How much do you live in the present, how much in the past or future? Parents and grandparents have been poignantly aware, with the beginning of yet another school year, of the passage of time. The beauty and power of past moments with our children have put a tear in many parents’ eyes as they watch the child, who seems to have been born only yesterday, go off to school. We send them with a prayer, an inner admonition to teachers, and the hope that their young lives will continue to grow into the adulthood that we both desire and dread.
“Carpe diem,” or “Seize the day” admonished the poet Horace in 23 BC. God asked through James, “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14, NKJV). The Psalmist prays, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12, NKJV). And Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2, NKJV).
Folks like my wife and I, who dwell on the sunny side of sixty, actually have an advantage in this business of living in the present. We are both survivors of serious medical issues–brain tumor and cancer– and find that we appreciate each day all the more since our recovery from those ordeals. The following prayer is lifted out of my book Climbing Home: From Valleys of Despair to Mountains of Hope and shows something of this gift of life in the present:
“Wow, Lord, what a pleasure to wake up with you. I still remember what it was like to wake up during the drinking days––hung over, lonely, and scared. Thank you for sobriety this morning. And thank you for my wife—she probably thinks I’m still asleep and she’s getting coffee and doing devotions in the kitchen. Thank you we have each other yet another day. Direct the words I write today, I pray, and even more direct my heart as I write. Grant, Lord, that the words will be real, and will help. Boy do I ever thank you for the smell of fresh coffee. And for our dogs. And for the liver transplant. It’s kind of hard, Lord, to keep exercising when I can’t do what I used to do during the climbing days; help me to remember to enjoy the fact that I still can exercise a bit, even if I ain’t quite the lean, mean climbin’ machine I once was. Lord, you really are fun. Let’s keep this conversation going today. Truly this is the day you’ve made; you and I will enjoy it. Time for coffee. . . .”
But how? How can we “seize the day?” How live fully in the present?
There are three Biblical principles that can contribute to our focus on this day that God has made: Investment, Memory Building, and Contentment.
Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21, NKJV). During recent years I have come to value friendships, and a few in particular, as part of that treasure. I would really, really love to be able to visit with them more often. But I have been deeply grateful for time with one family of these friends during this summer. Others I hope to visit this fall. But I enjoy, each day, building these relationships of love through a text, an occasional note, and through prayer, abiding with them in the presence of God as I drift off to sleep. These friends and I are laying the groundwork for years of hiking, singing, talking, playing, working, visiting together in heaven.
Investment–storing up treasures in heaven–can help all of us live more fully this day by living this day as a part of eternity.
It is hard to think that some of our memories are just that, memories of events, relationships, childhood lives that are now past. But the past can be part of both the present and the future. William Faulkner said once that the past isn't even past; it's here and now.
I preached a sermon years ago, based around principles in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, entitled “Building New Memories.” As I reflected on that chapter, I realized that this is the day to build the memories that can sustain us in the future. Often during the evening prayer time I mentioned earlier, I feed on some of the richest foods in my memory bank; today is the day to replenish those memories. The child whom you send to school this fall still needs something to happen in your family this afternoon that can feed the spirit of that child fifty years from now.
Paul said, from the confines of his fourth Roman imprisonment no less, “I have learned whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13, NKJV). And the heart of Paul’s contentment was his gratitude; even in the bottom of an inverted Roman silo, which describes a prison in Paul’s day, he still had Jesus Christ for whom He lived and in whom he had all things. And so it was that Paul could say, “…in everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18).
That gratitude, along with memory building and investment in love and life eternal, can make this a good day to live. So that tonight we can genuinely, as we drift off to sleep, say, “Thank you, Lord, for yet another day of this life.”