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Live in the present, not the future

September 24, 2022

Daily Scripture

James 4:15-17

15 Here’s what you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 But now you boast and brag, and all such boasting is evil. 17 It is a sin when someone knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

James described the kind of over-confident planning he described in verse 13 as “boast and brag,” and said “all such boasting is evil.” In his classic parable The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis imagined a senior demon (Screwtape) advising a rookie demon on how best to lead a human away from God. In chapter 15, he showed why James wrote as strongly as he did: “The Present is the point at which time touches eternity…. we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past…. It is far better to make them live in the Future…. thinking about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities…. nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.” *

  • James’ pointed final verse built on his concern up to then, though we may not see the link immediately. If we’re focusing most of our energy and attention on the future, then it is too easy to put anything we believe God wants us to do in that unknown future: “Someday I will…” Truth is, the only time we ever actually do a “right thing” we know we need to do is NOW, in the present! Planning to do a right thing later puts a big “maybe” over whether you will ever do it. Scholar N. T. Wright said, “The chapter then ends with a warning which is far more general, and indeed far more worrying, than what has gone before. Not to do what you know you should do is actually to sin!” ** Is there any “right” thing, big or small, you’ve been avoiding by pushing it into the future? How can you open your life to let God help you do what God calls you to now, not someday?

Lord Jesus, today, September 24, is the day you have given me. Speak to my heart this day to guide me in what you would call me to do right now, not someday. Give me the courage to respond to your call. Amen.

GPS Insights

 Matt Bisel

Matt Bisel

Matt Bisel is a Pastor, Adult Discipleship Lead Director, and Worship Leader, Song Writer, and Liturgist in the COR Worship Collective.

I came across an article a while back that described a study where researchers looked at success rates in New Year’s resolutions. The results struck me as counterintuitive.

There were two groups: The first group talked about their resolutions broadly with friends and family leading up to the new year, sharing their plans for diets, new workout routines and change of habits. The second group kept their plans for resolutions quiet, approaching the new year in silent resolve. I was certain that the first group would be the most successful in living out their resolutions. I figured that sharing their plans with so many people would create the necessary support and accountability from their community, not to mention a strong desire not to look like a failure to so many people. But in fact, it was the second group who proved to be more successful in following through with their resolutions. Most in the first group never even started theirs. They confused the “unrealities” of their talk for the reality of showing up to the gym at 6:00 am. Satisfied, they merely imagine themselves in their New Year’s resolutions, rather than engage in the kind of hard work and attention that each day would require.

It’s easy to get lost in those “unrealities” of the future. In fact, we tend to value this kind of forward thinking, praising leaders as visionaries when they conjure up such dreams. How often have I found myself on a Sunday afternoon lost in the anticipations of Monday? Completely unaware of the God-given present, ignoring fleeting moments better spent playing make-believe with my kids. Grown-ups play make-believe, too: hoping and worrying about what is to come. Like staring into the Mirror of Erised *, these “unrealities” do not reflect the way things are. They reflect only our deepest desires (or greatest fears).

God wants us to be present, attentive to the here and now. Screwtape described the present as “the point at which time touches eternity.” So, go and do that thing you’ve been meaning to do. Put down your phone and listen undistracted to your partner, friend, or co-worker. Get lost in a game with your kids or grandkids. Go to worship this weekend with your heart wide open. Let yourself be present. Don’t say, “I’ll do it”…Say, “I’m doing it!”

* The Mirror of Erised, from the Harry Potter series. “Erised” is “desire” spelled backwards, as if reflected in a mirror. The mirror shows the deepest, greatest desires of the one looking into it. It is said that “many have wasted away before it.”

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Excepted from Letter 15 in Lewis, C. S., The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

** Wright, N. T., Early Christian Letters for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 32). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.