We human beings live within time very much the way fish live within water. One way to think about the relationship of faith to the passage of time is to think about the tenses of faith. I’ve described it this way. Faith oriented toward the past faithfulness of God is gratitude. Faith oriented toward the present faithfulness of God is obedience. Faith oriented toward the future faithfulness of God is hope.
Now as I reread that it strikes me that obedience may not seem like exactly the same sort of thing as gratitude and hope. We may be inclined to think of gratitude and hope as being types of feelings and obedience as a type of action. That may or may not be the best way to categorize those three things, but I don’t want to argue about that here.
Instead, I want to point out a very important way in which gratitude, hope, and obedience are in fact all closely related to each other in the Christian life. All three are important ways in which Christians express their faith and trust in God. In other words, all three things — gratitude, obedience, and hope — are the products of the faith that we have in our hearts toward God.
When we look back at the past, we experience gratitude and express our thanks to God, because our faith enables us to see the ways God has worked out his goodness toward us in the past. I wrote a lot about that last When we look ahead to the future our faith and trust in God enables us to have confidence and hope, because our faith assures us that God will work out his goodness also in our future. I’ll be writing a lot more about that in the next installment of posts called “Living in Time, Living with God.” So if you struggle with anxiety about the future, maybe I will have some things to say than that will help you grow in hope and confidence for the future that God is preparing for you.
For now, I want to delve a bit deeper into how our faith and trust in God can equip us to live Christianly in the present. We
are creatures who inhabit time, and we are that way because God has designed us to be that way. We experience our lives as past, present, and future. In order to be healthy human beings, it is important that we have a healthy relationship with all three of those tenses of our lives. But strangely, the present, which is right in front of us every moment, is also trickiest for us to deal with, because it is also the most fleeting. The present is with us only for an instant, and then it is gone.
Our lives sometimes feel like that classic episode of from the old “I Love Lucy” show. Lucy has taken a job – against Ricky’s wishes, of course – in a candy factory. She works at a conveyor belt. The pieces of chocolate are rolling down the belt toward her. She is supposed to pick up each one, wrap it, and pack it into its box. The conveyor belt starts. She starts to wrap and pack. But, what’s this? Some chocolates are getting past her. The belt is going too fast. She can’t keep up. She goes faster. So do the chocolates. Soon, she’s stuffing chocolates into her pockets then into her mouth. Still, chocolates get past her and fall off the end of the belt. All too often our lives feel that way, too.
Each moment, the present is upon me, and I must choose how I will live it. But how do I choose? Well, whether we are entirely aware of it or not, each of us approaches life with the general disposition or orientation or mindset or worldview. That worldview composed of values, desires, general assumptions about life and the world, notions about what is good and bad, what is desirable, what is important. In some cases, we can actually put those life-organizing notions into words. But very often they operate down in our subconscious, and so we aren’t quite aware of them.
This deep-seated life-orientation, this life-shaping worldview is something that all human beings have. Sometimes it is the product of our conscious and intentional thought; sometimes it is something we just sort of fall into like a bad habit. But one way or the other, we all have such a thing, and it shapes all the choices we make, as we strive to cope with life which seems to blow past us far too fast.
If our dominant value in life is to preserve our own safety, security, and comfort, then our life-choices will reflect that. We will avoid risk at all costs. We will conserve our resources (money, time, possessions) to be used to benefit ourselves. And we will attempt to limit or remove all self-sacrificing behavior from our lives, because self-sacrifice is never safe or comfortable.
Some recent surveys suggest that personal safety has become an increasingly important value among Americans. That worries me. American liberty and greatness has not been achieved through the preservation of personal safety. Personal safety is an inherently self-centered value. Strong communities are not built by people who are concerned mainly for themselves. What troubles me even more about these surveys is that many of those Americans who place a high value on personal safety are presumably Christian people. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to follow me, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Such a value is not compatible with personal safety. The apostle Paul said, “In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Such a value is not compatible with a self-centered orientation to life.
The truth of the matter is that God has often called his people to do things that are not safe. The fact of the matter is that God has often called upon his people to do things that put their physical and financial well-being at risk. The worldview and value system of Jesus Christ has historically challenged his people to follow a pattern of life that has sometimes looked crazy to the world around them.
And yet, throughout the centuries, Christ’s people have obeyed and have followed their Lord into risk, self-denial, and
sacrifice – all in the name of love – love for Christ and love for other human beings. They have obeyed and followed, even though the course set out by their faith seemed crazy by the world’s standards. How did they did it? Why did they do it? Were they just crazy? Or did they have a courage that is beyond our reach?
No! Obedience to God is not an act of insanity. Obedience to Jesus Christ is not something based on brute courage. Obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ is an act of faith. It is trust in Jesus Christ that enables his people to obey him. Healthy and Christian obedience is an act of faith. It is an act based on our trust in the one whom we obey, our Lord Jesus Christ. If you do not trust Jesus, you will find it very hard to obey him. The more fully we trust Jesus, the more fully we’ll find ourselves able to obey him.
As moment by moment the present slides past us, it presents us with choices. The present is all about choices – choices about how we will cope with our immediate circumstances, choices about how we will prepare for our future, choices about whether we will obey Jesus or not. If you think that strength of will is what will enable you to make those choices, if you think that brute cowboy courage will overcome your anxieties, if you think that gut intuition will lead you through, you’re in for sorrow, struggle, and a life far from God.
No, it is through knowing Jesus and trusting him that you will find yourself able to cope with the present with all its choices, uncertainties, and risks. Faith lived out in the present is obedience to Jesus Christ, our sovereign Lord who loves us and gave his life for us.
- Pastor Note #45 — Living in Time, Living with God, Part 1: Introduction (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)
- Pastor Note #46 – Living in Time, Living with God, Part 2: The Past Tense of Faith (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)
- Pastor Note #47 – Living in Time, Living with God, Part 3: Disciplines of Christian Remembering (gachorpenning.wordpress.com)