Time flies. Or, time drags. But the unalterable reality of human life is time. We live in time as fish live in water. I have a past. I am in the present. And in some form I will have a future. This time-orientedness is the fundamental framework of our lives. Everything we do, everything that happens to us has to be laid out on this scaffold. That includes our dealings with God, and his dealings with us.
We can sometimes we be tempted to think about our spiritual lives as if they took place in a kind of realm of the timeless. But that is not right. God has created us as embodied beings settled intentionally in a world of time and space. He has laid out our spiritual lives so that they are designed to function from within time and to have an orientedness within time. I want to help you think about the fact that our Christian spiritual live is designed by God to take place within the context of a time-orientedness (past/present/future).
A simple, basic definition of the Christian spiritual life is that it is a life lived in a conscious and intentionally positive relationship to God. Faith is the spiritual attitude that makes that kind of relationship with God possible. By “faith” here I don’t mean merely intellectual agreement. To agree with the statement, “I believe that God exists,” is not faith. Biblical faith is a type of trust. In most polls typically about 90% of Americans says they believe in God. But far, far fewer than that actually live in a trusting, personal relationship with God. Faith is living out your trust in God.
In the Bible we find that faith has tenses just like verbs in grammar. That’s part of what I mean when I say that God has designed our Christian spiritual life to take place with the context of time. It’s important for us to learn to recognize the different tenses of faith, so that we can nurture and encourage them and so grow in our faith.
God has been good to us in the past. It usually doesn’t take much reflection for most of us to recognize that and to remember times in the past when God has been good, generous, kind, merciful, and faithful to us. Think about it a while and, I’ll bet, a whole catalogue of things will come to mind. In my next installment on the spirituality of time, I’ll write about some of the spiritual practices you can use to build that catalogue of Christian spiritual remembering to help you grow that aspect of your faith.
For now, I just want to point out to you that the recognition of God’s past acts of goodness to you is a form of faith. Now, not all forms of remembering are good; not all forms of remembering are a type of faith. Nursing a grudge is a type of remembering, but it has nothing to do with faith. The past tense of faith is thankfulness or gratitude.
Remember, faith is the spiritual attitude or disposition that moves us toward deeper relatedness to God. Gratitude is the frame of mind that looks with appreciation at the things that God has done for us and for our world in the past. Gratitude is the result of recognizing God’s hand at work in the past events of our lives.
Without faith, the past can be a horrible place for us. It can seem to us like a swirl of meaningless and random happenings. It can seem to us like one expression of “bad luck” after another, if we look at it without faith. It can seem like a series of unjust and unfair act inflicted upon us by unkind and selfish people who are out to get us.
With faith, the past – even the painful things of the past, can take on a very different meaning. Faith enables us to trust that, whether we understand it all or not, the events of our past are not random or meaningless. Rather, with faith we are able to trust that our past has taken place under the watchful care of our faith heavenly Father, and so we can accept it with thankfulness and in peace.
In this way, by looking at our past with eyes that trust God, we can live as Paul tells us to by “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” <st1:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Ephesians 5:20 (ESV)
Gratitude, thankfulness, is the past tense of faith. It is the crucial attitude by which people of Christian faith look at the past. It is how I want all of you to be known by others – as people who live with gratitude toward God for everything, knowing that the God whom you trust today is the same God who as been faithful to you in everything in the past as well.
© 2012 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.
Pastor Note #45 — Living in Time, Living with God: Part 1-Introduction (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)