September may be heading us toward the end of the year, but it is more often considered to be the harbinger of new beginnings: the start of a new academic year; returning to “normal” life and work after summer schedules and vacations; initiating new ventures. But despite the feelings that often accompany beginning, the truth is that beginnings are not the whole story. And sometimes, beginnings are not the story at all.
The Old Testament gives us many examples: God’s creation began in perfection, but marred by the sin of Adam and Eve (and all generations after them), it quickly devolved into a world of hardship, suffering, and pain. The beginnings of Noah’s life would have given him no clue that his life would become forever known by his faithful obedience in building the ark. King David’s beginnings were as a humble shepherd. And then the New Testament continues the theme: Mary and Joseph, focused on beginning life together as a married couple, were surely blind-sided by the Lord’s other plans for them. The Pharisee Saul, raised by good Jewish parents and at the height of power in the Jewish community, found himself turned around by the God he served to become an Apostle of the Christian faith that he had dedicated himself to eliminating.
Real life continues the theme we find in the Bible. While most, if not all, newly married couples expect to be personally changed by marriage, I will confess that I was totally shocked that marriage to Ken made me not only a baseball fan, but a Yankee fan. And whatever you think about the baseball in general and the Yankees in particular, they, too, offer numerous examples of beginnings that have little relationship to subsequent events and outcomes. Babe Ruth is one of the most celebrated Yankee sluggers of all time, and indeed, the old Yankee stadium was known as the house that Ruth built. But Ruth began his professional baseball career as a pitcher for the Yankee’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox. And in a recent game, the Yankees found themselves down 5-2 in a game against the Kansas City Royals. After the game resumed in the eighth inning after a rain delay, Yankee star Aaron Judge came up to the plate. He struck out: a terrible beginning in the attempt to rally from behind, and without doubt personally disappointing for Judge. But Judge’s teammates persisted and took a 7-5 lead. Judge unexpectedly found himself with a second at-bat in the inning, and with bases loaded, he hit a grand-slam homerun, breaking the game open and giving the team an 11-5 lead.
Beginnings are an unreliable predictor of the future. But even as we know this, it can be all too easy to allow them to dominate our expectations of the future. As we head into whatever beginnings September brings, it would be wise to shift our expectations and place them into our Lord’s hands, to strive for excellence but to also look with expectancy and anticipation to the Lord as He does His loaves and fishes work with our efforts. We would also be wise to prepare to be surprised!
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21.