By Mark A. Taylor
Because we are trapped in time, always we are challenged to keep in balance the reality of the past, the present, and the future. But throughout life, one of these tends to dominate the other two.
For example, both toddlers and young teens are consumed by the present. The 14-year-old verbalizes what the 2-year-old can only demonstrate: “The world is about me. Everyone’s looking at me, and every need I have is supremely important.”
By age 22 or 24, many of these difficult people have become ambitious and concerned about establishing themselves in a world full of challenge and possibility. They’re finishing their education, taking first steps in a new career, and thinking about marriage. The future, full of opportunity, leads them forward.
But 20 years later, the present has pressed in on them again. Juggling daily demands of work, home, school, and church, they’re managing a list of responsibilities that allow them little margin for future planning or reflection on the past.
Soon after the kids are out of the house, though, this may change for parents whose adult children establish their own households. Family traditions begin to bend or break, and many nostalgic empty nesters find themselves longing for the past when they could control keeping family close.
But there’s still retirement to plan. In fact, for 50- and 60-year-olds, the future may loom large and foreboding. But by age 70, decisions about pension plans, Medicare, and supplemental insurance have been made. The initial allure of travel and unlimited free time has passed. After age 80, some seniors seem stuck in memories of the past.
This past-present-future challenge is a spiritual issue too. Some believers are imprisoned by guilt over their past failings; they’ve believed the devil’s lie that their sin disqualifies them from meaningful service for God in the days ahead.
Others have succumbed to the “someday” syndrome. They fully intend to start a Bible-reading habit, invite their neighbors to church, begin tithing, or give more to missions—someday, when life becomes simpler, the job is less demanding, or finances get in order. But they won’t take steps today to reach those goals tomorrow.
The gospel story reminds us that ignoring the past may threaten our future. All those in the religious establishment of Jesus’ day knew the prophecies about his birth and ministry. But they were too preoccupied with protecting their status quo to see that the ancient words were coming true before them.
Someday Jesus will come again, and the Scripture has given us clues about how that will happen. We do well to study them carefully, lest we make the same mistake as those who missed him the first time.
When he returns, the grand plan of God will be fulfilled, all of history will be redeemed, and our present will be swept into an eternal future no longer limited by time.
Meanwhile, we can view each new day as another chance to prepare ourselves for that day. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13), we can seize the promise of these present moments with gratitude, conviction, and hope.