Endings and Beginnings

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,

and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Ecclesiastes 7:8

Ecclesiastes 7:8 states that the end is better than the beginning, and patience is better than pride. This verse emphasizes the importance of completing tasks and having patience rather than being proud. There are three perspectives on approaching life: necessary endings for growth, establishing healthy boundaries, and understanding life in retrospect while moving forward.

Dr. Henry Cloud, a psychologist, emphasizes the importance of endings for healthy boundaries and personal growth. Endings allow for closure, creating space for positive beginnings. They offer opportunities for learning, resilience, and personal development. Similarly, new beginnings bring renewal, growth, and the pursuit of new goals. The balance between endings and beginnings is crucial.

This balance aligns with Kierkegaard's philosophy. He emphasized that life must be fully comprehended from a retrospective perspective yet simultaneously lived forward.

According to Kierkegaard, life can only be understood backward but must be lived forward. Reflecting on the past allows us to gain insight, but it's also important to constantly move forward into new experiences and endeavors.

Looking Back

Hindsight gives us valuable insight that can sharpen our foresight as we continue down the unique path of life. As we stand at the threshold of the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, hindsight provides spiritual wisdom and confirms Kierkegaard's philosophy about life. "Better is the end of a thing than its beginning."

When we hear the phrase that better is the end than the beginning, it may seem counterintuitive. We often assume that beginnings are better. However, wisdom literature tells us otherwise. We all start with a mindset of new beginnings, like at the beginning of a new year or a new goal. But what truly matters is not how we start but how we finish.

Let me illustrate this in your life. At the beginning of 2024, you may have made resolutions like going to the gym or having a dry month in January. You may have even declared that you will live by a budget for the entire year. We all have this mindset of new beginnings. But what matters is whether we can follow through and finish what we started.

Ecclesiastes wisely says it is better to finish something than just begin. Anyone can start a process, like going to school, but the real question is whether you can finish and graduate. Starting is easy, but finishing requires dedication and commitment.

Life is a cyclical experience, constantly shifting between endings and beginnings. We all have a series of unfinished tasks and projects in our lives. Some of us are serial beginners, always starting new things but struggling to finish them.

Life itself is a continuous cycle of endings and beginnings, just like the natural world transitioning from winter to spring, symbolizing the end of dormancy and the start of growth. Similarly, the transition from autumn to winter represents the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a period of rest and preparation for new growth. This rhythm of endings and beginnings is observed not only in the natural world but also in our personal and social lives.

Growth and Change

Our world consists of various endings, such as completing academic milestones, concluding relationships, transitioning between jobs, or experiencing loss. However, these endings are often followed by new beginnings, such as pursuing further education, forming new relationships, starting a new career, or finding meaning in the face of loss.

Similarly, in our society, we constantly undergo transitions and transformations. Old traditions, technology, and systems give way to new ideologies, social movements, technological devices, and cultural shifts. This continuous cycle leads us from endings to new beginnings, requiring us to reimagine and reconstruct what has ended.

Therefore, we currently find ourselves in one of the greatest times in history, filled with opportunities for growth and change.

We are about to experience the cyclical transition from 2023 to 2024, marking the end and beginning of a new year. This annual event is celebrated worldwide with fireworks, gatherings of family and friends, cultural and religious rituals, music, dance, and reflective customs. It is common to have traditional foods like greens and black-eyed peas for good luck. Ecclesiastes 7:8 highlights the significance of endings and beginnings, stating that the end of a matter is better than its beginning.

I want to share some key principles with you as we approach the end of chapter 2023 and prepare for chapter 2024. Let's take a moment to reflect on our progress in 2023. How can we measure our personal, professional, and spiritual progress?

Jesus shared a parable in Luke 13:6-9 about a fig tree that didn't bear fruit. The owner wanted to cut it down, but the vine dresser asked for one more year to dig around it and fertilize it. The parable teaches us the importance of measuring productivity and progress. Let's apply this principle to our lives and allow ourselves to grow and bear fruit.

Measure Your Progress

How successful was 2023 for you? I know you're all excited about the upcoming celebration this evening. I know you're looking forward to it. But after you do what you plan to do, take a moment to assess your progress this year. Does anyone here feel like me that they could have been more successful? Despite not achieving as much as I could have, I'm grateful for another year to improve.

Before you get too worked up, let’s focus on measuring progress and productivity in three areas of your life. The first domain is personal growth. Focus on your growth, not your neighbor's, spouse's, or children's. Can you say you've grown in character, integrity, and emotional intelligence? Have you learned to control your emotions better and not react impulsively? Reflect on how you've grown from your experiences in 2023. Even if it was a challenging year, it provided opportunities for personal development.

Let me sum it up: if someone said 2023 was bad, we can still grow from those experiences. Ask yourself, how have I grown in 2023? Have I become a better person? Can people see the improvement in me? It's disheartening when people haven't seen you in decades and say you're still the same.

We should measure progress in our professional lives. What have you done in 2023 to increase your net worth? Have you read books? Taken courses? Expanded your intellectual capacity? Have you been an asset or a liability in your professional life? It's important to increase our learning along with our earnings.

Now, let's discuss the domain of our spiritual lives. How has our relationship with God grown? How's our prayer and worship life? Are we consistent in spending time in communal worship? We can't prioritize everything else and leave God for when it's convenient. We need to take our spiritual walk seriously. It's crucial to assess our progress and continue measuring it.

Modify Our Plans

We not only measure progress but also modify plans at the end of the year. Take a moment to audit 2023 and honestly assess what didn't work. Evaluate plans that are not producing. Stop and do an honest assessment.

Due to changes we may have experienced in 2023, our initial plans may need to be re-evaluated, re-aligned, and revamped based on the current reality. Plans that worked in 1999 may not work now. Reflect on what needs to be recalibrated in your life. Take a strategic and reflective pause to make these critical adjustments for a better life.

Understand that there are two sets of plans: yours and God's. Conflict arises when we prioritize our plans over God's plans. Instead of spending time on vision boards and cutting out pictures, focus on active participation and performance. A poster board with pictures and words alone is a waste of time. Nothing on that poster board will become a reality if you don't participate.

There's a difference between your plans and God's plans. Consider what's on the poster board and whether God is interested. God may not have the same plan for your life as you do.

Proverbs says that while you may plan, the Lord establishes steps. So, ensure that God approves your plans and isn't just co-signing for them. Men may make vision boards, but God's purpose is what will stand. Sometimes, frustration arises when your plans don't align with God's purpose, so take a minute to reflect on that.

Before you start cutting and pasting, talk to God and ask Him what His plan is for your life. God has plans for you, plans to prosper and give you hope and a future. However, remember that Jeremiah 29:11 was spoken to people in captivity for 70 years, so it's important to understand its context.

Let me get straight to the point. I suggest you consider these five questions when creating your vision board:

  1. What gives you a deep sense of purpose?
  2. Where do your talents intersect with the world's needs?
  3. How have your past experiences shaped you for today?
  4. What opportunities and doors are open for you to stand on your kingdom platform?
  5. What does God want you to prioritize in your life?

These questions will help guide you in the right direction and make the most of your vision board. Remember, measuring your progress, modifying your plans, and adding value to others is important.

As we approach the end of the year, it's a great time to mature in your perspective and mend relationships that have been strained. Let go of resentment and bitterness and make room for growth in 2023.

Minding your posterity means thinking about the generation to come. Instead of just focusing on 2024, consider how it connects to previous years and your overall legacy. How can you enhance your legacy in 2024?

2024 may be the year to end toxic habits and relationships. Consider reading the book "Necessary Endings" by Dr. Henry Cloud, which explores the importance of setting boundaries and letting go of things that no longer serve us. By making necessary endings, you create space for something greater and allow God to bless you with new opportunities.

Prayer

Lord, we thank You for Your Word and this verse that lives in obscurity. Better is the end than the beginning. Help us not just hear but truly understand. As we assess our progress and adjust our plans, help us end 2023 well so that as we start 2024, we do so with clarity about Your plan, Your purpose for our lives, and our ability to fulfill it.

Father, I pray for someone here today who is unsaved or disconnected from the church. In this moment, lead, guide, save, and deliver them. But most importantly, our prayer is that someone will come to know Your son, Jesus Christ, as their Redeemer, Lord, and Savior.

We pray in Jesus Christ's name, and all those who agree say, “Amen.”

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