I love dreaming about and planning for tomorrow. Want to draw up a strategic plan? Count me in. Want to talk about which young basketball or football star will have the best career? Let’s go. Do you have predictions about the 2024 presidential election? Pull up a chair. Want to prognosticate about what the church is going to look like in 20 years? I would love to hear your thoughts.
I’m wired for planning. Thoughtful forecasting can be a wise expenditure of time. Jesus says it even has a place in discipleship. He asks his followers, “For which of you, desiring a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Lk 14:28). But while planning has its place in the Christian life, it can also serve as a distraction or even fuel sinful tendencies.
The focus on tomorrow can feed discontentment, ingratitude, and laziness. If you’re like me, there is a danger that we can poorly steward the relationships and meetings that God has for us today if our eyes are too focused on the horizon. None of us like meeting with someone whose focus isn’t on us, but past us: they tap their foot, look at the clock, and follow other (apparently more interesting) people with their eyes.
The discipline of today starts with a heart of contentment. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”[i] And he pens that from prison! How many of the saints have had enormous chunks of their lives that, from a worldly perspective, appeared to be wasted: Joseph’s decades in slavery and jail, David’s years fleeing Saul, Paul’s years in prison? But none of their days were wasted. They were faithful with their lives because they were faithful with their days.
The wise author Annie Dillard once said,
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.
There is so much truth packed into that paragraph. Our days compose our lives; what fills my day is what fills my life. How I shape my schedule is how I will shape my life. Our schedules are the lifeboat that we float away from the wreck of time in and find ourselves bound to for years. We better like that lifeboat. How are our days filled?
Isn’t the discipline of prioritizing today what we behold when we look at Jesus’ life? We see the destination of Jesus’ life unveiled from time to time in the gospel accounts. However, it isn’t until the last week of his life that the telos of the cross is made clear. Instead, we see Jesus living faithfully in each day he is given: communing with the Father in prayer, present with those he is teaching, and stopping for those in need of healing. Jesus is present in each moment to each person. This is the way of our Savior. This is the way of God.
Think of it: the God of all Creation, the God who has secured a future better than we could possibly imagine and who can picture that future perfectly is not distracted for even a second—he is fully present with you at this very moment.
My best discipleship of my children has probably happened around our breakfast table in the morning, as we listen and respond to God’s Word together. My best care for our kids probably occurs around the dinner table at night—listening to what filled their days. My love has probably been best displayed at their bed at night—speaking God’s truth and blessing over them in prayer. These are our daily disciplines with our kids. Mapping out their futures and dreaming about what is to come is a healthy component of our relationship, but strategic planning is almost worthless if it isn’t paired with those more essential daily disciplines.
So it is with my relationship with God, marriage, and vocational development. The route to success is built by today’s cobblestones, not tomorrow’s plans.
May the faithful discipline of today characterize our lives as we reflect our ever-present Savior.
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