The best time in human history is always some time other than the one in which we live. It is the "Not Now" syndrome. The present moment has many advantages, but the deficits of the moment are far greater. The present is now. It is here and we are enduring it. The pains of the past are done with. They were awful, for sure, but they are gone and behind us and we have survived them. The glorious moments of the past are just that much brighter because we don't have to deal with the unpleasant bits of reality that discolored them at the time. Besides, we have survived and overcome the problems of the past, so they are not nearly as bad in retrospect as they were in the 'present' of the moment, and we are victorious over them, so they actually add to the luster of the past.
The future is not as bad, never as bad as the present. That is, unless you are an advocate of gloom and doom, like the environmental fear-mongers, or the doomsday prophets of our age. The dangers of the future are always somehow less real and ultimately surpassable. We tend to be very optimistic about the future, except at very specific times in human history, when men develop those weird philosophies like Nihilism, and then nothing good is coming.
Both the past and the future have the specific charm of being 'not now'. Now is the time when we have to work. Now is the time when we need to endure. Now is the moment of our discontent. We cannot look away or imagine a better now because it is here and oh-so-real. The troubles of the moment demand our attention. The deficiencies of the moment are glaringly present and real. The pain I feel right now is not treatable. I can take something for it, but I have to wait until later for its effect to be realized. Right now, what is, is! That can be good, if the moment is good, but the moment is fleeting, and nothing flees as quickly as the moment of great joy or pleasure.
What is this stuff about past and present and future? It is about life. We get one life to live. It is filled with all sorts of things, primarily blessings. Because of our sinful nature, we find it difficult to live consistently in the blessings and in the moment we have to enjoy them. Our minds are always chasing off into the wonderful future or remembering the safe and seemingly better past. We like to dwell on the good old days, except they were not any better than the present moment. Their charm lies chiefly in the fact that they are no longer the moments in which we live. We can mine those memories for their gold, and when we do, the troubles and challenges of the moments come without all their pain and ability to frighten us. Right now is what we have to endure. The pains hurt in real time, and the challenges task us right now.
But right now is all we ever really have to live in. Remembering the past is a fine evening amusement, and it works well as entertainment when families get together and reminisce, but we cannot live in those moments - not again. We may be able to learn from the past, but we cannot live in it effectively. Right now the sun shines, the wind blows, and dinner awaits us on the table. We might be sunburned, the wind may chap us at one time or another, and dinner may not be that inspiring every evening, but it what we have - and generally, it is good. Anything we wish to do must be done in the now, and now is when God blesses us to be able to do whatever we will accomplish.
The Bible speaks just a little about trying to live in the future. James calls it "arrogance" for us to plan for the future without taking the possibilities of the will of God into account. Thinking about the future is okay, necessary at times, but planning without acknowledging God in the plan and the possibility that His will and ours may not coincide is foolish and arrogant. It is the mistake that the unbeliever makes.
God's Word takes us a different route. It leads us to being aware of our moment now, and the blessings with which God has filled it. "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!" We are exhorted to offer our prayers and petitions with thanksgiving. Col 3:15 says, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful." Note that it doesn't tell us what to be thankful for. Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." This passage does tell us what to be thankful for - or in: everything!
I am glad that it does not say that we should feel thankful at every moment or in every circumstance. I don't. Feelings are far too mercurial. Some days you feel everything, and other days you may feel nothing in particular. I can think about the blessings I have when I am having a bad day, and not feel thankful, but I can recognize, even in my pains, that I have many things to give thanks for. And then I can give thanks. Many times (although not every time) considering my blessings and giving thanks helps me deal with the moment in the 'now' that is less than I would like it to be. It eases my pain, or calms my anxieties. It serves to remind me that the trouble of the moment is not my whole life, it is just a brief interlude in it. Even in times of trouble, there is so much good in our lives to give thanks for, if we just take a moment and think about it.
'Not now' causes more trouble and sorrow and delay than almost anything in life. Couples want to have children, but not now. They want to wait until they can afford them. That method of planning leads couples into wrestling with infertility when the time is "right". It causes men and women to establish careers that are enormously difficult to relinquish for the sake of children, and leads to children being raised by strangers and babysat by television, video games, and computers. Waiting until one can afford a family will often lead to building lifestyle expectations that are incompatible with responsible parenting and satisfying family life. This can lead to resenting children and dissatisfaction with one's employment (which is easy enough to come by without help), and ultimately can create dysfunctional family dynamics which work against harmony in the home and thanksgiving in one's heart or mind.
Of course, life decisions are personal ones which each individual can make for their own reasons. The idea that right now is not a good time, however, is not necessarily true. Sure, there is wisdom in planning and some waiting is necessary in many situations. That planning needs to be grounded in reality, and must also account for God and His will (in so far as that may be known) and His blessing. Our society seems determined to take the risk out of life and make it safe and successful for everyone. That is not actually possible, and it is not always wise.
God has a reason for challenges, pain, failure, and distress in life. They can be good things. Obviously, they are not pleasant things or eagerly to be desired, but they can be good. They can serve as learning experiences. We can learn how to do something better by failing, at times, than by initially succeeding. We certainly can learn about ourselves - our strengths, our resilience, our commitment to the things we think we are committed to. Many of those we consider great successes have a history of repeated failure before they achieved the success by which they are known. Several presidents of the United States, for example, failed miserably at other careers before they found their success in politics. Their early difficulties taught them things about work, about success and failure, and about themselves which served them well in public life.
'Not now' also tends to rob people of the moments of their lives. How many people have you met that were going somewhere, going to do something great, had big plans, but were waiting for their moment, always focused on the future, on the next opportunity, on what was coming down the road, and were not seemingly aware of their lives at the moment, or enjoying them particularly well? It is a common problem among the young that they are looking forward to this event or that day, and then they can start living! In the meantime, they are missing out on the simple pleasures, ignoring the delights of life around them at the moment, brushing off the satisfactions of the day because they are waiting on that future moment and set of conditions that will make their dreams somehow more possible.
What's wrong with right now? Is it the moment that is deficient or are we not taking notice of the moment and all of its blessings? Sometimes we imagine ourselves too busy to take time for our family and fail to realize the moment and the blessing of their presence until it is too late. I remember the man, standing at the viewing of his father's body, who confessed that he had recently told his parents he did not have time to come home for a visit. "I guess I did have the time, after all," he said. But his visit was far different than the one he might have had. I know from experience that once your loved ones are gone, you cannot get those moments you couldn't take for them back to spend with them.
Right now, your family members are the gift of God - the ones that still remain. Those who are gone were a blessing then, and now are memories, which can be good, too. Your health is what it is right now. It might not be perfect, but it is what it is, and you can take it for all that it is worth and enjoy the air and the food and the senses that God continues for your use. Beauty can not be stored up, you must look at it, and appreciate it while you are able. Wonderful music cannot be kept in a can. You have to listen to it, while your ears still work. Food is good, and brings several different types of pleasure - until the ability to eat and enjoy it departs. But you can only enjoy the blessings of food at the moment it is available.
Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 describes the loss of one's abilities and senses due to age in a very picturesque way, beginning and ending with an admonition to remember your Creator. Today is the right day for that. It is the time for thanksgiving, and it is the day of salvation. No other day will do. If you once believed, but do not now, it is of no value to you. If you hope to find time at some future date to return to the Lord and take you religion seriously, but not now, I would not count on it. The day in the future might not arrive in time, or you might get there and find that you cannot just 'turn it on' at will. I have known people who claimed that they wished they believed, but did not and could not make it happen. Today is your day.
The gospel is so simple that most people simply cannot deal with it. They want something harder. They want hoops to jump through. The gift of God through Jesus Christ is just too easy, they say, and so they walk away. After all they have said and all they have done, they feel that they are beyond such a rescue. But the Bible says that your sins are forgiven. You don't deserve it. You cannot. Jesus paid the price and died your death already. It is an accomplished fact, and the ones that believe it and take God at His word and trust in Him to be who He has said He is and to do what He has promised to do for Christ's sake have eternal life and salvation. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved."
All others are lost. Those who cannot believe it is that simple are lost. Those who need to do something in order to be sure they have achieved salvation are lost. Those that need to feel it in order for it to be real for them are lost. Jesus did what we needed done, and He is simply giving forgiveness, everlasting life, and salvation away. Free. Today.
The 'Not Now' approach to life and faith and God is simply not effective - at least not effective for actually being a Christian. But when you understand - and believe - what Christ has done and how He gives it to you by grace through faith, then you understand the exhortation to thanksgiving now, always, for everything, in every situation. Knowing the gospel means that right now is really the best time in history. It has nothing to do with technology or world events as reported on the network news. It is simply now that you are alive, enjoying the blessings of God, and holding in your hands the gift of salvation. God knows who you are, and He is not looking for something from you, but giving something to you. He died that you might live, and while you live, you should enjoy your life, and pay attention to all the blessings with which God has filled it, and give thanks. Today is the day of salvation! So live in it! And enjoy the season of Lent. Now.
Yours in the Lord,
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