Winning with Past, Present, and Future
Time is on the move. We are constantly leaving the past and moving into the future, briefly inhabiting the space we call the present.
Our relationship with time shapes the contours of our lives. If the past, the present, or the future has an inordinate priority in our lives, our perspective becomes distorted and unhealthy.
Everyone has a past, but some people focus on the past. This can take the form of nostalgia, in which we are drawn to the past. But it can also be marked by regret - where we are discouraged by what we did or did not do; pain - where we're still defined by things that happened to us; loss of identity - where we become disconnected from the past and bury because we don't like it.
The future is tricky because we don't know it, and uncertainty can scare us. Regarding the future, we can live in denial, where we avoid thinking about the future; we can live with anxiety, where we fear the future; some people are marked by optimism and turn to face the future.
The present - the moment in which we are living - can be tricky to navigate because of the influence of the past and the future. If we have forgotten the past, and because the future is uncertain, we may respond by focusing on the present moment. In the extreme, we can pursue short-term benefits and immediate results, unaware that we are responding to the past, and without taking the future into account.
Churches can also develop unhealthy an relationship with time. If we focus on the past, we can become traditionalists, always trying to get back to a golden age that never happened. If we focus on the present, we can become overly pragmatic, doing stuff that works, whether or not it is right. And if we over-emphasize the future, we can become espapists, not engaging the messy world in which we live.
How, then should we live? Here are three words that define a good relationship with time:
Our relationship to the past should be marked by gratitude, living in a state of thanksgiving - not only for what God has done for us personally, but what he has done for us in Christ. Our mood, our minds, and our circumstances can all influence how we view the past. Sometimes, these obscure the blessings God has given, and so as we reflect over a past year, we may not be dialed in to the blessings God has given. But if we focus on what God has done in Christ - he lived a perfect life, the one we should have lived; he died a death in our place, bearing the penalty for our sin; he was raised from the dead, proving that he is the Son of God and that our sins are forgven - then, we have something to thank God for irrespective of our current circumstances.
Our relationship to the present should be marked by faithfulness, fully mobilising our gifts, talents, time, and treasure for the glory of God. We only get the chance to leave each day once - and when it's gone, it's gone. So determine to live faithfully every day.
Our relationship to the future should be marked by hope. We live in a scary world; there is so much we don't know about the future, but we do know the one who holds the future in his hands. God is both sovereign and omniscient; that means he is in charge, and he knows the future, and so He can be fully truested with it. Therefore, we should have hope that God's plans and purposes will prevail.
Gratitude for the past, faithfulness in the present, hope for the future - this is how we live with time. In Psalm 90:1-17, Moses reflects on the brevity of our lives. But rather than reaching Shakespear's conclusion in Macbeth that life is like a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage for a play that ultimately signifies nothing, our lives matter. A life lived for the glory of God matter immensley. When we prioritse God, his kingdom, his purpose, his agenda, we step out of the transience of this life and into the realm of eternity. And so Moses pray this:
Teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
Wisdom is counting each day, and living it to the fullest, for the glory of God.