Three Articles dealing with our attitude about time
“The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away… So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:10–12)
One of the challenges I find as I study the Bible is the attitude we are supposed to have about time. We are commanded to forget about the past, yet there is a sense in which we should remember the past. We are to live for today and not worry about tomorrow, but as we live we must reach forward and prepare for tomorrow. And as we consider what the future holds for us, we must be careful to not dwell on.
These challenges about time are not contradictory, except to the blinded critic. However, in each tense of our life (past, present and future) we need balance in our thinking. And with that in mind, I would like to consider each of these phases and note how they interact with one another.
The challenge of our past
We all have a past. The longer we have lived, the fuller it is. For most of us it consists of highs and lows, failures and successes, joys and regrets. When it comes to our memories, most of us cannot turn off what we have done like a light switch. Nor would we want to forget everything about it. And ultimately, what we are right now is the product of our past. But how should we view the past in our lives?
On one hand we are called upon to FORGET the past. In this world there are many whose lives are chained to their past. Some are bitter about some bad experience(s) that impacted their lives and it affects how they treat others and themselves. Some see themselves as worthless souls because of a trail of bad choices behind them and they refuse to forgive themselves for what they have done. Others use their past as a crutch to keep from moving forward. Such lead miserable lives filled with doubt, discouragement, resentment and distrust.
God does NOT want us to live like that! He wants us to be joyful and to feel good about ourselves. The Bible says that we need to forget the past. In Philippians 3:13–14 we read, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.“ In Luke 9:62 Jesus answered the excuses being made by those who vowed to follow Him once they took care of other things first. He said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
The point of these verses is that we cannot dwell on what we used to be or do. There was a realization that doing such is unhealthy – both physically and spiritually. We need to LET GO OF THE PAST!
Dwelling on the past is a weight that keeps us from moving forward. The Hebrew writer challenged brethren to rid themselves of such when he said, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2) I am reminded of what Jesus said about worrying in Matthew 6: 27, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Now I realize that Jesus was actually speaking of concerns about the future, but His point about worry applies to the past at well. The PAST IS HISTORY and you can’t change it so why let it burden you.
If anyone should be able to let go of such things, it is the Christian. We are all guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23) and its consequences (Rom. 6:23, Ephesians 2:3). BUT, in spite of our sins, now matter how great or how many, we have been forgiven. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What a price God demanded and Jesus paid so that our sins could be remitted (Acts 2:38, Rom. 6:3-8). Hebrews 10:17 says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” If God has forgiven and forgotten about our past, we need to do the same.
But how do we do this? How do we let go of the past? It is not easy to do. It requires WILL POWER. You have to make up your mind that you are not going to let the past burden you anymore. FORGIVE YOURSELF! Accept God’s forgiveness! Perhaps you need help in coping with the past, if so find someone who will NOT dismiss God or His word in helping you face your problems.
May I suggest that you give them to God? 1 Peter 5:6–7, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God: and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.”
Don’t let your past be a burden to you!
On the other hand, we SHOULD recall our past. In 1 Timothy 1:12-15 Paul says, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Note how he recalled his former life as a persecutor of Christians. Was he wrong to do that? Did he contradict what he said in Philippians 3:13-14 above? NOT at all! There is a sense in which we need to remember the past, especially our former life.
First, we realize that physically we cannot wipe the past from our minds. From time to time, we will think about what we were and we will recall events in our past, both good and bad. As noted earlier, we are who we are based on the path of the past we took to get here. Paul remembered his past as he wrote to Timothy (see above). He also recalled his past before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-11) and even before an angry mob in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-21). In scriptures, there are plenty of examples of recall. I suspect that Paul often thought about what he had done and would have loved to have made changes, but he didn’t dwell on it.
The challenge is HOW do we deal with our memories? While we cannot dwell on the past, it is STILL a useful tool as we face the present and the future. The key is to LEARN from it! This is a truth in every aspect of life. Your current position at your job is based upon your past learning. Your present Biblical knowledge is based upon previous studies and application. You common sense is application of your life experiences. Let us apply this to becoming better Christians.
Consider the example of Paul again. Yes, he was a persecutor of Christians, but he LEARNED from it. That is why he would write to the Corinthians, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; ...” 1 Corinthians 15:10(emphasis mine – TT). It is the fool who does not learn from the past. He is the one doomed to repeat his errors over and over. Proverbs 2:11 says, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (See Proverbs 23:29-35 for an example, esp. vs. 35, Also 2 Peter 2:20-22)
When Peter said, “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles – when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries…” (1 Pet. 4:3) we find remembrance of what we used to be. But his POINT is that we MOVE ON and learn from it. Note vs. 2 which led into that statement, “that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” In 1 Corinthians 6:11 when Paul said, “And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” he was reminding them why they did not live like they used to (see vs. 9 & 10). They needed to remember what their past was like lest they return to that way. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. To avoid being like the dog returning to his vomit or a washed pig returning to the mud pit requires a degree of recall (2 Pet. 2:22). Consider this when you start thinking about “the good old days” as well (see Ecclesiastes 7:10, Exodus 16:2-3 where Israel wanted to return to captivity in Egypt).
We also need to remember the good things learned from the past. In 2 Peter 1:13 Peter reminded these brethren of what they had learned in the past. In Hebrews 6:1 the writer said, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,…” We need to GROW! That requires remembering the past.
Conclusion: So we can see that while we are to forget the past AND remember the past, they are NOT contradictory, but rather complimentary. Both have to do with managing the past. Learn from it, but don’t dwell on it lest it become a crutch. This balance is summarized by Sir William Osler who said, “Shut out all of your past except that which will help you weather your tomorrows.” Think about it!
In our next article we will examine living in the present.
When it comes to where we are right now there is a need to consider the future, but it should not consume us to the neglect of today. Just as our past has developed us to this point, so our present will impact what the future holds for us.
am I right now?
“For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). In weighing your life, perhaps the most pressing question you can ask at this moment is, “Where am I right now?” When it comes to living the Christian life, everything centers on this. The Christian knows that the reason he is here is to prepare to leave here. He realizes the uncertainty of life and ought to know that today could be his last upon this earth. Therefore, before he does anything else, he needs to make sure that he is ready RIGHT NOW to stand before God in judgment. Paul told the Corinthians, “For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2)
This will regulate everything he does. It will influence his choices and his outlook on life. He realizes that the time he has right now is a stewardship. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
The Christian, seeking to serve God, knows he cannot waste the present time. Perhaps in times past, he was wasteful, but he realizes that today is a gift not to be neglected. Peter said, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.” (1 Peter 4:1–3)
First, I ought to be joyful. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Paul told the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4) If there is anyone who ought to happy in this life it is the Christian. Our understanding of blessings goes so much deeper than those living without hope beyond this life. Yet far too many Christians live without joy. They are miserable from day to day and they make those around them miserable. If you are living a joyless life as a Christian, SOMETHING IS WRONG! Either you know things are not as they ought to be or you simply have a sour disposition. Either way that is NOT how to live in the present. IF things are not right, do what you can to make it right, but if not adjust your attitude and accept you situation. Much of the misery we live in is self-inflicted because we don’t want to be happy. That is NOT an attitude pleasing to God, and it is unhealthy. Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” (Phil. 4:11) That included being hungry or full, being abased, and even suffering. I find it interesting that Paul’s message of joy to the Philippians was written while he was in a prison in Rome. As I live today, I need to make up my mind that I am going to do so with as much joy as possible. If you will wake up with this determination you will be surprised at how much better your day will be AND how much better you can make the day of those around you. I have been around long enough to know that if you are living in misery from day to day, you light will be flickering at best (cf. Matt. 5:16).
Second, I ought to live for today. Don’t get bogged down with either yesterday or tomorrow. Far too many live miserable lives because they worry about things they cannot change. Their lives are consumed with what is going to happen (or what MIGHT happen but probably will not) or what has happened. As a result, they wander around depressed and defeated. They are overwhelmed with everything ahead of them because they have this huge “to do list” and the finish line is so far away. Discouraged, they fail to see the path right in front of them. They forget that running a marathon is achieved one step at a time. They forget that a wall is constructed on brick at a time. They forget that the big goals in life are achieved ONE DAY AT A TIME! Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount emphasized the need to deal with today – today and to not worry about tomorrow. Notice Matthew 6:25-34. It says, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Therefore, we need to learn to live for today. This does not mean we ignore the future all together, but we deal with what is immediately in front of us. We fight the skirmish today which will eventually lead to winning the war (More on this in our next article).
In the meantime, today we need to be busy doing good (Romans 2:7, 12:21; 2 Thess. 3:13, Heb. 13:16, etc.). And we do it with all our might. Colossians 3:23 says, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”
Third, I ought to live for God. Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ, but to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21). While Paul was dealing with his willingness to die, his attitude is that as long as he lives on this earth, every day is going to be devoted to glorifying Christ. As we progress through today we must never forget that in all we do, we are seeking to serve God. Therefore, as has been said in sermons of old, every day I should: 1) Let God say something to me [study His word], 2) Say something to God [prayer], 3) Say something for God [evangelism], and 4) Do something for God [Be busy]. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Colossians 3:17)
Fourth, I ought to live for others. One of the surest ways to make your day meaningful is to NOT be selfish. I need to realize that I am here to help others in whatever way I can. Continually the Bible calls for us to help the less fortunate. Galatians 6:10 summarizes this by saying, “Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially those who are of the household of faith.” Jesus said we will answer for what we do for others (Matt. 25:31-46, 10:42, etc.) It was also stressed by the apostles (James 2:14-18, 1 Tim. 6:18, Titus 2:14, etc.).
This includes being concerned for and helping our brethren. We need to be a family on a regular basis that goes BEYOND the public assemblies of the church. We need to prefer one another and look out for each other. Hebrews 3:13 says, “but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Your true strength and the strength of your brethren depends on what you do TODAY!
These are some of the things to consider as we look at the present time. If we will keep busy making today the best that it can be, both our past and our future will not be a burden to us in any way. Live every day to its fullest. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” Ecclesiastes 9:10
How will today affect tomorrow?
While we cannot change the past and we have to live with what we have done, we can determine what our future will be like by how we live today. For example: Perhaps you not been the Bible student you ought to be and are far too ignorant today considering your spiritual age (cf. Heb. 5:12-14). You cannot change that, BUT you can determine today to start studying more so that tomorrow you will be a more mature Christian in the word.
I believe that is what Paul had in mind when in Philippians 3:13-14 he said, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Notice how Paul said he was reaching forward to the things that are ahead. We know that Paul had a past filled with things he would have loved to change, but he couldn’t do that. However, that did not keep him from working with where he was in the present to make everything about his future better, both as he lived and as he prepared for eternity. That is the resolve we need as we live today looking toward tomorrow.
Far too many of us have weights that are keeping us from moving forward as we ought to. Many are struggling with addictions, sin, complacency, poor choices & their consequences and other troubles. They are keeping us from moving forward as we would like. We cannot do that. As we read in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” It doesn’t matter! You cannot change your past. ACCEPT IT! (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am…” said Paul) Where ever you today, that is where you need to start! You CAN control whether or not you will be farther along the path you need to be on tomorrow. Just DO IT! Reach forward.
Don’t worry about it!
Just as there are many who become obsessed with their past (which they cannot change) there are others who become obsessed (or terrified) with what MIGHT happen in the future. In our last article we mentioned Matthew 6:25-34 where Jesus dealt with worrying about things you cannot change. While He commissioned them to seize today and it’s troubles, He also emphatically said “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things…” (34) This is NOT contradictory to making plans or reaching forward or considering what will happen in the future. Jesus was saying DON’T OBSESS about the future! Don’t let the future keep you from doing what you ought to do today! We know people who live their lives worrying about MIGHT happen and it KEEPS them from doing what they ought to be doing today. We know of those who give up before they even start something. That is no way to view the future and it is no way to live. Proverbs 22:13 says, “The lazy man says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!’” This is not commending one for being cautious, rather it is CONDEMNING one who makes excuses to keep from doing what he ought to do today. He uses the future as a crutch! And let me emphasize here, often the worries are over what MIGHT happen! Chances are, everything will proceed as planned with little or few problems, but we worry about the remote possibility of disaster and do nothing! God will hold us accountable for such an attitude (James 4:17)
Now there is a difference between such worrying and genuine concern. The difference is that concern will cause us to be cautious as we move forward. BUT we keep moving forward AWARE of the possibility of problems. Perhaps we have even made plans in case there are problems. But regardless, we keep REACING FORWARD. I am reminded of Paul who was headed to Jerusalem knowing that he faced certain persecutions. Acts 20:22-23 records that he did not know exactly what would happen to him there. Vs. 24 tells us, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” As you read his journey to Jerusalem, many plead with him not to go, but he know what he needs to do and keeps moving ahead, WILLING to pay the price. However, that does not mean he was not cautious and he did not use whatever resources he had at his disposal. Friends that is what we must do with the future. Keep REACHING FORWARD but with caution! (cf. 1 Peter 5:8, 1 Thess. 5:6-8). However, having said this, realize that much of our looking forward should progress without incident, such as your growing in knowledge and faith. If you do what you ought to do today, tomorrow will take care of itself. And isn’t that what Jesus said? (Matt. 6:34- worry about its own things)
The Ultimate Future
James 4:13-16, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Another concern that deals with the future is those who make plans without consideration of God. They move forward in life with a proper balance of past, present and future thinking. BUT, they limit their thinking to the ways of this world. James was concerned about such. In the above text, he condemned them as arrogant. The tragedy of such thinking is that one fails to lay up for himself treasures in heaven which he can enjoy them for eternity (Matt. 6:19). Instead, he chooses the “passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25) for a short season on this earth. He is like the rich fool who left God out of his plans as he prepared for the future (Luke 12:16-21).
As we live today, there is NO future planning more important than to prepare for heaven. Everything we do today must be with that goal in mind. Jesus said, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26)
We must never forget that our main purpose on this earth is to prepare to leave this earth. We are told in scripture that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10) It behooves us to prepare for that day.
To the Christian that puts time in its proper perspective, this is not a dreadful thing. Paul knew this and in the face of afflictions said, “…we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things that are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) We know that waiting for us is, “an inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled that does not fade away” is reserved in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:3-4).
In this sense, the Christian is always looking forward to the future. And in this matter, if he is not prepared, he ought to be very concerned and worried! If that be the case, do what you need to in order to be right with God.
And thus we can see the proper perspective of past, present and future thinking. When properly managed, they go together and provide a balanced and purposeful life. And ultimately they together are based upon what you are doing with the present. What about you? If the way you are now has not taken care of the past and is not preparing for the future, start RIGHT NOW to make yourself right with God. “For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) Think about it! TATJR