Living in the Present

Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The word “therefore” in the passage above connects verse thirty-four with the previous context beginning in verse twenty-five. As those familiar with the sermon on the mount know well, those nine verses are about worry and anxiety over everyday life. We have already discussed anxiety before. Here, we will discuss what it means to live in the present, the benefits of doing so, and the dangers of not doing so. We must live the Christian life in this exact manner because it is impossible to walk in faith while constantly worrying about the future or the past in ways we shouldn’t. Not all worry and anxiety are sinful (we all get a little anxious here and there). But if it interferes with our spiritual growth and leads to sinful behavior, it becomes a major problem. Like anger, it is not a sin the moment we feel a little anxious. How we respond to how we feel will determine whether we have crossed the line or not.

We can all attest that life is hectic and distracting. The cares and worries of this world will stunt our growth and production if they begin to take priority (Mark 4:18-19). Humans tend to gravitate toward the “survivalist” mentality, where they seek and pursue the assurance they want of earthly security (often to the detriment of other, more important things). But we were not placed on this earth for physical and mental comfort through secular means and earthly riches. God put humans on this earth to choose either for or against Him. For those who choose for Him (we will focus on believers from this point forward), the Lord expects them to grow and produce spiritual fruit in accordance with the faith they have attained through seeking out and applying the truth. But faith and worry do not mix. Life will continue to present its own challenges naturally. Temptations will keep coming, work will always need to be done, tests and trials from the Lord will continue for the rest of our time here on earth, setbacks will never cease entirely, secular issues will continue to come up, etc. Nothing in this world should ever come before our relationship with Christ. However, there will always be other things that we need to do (paying bills, work, relationships, chores, etc.).

The above is what we need to keep in mind at all times. If we keep worrying about the past or future and all that we have done and have yet to do, our forward progress will suffer. Since work (both spiritual and secular) and other things will always need to be addressed at some point, we need to accept and embrace the fact that this is how things are and will continue to be. Life is challenging and filled with many uncertainties (what ifs). We can never be sure or have any way of knowing what tomorrow or any time in the future will bring (James 4:14).

So what is the solution to living as we should with all the work and uncertainties life throws our way? Since those things will always exist for the rest of our lives, the solution is to trust in the Lord by living in the present, taking our lives day by day, moment by moment. We can’t focus on Christ and His truth when we are always worried about the future or the past. Regarding what already took place in our lives, Paul encourages us in Philippians 3:13 to forget what lies behind and dive straight for the tape ahead. He did not mean we focus on the future in a negative sense but in a positive way in that our minds are focused on the hope to come in eternity. The more we look at the “trophy” that lies ahead, the more we will “lick our chops” and run after it. Our eternal destiny with Christ and all the rewards that go with it should motivate us to live even better lives for the Him. But if all we do is focus on the difficulties involved in getting to that point, our efforts will be subpar compared to the better scenario where we focus on the goal itself (think of a marathon runner getting distracted from his course). Whether we are suffering through some difficult test or trial, our approach should never be to sit and stare at the pain and difficult circumstances we must face. We do not have to like them and they can be painful, true. But we should not make them our focus because we will only slow ourselves down with that type of dangerous approach. As said in the famous children’s song, “Little by Little” staring up the stairs is not enough to get us up. In the scenarios we are discussing, “gawking” at the difficulties before us isn’t a good idea, even if we dislike the pain and discomfort. But despite the tough circumstances, we press on anyway with our hearts and minds fully surrendered to Christ, resulting in complete submission and obedience. Nothing lasts forever because all things come to an end. Since that is the case, we know our perseverance is worth it and leads to better things and results.

2 Peter 1:5-8 (NIV)

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The solution to setting our hearts and minds on things present throughout the day is the only way to live the Christian life. If we keep trying to take on more than we are ready for (such as trying to prepare for the unknowable by worrying about what may happen in the future instead of just trusting in the Lord) then we will soon find ourselves overwhelmed and unable to bear the burden we have placed on our “shoulders” (in the present and future). It is often true that things tend not to happen as we imagined they would, so we only come to regret later all the worry and obsession we put ourselves through initially. Best to take things one at a time and wait and see what the Lord will do (and how things will play out) from that point forward. Proverbs 18:13 rightfully says, “To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.” Not only are we to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6-7), but to even worry or assume the worst before it takes place is foolish.

Trying to live in the future (in a negative sense) or conduct ourselves based on our anxious reactions to our past (in a negative sense) is a terrible mistake. True faith does not trust in circumstances, feelings, emotions, and the flesh but in Christ and Him alone. We cannot presently trust in the Lord if we are being double-minded by doubting whether only good spiritual results will come from what may or may not occur. Could we lose our home, finances, a family member, job, or other things? The answer is yes. But something we will never lose (as long as we wish to keep having it) is our relationship with Jesus Christ and all the spiritual riches that go with it. Ephesians 1:3 says, “ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” We cannot receive those blessings (or as many as we could have) if we don’t want a close relationship with Christ as much as we should. Unfortunately, that is how most Christians today allow their desire and trust for earthly security to override their trust and dependence on the Lord (Revelation 3:14-22).

Stress, hardships, and difficulties are inevitable to occur throughout our lives. Suffering is part of the “package” we signed up to receive when we put our faith in Christ (which is why our Lord told us first to count the cost Luke 14:28-30). We can only be truly happy (joyful) and peaceful if those two fruits of the Spirit are founded only on Jesus Christ. They cannot be good in any way if we are trying to get them elsewhere. And to attain them through our relationship with God, we will have to suffer for the good results of the Christian life to come (denying our crosses and following Jesus Matthew 16:24). Does that mean God will not provide forour every needs (food, clothing, shelter, godly friends, spiritual deliverance, etc)? God will provide for all our needs so that there is no need to worry about tomorrow or any other time outside the present. So although seemingly bad things may happen out of our control, God can and will use them for our good to bring better things into our lives. This is why it makes no sense to try simultaneously living in multiple time zones (in the sense of worrying about yesterday or tomorrow). Not only will that lead to failure, but it isn’t possible. The only way to let go of the past and get through all that may be coming is to live by faith in the present moment of every single day while allowing everything else to come and take place naturally. The past is in the past, and as our Matthew 6:34 passage says, “tomorrow will take care of itself.” Worrying disrupts faith and the spiritual growth that results from it. All it does is add to the present problems we are currently faced with. We cannot “fight on two fronts” at once. We must take the normal challenges of everyday life and all the spiritual battles we must face as they come. That is the only proper way to prepare for the ones still yet future.

Philippians 4:19 (ESV)

19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 37:25 (ESV)

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.

Romans 8:28 (KJV)

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Now, there are things yet future that we should focus on, just as there are things in the past that we can look back to in a good way (such as Christ’s death on the cross). We can take a lot of encouragement from all the times in former days when the Lord delivered us through this or that trial, test or temptation and how He did so in such a marvelous way. But, ultimately, it depends on what we are looking back at and how we are doing so. The old testament is filled with examples where the Israelites are told not to forget all the mighty acts and deeds God performed. The idea is that if the Lord did all this during such and such a difficult time for us then, will He not deliver us through whatever we may be facing now (or may have to face in the future)? Or it may be we are backsliding and need to remind ourselves of how good the Lord has been to us in the past so that we will be grieved at our present behavior, repent, turn around, and get right with the Lord (Romans 11:22). All these examples are not the type of things we are told not to look back on (they are obviously different).

Unless we live in the moment each day, we will only continue to handicap our ability to advance spiritually because we can only live the Christian life one day at a time. We cannot address today’s problems if we occupy our minds with things we may or may not be sure of. We shouldn’t be worried at all, even over things we have to deal with presently. Unnecessarily looking backward or forward takes our focus off of what needs to be addressed in the “now” moment by taking our attention off Christ and onto the problems themselves. That is all a good way to throw faith and trust into a tailspin. It is very difficult to deal with present issues if we can’t muster the focus and trust we need to get through them because we are constantly distracted. Worry and anxiety detract from our spiritual cause and dump us into a spinning cycle that entraps all those who continue to feed the process.

So how does one escape this vicious cycle? First, we must learn to live in the present by walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), who will then direct all our thoughts, words, and actions through the truth we continuously store in our hearts and minds daily. We must avail ourselves to God by praying for the strength needed to get through every day without constantly limping our way through (due to excessive worry and anxiety). All of these things are easier said than done, but that does not make them impossible (all things are easily possible with Gods help Philippians 4:13). It takes a lot of training and practice through constantly taking in, believing and applying the truth throughout every day to eventually come to the point of consistently walking as we should (we were not given a spirit of bondage to fear Romans 8:15). This method (the only true one) is one that we must learn to keep plugging away at every day. Eventually, it will come down to a point where the issue is not so much about whether we know what to do as it is about just doing it. As we make it our goal to live by the Spirit and use the truths He makes real to us, learning how to take our walk with Christ one moment and day at a time will come naturally. We just need to learn to trust in the Lord (something no other person can do for us). And if our approach is off in any way because we aren’t doing or emphasizing something enough (whatever it may be), we need to ask the Lord for wisdom to expose any hinderances. The conclusion is that those who really want to live in the present as they should will learn to do so effectively as long as they continue to pursue spiritual growth without giving up.

James 1:2-8

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.