In life, it seems that the best experiences reside in one of two places: the past or the future. The former seems logical, for in that place time seems to do its best work in our minds, smoothing out the rough edges of memories too distant for criticism. Certain moments, or even entire seasons, cause us to long for the former days. The latter pulls at a different place in our heart. The trials of the past cause too much pain or the hope of a future occurrence seemingly squashes our current worries, so looking ahead becomes our attempted source of happiness.
While it’s not evil to consider both of these spaces with fondness or alacrity, sinful snares quickly appear. We are left wanting more, so we over-romanticize what has passed, and assume too much of what is ahead. All the while forgetting that unopened treasure that is always there, yet seldom savored. The moment to which I am referring to is the present.
The present is unique. It is the moment that, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “touches eternity.” It is the only place we can ever really be. When embraced, it becomes the greatest source of love and peace. Yet we often forget that it’s there, opting for one of its lesser counterparts. The present is not just a place in time, it is a living, pulsating blessing from God himself. Consider the following on why we must refocus our hearts and minds on the gift of the present.
God is Serious about the Present
The scriptures are not cryptic regarding God’s heart toward the past, future, and goodness of the present. King Solomon, a man whose adventures and experience could easily have prompted a yearning for the glory days, warns his readers: “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). The temptation to think the past was better is likely due to the tendency we have to over-romanticize. Our minds, ever desiring pleasure, work wonders in blocking out the truth of what the past actually entailed. Sure, you were the star on your sports team in school, but what about the early practices, late-night study sessions, and lack of a driver’s license? Being a newlywed was incredible with its fresh vitality and new-found freedom, but what of the conflict and pain that comes when two sinners learn to live together? The past can, and should, be remembered with fondness, but wishing our lives looked precisely how they once did is an error that pulls us from God’s ordained present.
Jesus addresses anxiety about the future during the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter six. At the end of the teaching, he gives a famous charge to his listeners: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). At first glance, it seems as though the crux of the text is how to get rid of being nervous. Although this is certainly part of it, Jesus goes deeper; he is digging not at the branch of anxiety, but at its root. We are not told that our troubles will go away, but rather that what we are experiencing today is enough for our minds today, and that Christ is enough for us in today. If we steer our thoughts away from now and toward what might be, the mind quickly becomes overloaded.
Worrying about the future is like a mirage in the desert. Calamities, tragedies, and anxieties form in the mind, though none of them usually come to fruition. The French philosopher Montaigne is credited with coining one of my favorite bits of wisdom on this subject: “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
Jesus is pleading with his listeners not to just stop being nervous, but to be fully in the present. As the eyes of the heart are fixated on the present, anxiety about the future will organically dissolve. Walk with God in the present moment, because, as Lewis describes in The Screwtape Letters, “there, and there alone, all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell.”
When our did’s and will do’s, become our doings, we begin to align ourselves with the place to which our God calls us.
The Gospel Message is about the Present
The gospel is the greatest story ever told. It is the apex of God’s redemption of his creation. If we receive the gospel, turning from our sin and putting our faith in Christ alone, we have a restored relationship with our Creator. Paul sums up the message nicely in his letter to the Corinthians, “’For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). Paul then expounds on the implication of our belief in his letter to the Romans: “’because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Curiously, the tenses in which these verses are written seem to skip right over the present. Christ died for our sins. He was raised from the dead. If we believe, we will be saved. What about right now?
Though involving elements of the past and promising hope for the future, the gospel is intensely about the present. Jesus’ favorite way to describe a person’s salvation is with the phrase “eternal life.” This is seen in his answer to the Jews in John chapter ten when they demanded that he admit it plainly if he is the Messiah. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). Christ declares that salvation is given by him and is eternal in nature. This eternity with Jesus will not be a memory or a hope, but a series of unending now’s.
The book of Revelation speaks of angels and humans and heavenly beings praising God and worshipping forever. They are not concerned with what has been, or what will be, but only with what is. The gospel is about God redeeming his creation back to himself through his Son. In the gospel is eternal, redeemed, always-present, fully-enjoyed life with our Creator.
Present Tastes of Eternity
The concept of eternity can be hard to digest. Admittedly, it used to scare me a bit. I remember feeling pretty unnerved when I first heard the heavenly description in the closing verse of “Amazing Grace.”
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
I remember thinking, “So eternity has no end? Heaven has no end? What if we get tired of it? I’m not sure I can shred on the harp for that long.” Not until later did I realize the beauty of the verse.
Heaven is not a labored, obligatory worship session that drags on forever. It is more like talking with a group of good friends you haven’t seen in a while late at night. The topic may be of things done or things to come, but the time spent is completely present. Eye contact is sustained, laughter teeters on the edge of harming blood vessels, and phones are promptly forgotten. This is an example of the present moment touching eternity. No one is concerned with the time, how much they used to weigh, how their lawn will look to their neighbors, or how their teenager will adjust to high school.
For a brief moment, God gives the group a glimpse of that heavenly experience in which believers will joyfully behold the majesty of Christ as much in the first moment as in the billionth. It will not matter how long we’ve been worshipping our Lord in glory. Each moment will be like the late-night conversation, or that wonderful Applebee’s date, or the time spent fishing up north. The past will fade, the future dismissed, and the fullness of joy we are promised will be embraced through his presence in the unbridled now.
May we be grateful for God’s providence that has passed, and humbly hopeful for the chapters to come. But may the focus of our heart(s) be in the present where God beckons us, for it is a gift worthy of our utmost embrace.