Although it is entirely speculative by its nature, the FUTURE is a big subject to talk about. In fact, perhaps because it is so big, it sometimes dominates our present. The future presents us with a plethora of "what if's" at every turn, and if we aren't careful we can become overwhelmed by its possibilities: intimidated, scattered, swamped or even terrified. On the other hand, because the future is speculative, it is possible to desire it more than the present; because the future contains a glimpse of the eternal, it is extremely appealing to the believer.
I’ve heard many parents, especially fathers, when considering the prospect of home schooling their 6-year-old ask: “But how will they get into university?” It certainly was part of the question I asked in the late 1980's when we were faced with taking our firstborn home from school, but in his mercy, God gave us bigger immediate issues to consider, that forced us to leave the future to the future. Otherwise, we may have gotten so hung up on the future as to squander the opportunity of the present.
The future is a little like that: it can easily intimidate us. It is a very big unknown that looms out there, and because we know little about it, we become desirous of knowing more. Because we can do little to control it, we are determined all the more to attempt to master it. The prospect of losing a child propels parents to implant their newborns with microchips; the prospect of material loss motivates people to buy insurance on virtually everything; the prospect of catching the flu sells vaccines; and employment unions mandate job security, even for jobs that have become redundant. And still, after all this, we are no more in control of the future than we ever were; if anything we are distracted by it.
It is easy enough to become distracted and scattered in the present alone. Most parents have abundant challenges launched at them throughout each day, aimed from a wide variety of sources, and the future is a much greater launching pad. If we make the mistake of mingling today’s problems with the ones that remain theoretical (at least until tomorrow) we will begin to lose our grip on the tasks and responsibilities of the present moment. Even the near future of an hour from now can impose itself prematurely and inhibit concentration on the demands of the present moment. I’m not proposing we ignore the future, but there is a fine balance required in order to prepare for it without living it prematurely. Beyond a sensible degree of preparation, stewing about “what if” and “how shall I” can propel us into the future less prepared than if we had simply made the most of the present.
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12
He isn’t saying not to bother doing your homework:
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:18
But he is directing us away from dwelling on the unknown, on the future; because it makes us less effective in the present. Not only does it scatter our focus, but it overloads our mind. Burn-out is less an issue of dealing with the exigencies of the moment and more an issue of worrying about the future. From time to time I will stop, clear away all the concerns that are future (even for later today) and take a fresh look at what is before me right now. I find this provides me instant refreshment: I’m able to think more clearly and visibly relax, and no matter how difficult the immediate task may be, I even a experience sense of simple joy.
Whereas a loss of joy is one of the greatest consequences of inordinate concern about the future, the New Testament is charged with invitations (if not commands) to be joyful. It is a constant theme in St. Paul’s letters and emphasized in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” If we lose our joy by neglecting to fully live the present moment, we open ourselves to fear of the future or distaste for the present.
In our culture, we see fear of the future numbed by substance abuse, over-work, lust for wealth, loud music and fast cars; but it never really goes away until we admit we are incapable of facing it alone. Augustine said: “My soul is restless until it rests in Thee.”
When the present becomes distasteful due to our failure to fully live it, one very easily can begin living the present for the express sake of the future. Many dream about the day when they will win the lottery, or get married, or retire, or finally get in shape; and they live for the future at the expense of the present.
Whether the inordinate attention to the future be negative or positive, it remains a distraction if it robs us of the present moment. It is only in the present moment that we are alive; the rest is all speculation or memory, and the day will come when this present life no longer has a future.
This is the aspect of the future that draws Christians forward with awe and joyful hope. Their daily decisions should reflect the knowledge that they are wholly dependent upon grace: “For not by strength does man prevail;” 1Sam. 2:9 and they are ever aware of their frailty: “A mere breath, the man who stood so firm.” Ps 39
The Christian, like everyone else, has a basic desire for temporal security, but unlike the world, he is daily made aware of the futility of seeking security apart from Christ: “In his riches, man lacks wisdom.” “He takes nothing with him when he dies.”Ps 49
The effective way to face the future is with simple humility. In the temporal order God provides for all our needs, sometimes in ways we wouldn’t choose, and in both the temporal and spiritual order our future is entirely under his gaze. Trust in God’s providence makes all the difference to how we conduct ourselves in the present and how we face the future.
Ken Noster looks to the future with joyful hope…
Ken’s future includes the continued maturation of his three oldest children, the graduations of the three of them still at home, as well as the growth of his grandsons, Jimmie and Will.
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