Finish Strong: A Lesson from King Asa

Finish Strong! That's the life motto of Nate Ebner: New England Patriot, Olympian and Super Bowl champion, whose life and trials were recently chronicled in an E:60 piece by ESPN. It's not enough to just compete... you have to finish strong.

I was recently reading about King Asa of Judah. He was the great grandson of King Solomon and ruled for 41 years. His story is told in 1 Kings 15 and again in 2 Chronicles 15-16.

Asa was an amazing king who brought rest and peace for his people during his rule. In the early going, the Bible tells us that Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God (2 Chr 14:2). Not only did he destroy the altars used for worshiping false gods and aggressively ridding Judah's cities and land of idols and high places, the Bible tells us that he also repaired the altar of the LORD. Asa was so zealous for the things of God that he even deposed his grandmother as queen for her worship of Asherah, a false goddess. That's pretty intense!

The writer of 2 Chronicles makes it very clear that Asa's success and prosperity as king was intimately linked to the way in which he wholeheartedly sought the Lord. And, as a result, he led his people to do the same.

Asa looked to God in everything, seeking God first even when it came to national security. In one instance, Asa had an army of 580,000 men facing an Ethiopian by the name of Zerah. Zerah and his army of 1 million strong came out for battle against Asa. It did not look good for Asa and Judah. As was his practice, Asa sought the Lord first. In 2 Chronicles 14:11, Asa cried to the LORD his God, 'O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you and in your name we have come against the multitude.'

In the next few verses the Bible tells us that the LORD defeated the Ethiopian army, giving every single enemy soldier into Asa's hands and delivering a great victory. The Lord was so pleased with Asa's response in that situation that he sent a prophet named Azariah to encourage him and tell him that the Lord is with you as long as you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you (2 Chr 15:2).

All was well. The Lord had given rest to Asa and his people.

But something happened between year 15 and year 35 of Asa's rule. Something internal. Asa had started strong with great intensity of devotion for the Lord, seeking Him first in all things. The Bible doesn't explicitly say what it was that crept in, but something changed in Asa.

In the 35th year of his reign, King Baasha of Israel, Asa's enemy to the North, began increasing pressure on Asa economically and militarily by essentially barricading Asa and Judah in from the outside world. In the past, Asa had sought the Lord. But this time, Asa did something different. He acted alone.

Asa's intuition told him the solution to this developing crisis was to empty God's house -- the temple -- of its gold and silver and give it to the pagan king of Syria in exchange for some help with Baasha. So that's exactly what Asa did. And it worked! King Baasha backed off. Asa breathed easily again. All was well. Or not exactly.

In the very next verse we read that God sent Hanani the seer to rebuke Asa. He recounted to Asa all that God had done on his behalf and scolded Asa for relying on a pagan king instead of God's strength. Then Hanani shared this famous message with Asa: "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war" (2 Chron. 16:9).

The Hebrew phrase for a committed heart essentially means "wholehearted devotion." At the temple's dedication, Solomon prayed for the people to have "wholehearted devotion." And later in his own life, we read that Solomon's wives turned his heart toward other gods and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord. One writer says that his wives bent his heart away from God.

That's what had happened to Asa. His heart had been bent away from God. He even imprisoned Hanani the seer because he was angry with the word of the Lord. And his hardness of heart is further illustrated when, at the end of his life, he contracts a painful foot disease. Rather than seeking the Lord, he relied only on physicians.

Sadly, Asa did not finish strong.

All of us have a race to run while on this earth. It's not enough merely to compete. The Apostle Paul tells us to run in such a way as to win the prize. To finish strong.

For Solomon it was his wives. For Asa it may have been pride and trying to take credit for something that God had done. It could have been comfort, ease or wealth that put his heart to sleep and caused him to believe that he was the source of his own success.

Asa's story illustrates the fact that any and all of us are susceptible to having our hearts bent away from God. We all need to safeguard our hearts so that we finish strong. Seeking God must be a life pursuit, not just something that happens in fits and spells or in our early years.

Even to the very end, God's grace was still evident over Asa's life. The people gave Asa a fitting burial and honored him as their king. As Mary DeMuth well notes:  "When we forget God in our successes, when we cease to seek God in our trials, when we fail to train for the long race, there is still grace. Yet with God's strong support all the way to the end we can have a heart completely devoted to Him."

Let's seek the Lord today and finish strong together!


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