church class Finishing Well and workshop Resonate are specifically designed for Christ followers in the Completing Stage. They can orient you to this stage of the journey and help equip you to get the most from it and leave a lasting legacy.
The Completing Stage is marked by deep dependence on God. This involves a moment-by-moment relationship of trust and intimacy. At this stage we recognize our abject helplessness apart from God’s constant sustaining grace. Physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, we have become profoundly and irrevocably convinced of our utter reliance on Christ, who is “our life” in concrete and comprehensive terms (Colossians 3:4). Jesus’ statement in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing,” is not just a theological statement but a strikingly accurate description of what we have discovered to be true about ourselves. We know that if Christ does not live in and through us—loving, working, thinking, speaking, being—we cannot live the Christian life.
We begin to understand our “union” with Christ, that astonishing experience of having been placed by the Holy Spirit into Christ to share the triune glory, power and love. We are “in Christ” and He is “in us” (Ephesians 1:3-14; John 17:23-26). This is not a new reality but a new appreciation of an already existing reality, one that began with our new birth (see John 3:3-8). Depending on one’s theological tradition, this life is known by different names: the deeper life, mystical union, higher life, victorious life, spirit-filled life, union life, exchanged life, Christ life, life of blessing, life of abiding, second blessing, second work of grace, Christian perfection, etc. Despite the differences in these terms, what they share in common is an emphasis on a new level of intimacy with the triune God and a heightened sense of rest (ease), peace, victory over sin and power for ministry.
The Completing Stage is distinguished by moral purity. Not that we never sin. We still do, but far less frequently or egregiously than during our earlier stages (See 1 John 1:8-9; 3:8-9). We don’t have the taste for sin that we once had, having discovered a far superior pleasure—the lasting joy of obedience and fellowship with God—compared to the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). At this mature stage, our wills are more deeply intertwined with God’s. We want what He wants for us and for the world. And we are given the power to obey Him and “do the works” Jesus did (John 14:12). This is because we have learned to yield to Him and “live as He lived” (1 John 2:6). Thus, through His Spirit, we can love the unlovely, be kind to the rude, pray for our enemies and hold our tongue when others offend us. In short, we can live out those commands spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount because we have learned—through suffering, discipline and perseverance—to die to ourselves, rely on God’s grace and walk in His Spirit. We consistently “offer the parts of our bodies to Him as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). As John Wesley expressed it, “The will is entirely subject to the will of God and the affections wholly fixed on him. Now what motive can remain sufficient to induce such a person to a transgression of the law?”
Common Characteristics of the Completing Stage are:
Life of Prayer. At this stage, prayer is continual—a kind of internal, uninterrupted conversation with the Lord. It is the natural expression of a heart captivated by the Lord, zealous for his glory and kingdom, and utterly convinced of its absolute dependence on Him. Our prayers do not merely consist of constant petitioning, although they—of course—include petitions or requests. Rather, they are an on-going dialogue with our Father, Lover and Friend, sometimes talking, but more often listening, enjoying our companionship with Him. Our prayer life grows out of our union with Christ: His Spirit living inside us, made “one” with our spirit (1 Cor 6.17). Because of this, we can, like Brother Lawrence, “practice the presence of God” throughout each day. While still making use of the spiritual disciplines, Completing Stage Christians need them in a different way than young believers do. They pray, journal, fast, study, etc. with a greater ease, wearing these habits like a loose garment for their relationship with the Lord transcends these activities, while still making regular use of them. However, Christians at this (and every stage) don’t always experience God’s felt or tangible presence: there are still “dark nights of the soul” that the Lord uses to correct, test and shape us into greater Christlikeness.
Wholeness. There is not a precise one-to-one correspondence between spiritual maturity and psychological integrity, but at this stage of the journey we experience a new sense of coherence and wholeness. We have a good grasp on just who we are: our temperament, giftings, strengths, weaknesses, dysfunctions, passions and callings. Clinton calls this stage “confluence:” a time when all that God made us to be comes together with the gifts He has given us and His calling on our life. Our ministry is done from the overflow of our deepest selves. It becomes relatively effortless and natural. Not that we don’t work hard and continue to learn, stretch and grow; but there is an ease about our work now. We are hungry to fulfill God’s purposes for us and to walk in the good works He has “prepared beforehand for us to do”, but we are not hurried or anxious (Ephesians 2:10). Further, we do not need others to affirm us or validate our work. Benedict Groeschel writes: “Perhaps the most powerful psychological awareness is the absolute certitude of God’s presence in the soul. Psychologically one may speculate that all defenses have now been reduced to practically nothing…Because persons at this level no longer experience the need for human reinforcement and approval, they are quiet and gentle and very unobtrusive.”
Mature Acceptance. Christ followers at the Completing Stage understand that life is fundamentally and inherently unfair. Ever since humanity’s fall into sin the world lives under a curse. And in our sin-cursed world, life is intrinsically hard and bad things happen to us, often undeserved. The world is set in rebellion against God and powerful malevolent beings seek to destroy us. It “groans” in its current fallen state (Rom 8:19-23). Younger Christians tend to think that life should be fair and run smoothly, so they become profoundly disillusioned when things go wrong. But mature believers have come to accept life’s unfairness without resentment or bitterness. They have developed the kind of indifference to circumstances that Paul expressed when he wrote that he had learned to be content in every circumstance, whether having plenty or being in need (Philippians 4:11-13). Completing Stage Christians aren’t busy seeking after “things” to give them life. Because they are continually living in fellowship with God’s own fullness, they already experience life “to the full” and so do not look to possessions or thrills or other experiences to bring them joy. They see the things that happen to them as opportunities to grow in character and bring glory to God. Because of this mindset, they don’t dread trials or hardships. They know that these are invitations to experience God’s rich companionship in deeper ways. While pain and suffering are still very much a part of their lives, they experience joy and peace in the midst of them because trials provide opportunities to draw near to the Lord. Their one consuming passion is to please the Lord in all that they do. So their indifference to worldly things is not due to a sober stoicism but to the simple fact that they have found consummate delight in Him. As a consequence, Completing Stage Christians uncomplaining and grateful for the smallest of gifts. Money is not a preoccupation, for their treasures are in heaven. God himself is their “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13.45-46) and their treasure hidden in the field (Matthew 13.44) for which they have sold everything. Compared to Christ, everything else is “dung” (Philippians 3. 7-9).
True Trust and Rest. Hebrews 4.9-11: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” Completing Stage believers have learned to rest in Christ and his complete provision for us. He fully—and with finality—paid the price for our sins and, as the “fullness of God”, He fills us with Himself and gives us “everything we need for life and godliness” (Hebrews 10:10-14; Colossians 1:19; 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3). As a result, mature believers are able to be more relaxed in life. They are not defensive about their work or reputation; they can laugh at their mistakes and acknowledge their weaknesses; they accept criticism and correction gladly and they can say “no” to those opportunities that God has not called them to without fear of disappointing others. Their egos are not wrapped up in their work but, with the rest of their life, are “hidden in Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). They are not overly concerned with what others think about them. They live for an audience on One. They understand that have nothing to prove, nothing to lose, nothing to fear and nothing to hide, for Christ has redeemed them and knows them intimately. Because of these facts, they have great freedom and confidence to live life by faith and not by fear.
Ministry Fruitfulness. In their ministry activities, Completing Stage believers experience greater fruitfulness than they did at earlier stages. This is because they have learned to “abide” in Christ and allow Him to minister through them in the power of His Spirit. They may minister in essentially the same ways they did at previous stages but the ministry requires less time and effort due to their reliance on His strength, wisdom, power and authority. And they do not want credit for their ministries: they prefer to simply go about their callings with humility and faithfulness, redirecting any compliments they receive to the Lord, whom they know to be the source of every good thing (James 1:17). Along with fruitfulness in ministry is an enhanced fruitfulness in character. By “dying to themselves” mature believers have learned to say “no” to selfish, distorted ambitions, lusts as other fleshly ways. This creates the “empty space” for God to then display His character through their attitudes, words and actions. Thus, when people encounter Completing Stage Christians, they observe the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control of God Himself, for these are the fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Mature love. Janet Hagberg calls the latter part of this stage the “Life of Love” because it is characterized by the kind of agape that Jesus lived out and calls us to embody: “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). God Himself is an overflowing plentitude of love. We, made in God’s image, are called to express that love in all facets of our existence. Completing Stage Christians thus find it easy to make sacrifices for others and not feel a sense of loss because they have found such joy in giving and—as with God—generosity is now an essential part of them. Their love extends to friends and foes alike because it depends not on the loveliness of the one loved but on the constancy of the lover. At this stage, the qualities of agape discussed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a become trademarks, and we find ourselves able to pray with St Francis of Assissi: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
What God does in your life at this stage
Some of the predictable ways God ministers to Christians during the Completing Stage of development include the following.
Destiny insights. Occurring throughout our lives, these take on added weight and focus in the latter years, as God clarifies how we are to leave a lasting legacy as we complete the work He has given us to do on earth. He speaks to us through His Word, wise mentors, quiet reflection, dreams, providential circumstances and through planned events like Focused Living, Apex and Resonance designed specifically to help us identify and live out our callings.
Crises. As in other times in our lives but especially in the Broken Phase of the Deepening Stage, God employs a variety of methods to test our hearts and train us to be more humble, loving, reverent and obedient. These continue throughout our lives and include things like conflict, isolation and “leadership backlash”, in which others undermine our leadership. Each time they come, they present us with an invitation to submit more fully to Him.
Character tests. Just as in the Beginning and Deepening Stages, the Lord continues, in the Completing Stage, to shape our character, obedience and trust through Obedience, Faith and Integrity Checks. To read more about them, you can click here. Link here.
What is important for you to do at this stage
There are three things that are especially important for you to do at this stage in your journey as you prepare to stand before the Lord with a clear conscience, live the life to come and leave an enduring legacy on earth.
Define your legacy. It is vital to spend your time and attention on those things that are most important from the standpoint of eternity. This requires saying “no” to many good things so you can say “yes” to the best things. Specifically, how can you invest your remaining years in those people and activities God has called you to be involved in for the good of his kingdom and the renown of His name?
Get mature counsel. We can’t come to clarity on our own. We all have limited perspectives, considerable blind spots and distortions in our thinking. We therefore need others to help instruct and guide us. We especially need trained and mature Christ-followers who can come alongside us to help us understand our calling, role and life-stage so we can make use of every available resource to grow in Christ and serve others in His name.
Continue in intimacy, trust and obedience. We never outgrow the need for growing intimacy with the Lord, trust in Him and obedience to Him. We cultivate these things on a daily basis as we spend time with Him, listen to His voice and submit to His will. As we do this consistently, we prepare ourselves for our home-going. Death for believers is not the dreadful thing it is for those outside of Christ, for whom it is, in the words of George MacDonald, “the border haunted of dismay…the other thing, the opposite of day, formless and ghastly, sick, and gaping-dumb.” For Christ followers death is, rather, something we can embrace with courage, hope, and genuine joy: “In the great glow of that great love, this death would melt away like a fantastic cloud; I should no more shrink from it than from the breath that makes in the frosty air a nimbus-shroud.”
How the church helps you at this stage
This stage is more about giving out than taking: imparting to others what the Lord has implanted in you. But the church can still help you in significant ways. In addition to our Sunday worship services and special events, the church offers two opportunities focused on Completing Stage believers (see below). It also offers a host of valuable online resources (recommended books, videos, blogs, etc.) to help you make the most of this final stage of your earthly journey. Neighborhood Church strongly encourages every Completing Stage Christian to participate in the following two events.
Finishing well. Offered each year, this class teaches Christians how to live their final years with few regrets, significant authority and great joy. For more information about the class and the next date it is being offered: Click Here
Resonance Workshop. This workshop is designed to help you identify the unique way God has shaped and gifted you to fulfill your calling and influence others during the final chapter of your life on earth. For more information about the class and the next date it is being offered: Click Here
Also, our pastors are always available to assist you in getting the outside help you need, whether spiritual direction, professional counseling, life coaching or financial guidance.
Resources that will help you grow during this stage
If you are a Completing Stage Christian, we highly recommend that you read, watch, and listen to the following core resources.
- The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
- Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Barton
- How Now Shall We Live by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey
UPCOMING EVENTS: HOW THE CHURCH CAN HELP
Finishing Well is a six-Sunday class designed to help those who have journeyed with God for many years and are seeking to finish with faithfulness and grace. It focuses on issues unique to our final stage of this life: aging gracefully, growing in faith through trials, influencing others through relationship rather than position, leaving a lasting legacy, and preparing for the transition to the life to come.
Resonance is an encouraging and informative process that helps Christians—through discussion and guided exercises—answer certain key questions, like: What is the end of life supposed to look like? How do I make my final years count for God’s kingdom? Whom should I minister to and how? The process ends with a “Legacy dinner” where we celebrate how God has used each participant up in the past and encourage one another to continue faithfully pursuing God’s best in the future. Resonance is designed for those in their later 60s, 70s and 80s.
Our next Resonance workshop will be:
Spring of 2017 - details to follow