Three Thoughts and the Redemption of Time

timeBy Matt Sapp

Yesterday was my fourth wedding anniversary.  The second day of June, 2012, I married Julie Knight and have been privileged to live in her orbit ever since. Each year we each travel 93 million miles around the sun.  So, today, Julie and I have made it 372 million miles together—an incredible journey already.

And, as cliché as it sounds, I can’t believe it’s been four years already.

Time is a tricky thing. The same moments in our lives—like wedding days—can at one moment seem like only yesterday and at other moments seem like a lifetime ago.

I spent a good portion of my three-year master’s program thinking about time and its relationship to eternity and our sinfulness.  I won’t bore you with those thoughts here, except to say that as Christians we live in a world governed by the realities and rules of time, but we look forward to an eternal future in fellowship with an eternal God.  That makes our relationship with time strained at best.

Time, like us, is part of a fallen world that needs to be redeemed.  That means time is not an unqualified good; it is not an essential part of God’s design.  When time is used wisely, it can feel like a gift. But when time is squandered it feels like a curse.

Time is a tricky thing.  So here are three thoughts about time as I celebrate another trip around the sun with Julie.

  1. Learn to live with your past.

Every previous second—even the most painful ones, the ones marked by my greatest disappointments and mistakes—contributes to who I am today.  Although I know I’m far from perfect, I’m happy with the person God is leading me to become.

I haven’t always been able to say that.  Who has?  But I’m working, as I hope you are, too, to live beyond past regrets.  Don’t let any regret about who you’ve been or what you’ve done rob you of the joy of being who God calls you to be today.

  1. Don’t fear the future.

The control freak in all of us wants to know just exactly how tomorrow or next year or the next decade will turn out.  Uncertainty—and uncertainty is always about the future—naturally breeds fear.  Worry about the future robs us of the joy of now.  Jesus devotes a significant portion of the Sermon on the Mount to this idea. We should take note.

Learn to accept the future—whatever it may be—without the anxiety, worry, tension and nervousness that often accompanies uncertainty.

  1. Prioritize the present.

Prioritize the present.  And even more, prioritize the people in the present.  The most important parts of who we are—apart from God—are the people who make up the moments of our lives.

As I think about Julie today and the four years that have slipped by us, I’m reminded that we ought to prioritize people and our shared experiences together over everything else.

There is no other time but now.  There is no better time.  There is no perfect time.  There is no future time. There is only now.  Enjoy the present.  Value where you are and who you are and what you have now. It’s the only way to be happy.

One day, we say, when I have more economic security, I’ll be more true to myself.  One day, when I don’t have to worry what other people think, I’ll be bolder in my thinking.  One day I’ll be more truthful and daring in how I express myself.  We have all kinds of excuses that keep us from living fully into the people God has called us to be.

Now is the time to ditch the excuses. Now is the time to be who God has called you to be.

So, when you’re tempted to move beyond the present moment, either to the guilt of the past or the anxiety of the future, remember the great miracle that you are right now.

Don’t believe me? Right now, you are hurtling through space at more than 33,000 miles per hour on one more trip around the sun. Feel the wind on your face, and enjoy the ride.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

“Thou shall not worry”

sleepless nightBy Joe LaGuardia

“Do not worry,” Jesus told his disciples in no uncertain terms (Matthew 6:25).  It’s one of the clearest admonishments in scripture, and it stands up there with the ten commandments as being, well, God’s Word for us today.

There are many times, however, that I have read that scripture and said, “It is easier said than done.”  I wonder why Jesus told us not to worry when the only thing most of us is really good at is worrying.

Upon reflection, I suppose that there are different types of worrying.

The first is to worry when you are anxious about something in the future.  Since the future has yet to happen and you are not sure whether your fears are founded or not, this worry can be a distraction and can keep you from seeing the blessings in life.

The best medicine for this type of worry is gratitude.  We need to be thankful for what we have, enjoy the moment, praise God for waking us up this morning, and give God any anxiety we may have about what the future may hold.

Jesus said it himself, “Do not worry for tomorrow will bring worries of its own” (Matthew 6:34); and Paul’s letter to the Philippians states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything be thankful and make your petitions known to God” (4:6).

The second type of worry is chronic worry tied to anxiety disorders or depression.  This type of worry requires intervention and resources that help people move beyond the disorder or cope with it.

Sometimes, a person can go to a therapist for a few sessions and get things straightened out.  Other times, people need therapy or medication over the long haul.

I once knew a person who struggled with an anxiety order, and she concluded that if she only had more faith in God, then the anxiety would go away.

The only problem was (as I saw it) that she already was a person of great faith.

I was able to demonstrate to her how her faith inspired my own life and encouraged so many people around her.   We agreed together that the only way for her to move into a place of acceptance and coping was to get help.

God provides us with some good counselors for a reason, and its helpful to know that all of us deal with chronic anxiety every now and then.

There is a third type of worry with which I am familiar, and that’s the worry I think all of us feel no matter how close we are to the Lord.  This is the worry that accompanies responsibility.

Unlike the first type of worry, this anxiety does not stem from uncertainty or fear of the future.  Nor is it chronic anxiety that paralyzes life.  Instead, this type of worry is that on-going anxiety you feel when you are responsible for someone or something.

If you are a parent, you know what I mean!

There are certain worries that I have only experienced as a father, and these worries do not go away.  I worry for my children’s health, safety, their little God-given spirits, and very lives.

But I also find that this worry is not all bad.  In fact, something would be wrong with a parent who did not worry about his or her child.

It’s a healthy worry because it grows out of concern, compassion, grace, and empathy.  Who wants a parent who does not worry, or an employee who does not worry about meeting a budget or a deadline?

I think that, at the end of the day, we really use the word “worry” for many different things.  Since the second type of worry I mentioned is biological and can’t be avoided, and the third type is required for relationships in which people matter, Jesus may have said, “Do not worry,” to those of us who only struggle with the first type of worry–that of the future.

But no matter the type, not worrying is certainly easier said than done.

The Spiritual Discipline of Awareness

goatsWhen my wife, her family and I lived in South Florida, we teased my mother-in-law about the fact that she claimed to have seen “white goats” at the nearby on-ramp to I-95.

“Sure,” we’d say, twirling our fingers around our ears, “White goats . . . we see them all of the time.”

Years passed and the teasing continued until one day my wife and I went on a date.  We had to go from Jupiter to West Palm Beach, which meant that we had to get on that infamous on-ramp.  Wouldn’t you believe that, no sooner had I looked that I saw white goats.

“Right,” my wife teased, “White goats. You’re as crazy as my mother!”

It’s been nearly a decade since I saw those goats, but it didn’t take that long to realize that my mother-in-law is not crazy (debatable) after all; rather, she simply has a keen sense of awareness that most people lack.

Why, it seems that every week, she comes home with a much-desired toy for our children she spotted at the nearby thrift store.  “Where did you find that?” I ask perplexed and amazed.

I don’t know how she does it, but that woman finds treasures fit for heaven.

Awareness is not only useful for bargain hunting and spotting out-of-place livestock, it’s also helpful in cultivating a vibrant spiritual life.  I have a feeling that we miss many of God’s blessings and miracles in our life because we are not aware of them.  We don’t look for them, so God moves in our life unawares.

What's worse: Doing a word search on the Parable of the Ten Virgins or having to explain to the child who does this what a virgin is?

What’s worse: Doing a word search on the Parable of the Ten Virgins or having to explain to the child who does this what a virgin is?

On more than one occasion, the Bible encourages us to be aware of what the Lord is doing in our midst.  In the Gospels, for instance, Jesus told parables of people–usually servants (Luke 12:35-40) or bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13)–who missed out on God’s visitation because they were either asleep or ill-prepared.

First Peter 5:8 warns Christians to “keep alert.” Paul echoed this sentiment in his letter to the Corinthian churches (1 Cor. 16:13).

Jesus, Peter, and Paul knew something about faith: Even in the midst of persecution and hardship, faith perseveres and stays focused only when the faithful are vigilant in keeping both eyes on the Lord.  Not to mention that it’s hard to witness to our faith when so many things go unnoticed.

One of the things they teach in seminary is to be aware of your surroundings: notice people and places; pay attention to body language; remain ever cognizant about your own reactions with and to others.  Such wisdom helps in writing sermons as well as providing some decent pastoral care.

But it also helps keep one’s faith grounded in God’s Kingdom because God’s reign can remain in the shadows if we fail to have our “lamps lit” (Luke 12:35).

Paying attention is an active spiritual discipline.  It requires effort to not let things get in God’s way.  Things like anxiety, concerns of this world, and worrying about things we can’t help or change can easily distract us.

Perhaps that is why awareness and faith go hand-in-hand: So many of us hold on so tightly to our own concerns we aren’t open to what the Lord has for us.  The more we try to control something, the more we miss out on what is really happening.

Either that, or we’re so busy trying to look ahead, we miss out on the joy of now.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned as a father is to heed the request, “Daddy, look at this!”  It’s when I fail to look that I fail to enjoy some of the greatest blessings on earth.

God says sometimes, “Child, look at this!”  You never know, you too may see a few white goats–and get that much-needed laugh you were longing for–in the oddest of places.