I turned 50 today. “50” sounds – and feels – so much older than “49”. I suppose it is only natural to think back on your life when you hit a milestone birthday like this one. So many memories are rushing in today, I can hardly sort them out before they are gone again, brushed aside by still more. And of course I have hopes for the future also – but today, there is this nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps whispering “You’re running out of time…”.
Lately I have been pondering the passage of time quite a lot, and what a mystery time is. The best metaphor I know of to describe time is that of a swiftly flowing stream. You can look upstream some distance, and see the current and the patterns of the water as it approaches where you are standing on the bank. But the further upstream you look, the less detail you can see – and you can never see its source. Likewise, you can look downstream for some distance and watch the eddies and ripples as the water that just passed by you continues on its way over and around the obstacles in the stream bed – but you cannot see the destination.
If you stick your hand in the water and scoop some out, you can hold it for a moment – just one moment – before it slips through your fingers and flows away forever. Maybe you held it long enough to remember it. Maybe you even held it long enough to bring a little to your lips and taste it. But in just one instant, it’s gone.
All We Have Is This Moment
Scripture seems to emphasize this fleeting nature of time. It’s as if our Father – who exists outside of the boundaries of time – is reminding us to live fully in the moment we are in, since it is passing by us so quickly. He is teaching us to put boundaries around this present moment and experience it to the fullest measure.
Don’t Look Back
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
These verses both seem to say that for us Christ-followers, the past is just not relevant to the new life we are entering. In other words, the mistakes and regrets and concerns and even the joys of the life we lived when we were dead in our sins are not to be considered in the newness of life we enjoy in Christ. Yes, we are to remember the mercy we have been shown. Yes, we are to realize the depth of the Father’s love for us – that He gave His Son to die for us while we were yet dead in spirit. But any further dwelling on the past only keeps us from growing closer to Christ. Once we have set our hands to the plow of living in Christ, how can we plow a straight furrow if we keep glancing back over our shoulder?
Don’t Plan Ahead
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Just as looking backward turns our eyes away from Jesus, looking ahead to a future that is built on anything other than Him robs us of the richness of relationship that should be ours. When I make my own plans and build my own dreams in my own strength, I am bound to fail. I cannot control life’s circumstances, no matter how hard I work at it. When we live as if we are in control, we are living in the delusion of a lie.
The challenge is to live in the reality that I am dead, and Christ is living in me and through me (Galatians 2:20). When I can grasp that idea and live it out, I can stop living for the future that is out of my control anyway and be fully present in the moment I have been given. This is part of the multi-faceted meaning of the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” – to be fully present in this moment, bringing the totality of who you are into relationship with the Father.
Live Fully in This Moment
To live fully in the present, experiencing what the Father has for me in this heartbeat, seems impossible. Not counting on the future, since I am not promised even one more minute. Not mourning the past, since it cannot be re-lived. Not holding back a part of my heart and soul and strength and mind just for me, to have dominion over my own little inner world. To live completely engaged in relationship with the Father, with my wife and children, with brothers and sisters in the body – wholly yielded to what Christ has for me in the circumstances of each moment – feels totally contrary to the way I think and feel. But this is what we are called to do. It is part of the transformation we are to go through as Christ makes us new.