On the sixth day of NASA’s moon mission of Apollo 13, the astronauts aboard the badly damaged space vehicle needed to make a critical course correction in order to position themselves to reenter the earth’s atmosphere. Unfortunately, the ship’s onboard computer had been shut down to conserve power, so the craft had to be steered manually during the 39-second burn of the main engines. How would they steer? By focusing through their small window on their only visible focal point — the earth. By keeping the earth as their constant reference point during the burn, they were able to keep on course and finish the mission, avoiding disaster.
At various times of the year, there is particular discussion about finishing well. In May, school graduates anticipate the completion of an academic career (or at least a significant portion of their career) and church ministries may anticipate a brief respite from activities for the summer. In summer, young couples (and their parents) anticipate the completion and fulfillment of wedding plans and ceremonies. In December (or sometimes June), corporations evaluate their financial status and their prospects for the next fiscal year. In December, many individuals evaluate the state of their personal lives — their weight, job prospects, relationships, and ministries. Like the three astronauts aboard Apollo 13, these and many more are working and hoping for a successful completion to the activities of their lives.
The believer in Christ also has the goal of successfully completing something, as is made apparent by Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:9, 11). What does Paul have in mind when he prays for this completion?
The word is interesting. Its root has a basic meaning of mending and making whole. It is even used of mending fishing nets (Mk. 1:19) and setting broken bones (in extra-Biblical literature).
Scripture then uses this same word to apply to a spiritual reality — that God makes a man whole by taking that which is weak and defective and setting right what has gone wrong spiritually (e.g., Gal. 6:1; 1 Pt. 5:10). In other words, this prayer acts on the promise God has made to repair the damage that sin and suffering have created in the lives of those who love Him and believe Him. As commentator Hiebert has well-noted, “God will not allow the work He has begun…to fall short of His perfecting grace.”
In effect, then, this prayer is a way of saying, “God, we ask You to apply Your grace to the sin of our lives in such a way that the effect of our sin will be redeemed and used for your glory, so that we will become all that we can be in Christ Jesus — healthy, functioning members of His body.” So “completion” on earth for the believer is not so much completion, but maturation and growth in his walk with Christ.
This, then, is an appropriate prayer to pray not only for those who are finishing a course in life, or embarking on a new course, but it is an appropriate prayer to pray for myself each day. And it is an appropriate prayer to pray for the other members of the body of Christ — all of whom God is bringing to completion in Him.