The old idiom, “There is no time like the present” is quite a profound thought. It could be profoundly good or it could be profoundly bad depending on where you go with it. If we hear in this statement “live for the present,” we will be heading down a dark road of self-indulgence and immediate gratification with no regard for either the past or the future. The person who lives solely for the present is always looking and never finding what they really want in life. And their past is full of brokenness and regret, and their future limited from the consequences of their choices.
If however, we focus on living in the present, we will find a heightened sense of richness and satisfaction in life that will likely surpass anything we have experienced in our lives to date. So, let me elaborate on this idea of living in the present so we can better understand (1.) its brevity, (2.) its challenges and (3.) its richness.
The Sobering Brevity of the Present
The thought of living in the present is a mind-boggling idea if you really understand what the present is. Let me explain. Think of your life as a horizontal line. It has a starting point (your birth), but no ending point (eternity). The present is nothing more than a thin vertical line that moves slowly and inexorably across the continuum of your life timeline, converting your future into your past. The present is so brief that by the time you even say the word “present,” it is no longer in the present, it is now in the past.
For me, it is easier to grasp the sobering brevity of living in the present moment if I think about my life in terms of seconds. Lord willing, we will all get to experience 86,400 present seconds in this upcoming day. So, as every second passes, a future second is immediately turned into a past second of our lives. When we calibrate living in the present into seconds – instead of hours, days, weeks, months or years, our appreciation of what it means to live in the present will be greatly magnified.
Maybe that is why God gave us hours, days, months and years as primary time measurements instead of seconds. He knew how difficult it would be to continuously attempt to live in the present when the present is so incredibly fleeting.
The Challenge of Living Fully in the Present
God is clearly a God of the present. Do you remember when Moses asked Him what His name was and God told him to say, “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14)? He is – not He will be or He has been. He is now – perpetually in the present. Because God is outside the time/space continuum He is not bound by the past, the present and the future like we are. For Him, everything is in the present. I must confess no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot get my mind around the enormity of this thought.
David reminds us to focus on the present in Psalm 118:24, “This is the day which the Lord hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day….” He also knew we would struggle with fears for the future so He told us in Matthew 6:34 to “not worry about tomorrow….” Paul did not want to be hindered by his past which is why he told us in Philippians 3:14 that he was “forgetting what lies behind….” It is all about living in the present.
How often do we miss fully living in the present moment because we are so busy rehashing the past or rehearsing for the future?
I will sadly confess that my family knows all too well that even though I may be physically in the room with them, it does not necessarily mean that I am also mentally and emotionally in the room. I am often thinking about something that has already happened or focused on something that is coming up. And I miss the sweetness of the present moment because I am simply not all there to share in it.
Let me share with you a personal illustration. When my oldest two daughters were still quite young, I had been sharing with them I John 3:17, which says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” We were trying to teach them that how we respond to those in need shows whether we really love God or not.
As providence would have it, the next Sunday I happened to be preaching that morning and Pam, my wife, was playing the piano. As is often the case with families with small children, we were running late. We jumped into the car and hurried out of the driveway and sped off to church.
On the main street to the church that morning we happened to drive by a disheveled, elderly lady walking down the side of the road pulling a cart with a big bag. I crossed over into the left lane so as to not get too close to her and drove on by. Bethany, my oldest daughter, broke the silence and asked me, “Daddy, don’t you love God?” I said, “Of course I do, honey, why do you ask?” I can still remember 25 years later what she said next. She asked, “Daddy, that lady needs help and we have a car. If we really love God, shouldn’t we stop and help her?” My daughter was living in the present. I, on the other hand, was in too big of a hurry to get to church to minister to the needs of the congregation to see anybody with needs along the way.
Jesus, unlike me, always lived in the present. One of my favorite stories is when Jesus is in the middle of teaching and something threatens to interrupt Him. Here is what it says in Matthew 19:13-15,“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”
He was so in the present that right in the midst of his teaching, he saw a greater opportunity and He stopped right in the middle of his sermon, blessed and prayed for the children and then it says, “he went on from there.” He picked back up with His lesson where He left off. I like the way Jesus handled His interruption better than I handled mine. Which leads me to another important thought. How we choose to live in the present creates the past we get to live with for the rest of our lives. A very sobering thought, isn’t it?
The Richness of Living Fully in the Present
So, how do we fully live in the present moment? Let me share with you a frame of mind that has done more to help me live in the present than anything else. It is so simple and yet so powerful. Here it is – “There is a first time and a last time for everything in life.” Let me explain.
There was the first time I ever went fishing with my Dad and there was the last time. There was a first time I got to hold each of my four, precious daughters in my arms and there will someday be a last time. There was the first time I got on the floor to play with my grandchildren and there will be a last time. There was the first time I tied my very own shoes. And there will someday be a last time. There was the first sermon I ever preached and there will someday be the last.
When our entire family is able to get together, I cannot help but be mindful that this could be the last time we will all be together as a family. When we visit Pam’s aging father who is not in good health, we are consciously aware, this time could be the last time we see him this side of eternity.
You see, it is this recognition that there is a first time and a last time for everything that makes all the in-between times so much sweeter. Savor the small things that each day brings, because some day you just may discover that they were really the big things.
Keep in mind the old saying. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God’s gift, and that’s why we call it the present.”
Robert Brault pondered, “Why be saddled with this thing called life expectancy? Of what relevance to an individual is such a statistic? Am I to concern myself with an allotment of days I never had and was never promised? Must I check off each day of my life as if I am subtracting from this imaginary hoard? No, on the contrary, I will add each day of my life to my treasure of days lived. And with each day, my treasure will grow, and not diminish.”
May I encourage you to let the past be your teacher. Let the future be your hope. But let the present be your life. May it be so for all of us.
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E. G. “Jay” Link is the President of Stewardship Ministries, a teaching, training, mentoring and content ministry working with churches and nonprofit leaders to equip them with the biblical knowledge and training resources needed to serve all ages and all economic levels of believers to effectively live their lives as good and faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to them. He is the author of three books, “Spiritual Thoughts on Material Things: Thirty Days of Food for Thought,” “To Whom Much is Given: Navigating the Ten Life Dilemmas Affluent Christians Face” and “Family Wealth Counseling: Getting to the Heart of the Matter.”