On Pentecost Sunday, Garry spoke about ‘receiving the present’, looking at Matthew 6:25-34. The ‘present’ he was talking about was not the gift of the Holy Spirit per se, however, but the gift of today, the gift of living in the now, with an appreciation of who God is and all that He has done that comes from remembering the past and is fuelled by the hope and anticipation of the future.
The past should not be ignored. When we are downcast, it’s good to remember all God is and all He has done (Ps 42:6). We have to remember, recall and repent (Rev 2:4-5). First and foremost, we should remember God’s character (Deut 8:1-3, 1 Cor 10:6-7). Who God is determines what He does. He will never change; He will never leave us or forsake us. He is utterly faithful and His view of what is right and wrong does not change. In the present, God may seem far away or we may not understand what He is doing, but recalling who He is helps us in the everyday. We are not to lose the proven past in the heat of the moment. Sometimes all we have to hold on to is who God is!
We also need to remember the sovereignty of God. God rules over all the nations. He is in control. He is working for the good of His people. Sometimes, in the busyness of the present and the difficulties of everyday life, we worry, scheme, plot and plan, being like Abraham, wanting to ‘help God out’ at times. We need to remind ourselves of God’s acts in the past, so that we can get the bigger picture of all He is doing. 1 Chron 16:7-13 shows us that David appointed Levites to ‘make known among the nations what God has done.’ We have to remember this and proclaim it to others. God steps into history and acts; He steps into our history and acts! It’s not just a question of being spectators of what God has done. He has done marvellous things on our behalf (see Deut 5:14-15). Moreoever, it is God’s promise which sustains our life (Ps 119:50). We were once alienated from God and cast off, but now He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility and brought us near to God (see Ephesians 2). The photo gallery in our church building is a vivid testimony to all God has done for us. The Open Day in July will be another occasion to remember what God has done for us!
The call to remember the past should not cause us to live in the past, however. We can (to paraphrase Sara Groves’s words) ‘paint pictures of Egypt’, remembering the past with rose-coloured glasses, leaving out certain parts and looking back with nostalgia. We have to live in the present.
At the same time, future hope fuels the fires of the present. Hope aids us in our daily struggles. It gives us a focus for faith. It keeps us going and gives us perspective. Rom 5:1-5 talks about the certainty of hope and Rom 8:23-28 tells us that hope is patient. We also have boldness in hope (2 Cor 3:12). Hope anchors us and fuels us, but we cannot live in the future either. Life will be better then. We yearn for perfection. But hope is like a Sat-Nav, plotting the course for us in the journey to our final destination.
Jesus had joy to fuel Him through the agonies of the cross (Heb 12:1-3). Sometimes, in the present, we have to endure. Things don’t necessarily get better or improve here on earth. Sometimes our own foolishness leads to consequences that are difficult to endure (see Jacob.) Sometimes, the actions of other people cause us heartache and hold us back (see Joseph.) But God is able to redeem everything for His good. Moreover, in the everyday now, God gives us joy (see John 16:20). There is joy even in suffering.
What does God want us to do today, then? First of all, we are called to work and whatever we do, we have to do it wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord. Secondly, we can encourage (Heb 3:15), understanding the significance of encouragement. Finally, we are called to live in the present (James 4:13-15), for today is all we have. We have to receive God’s gift of the present and serve Him now, seeking first the kingdom of God and understanding both the role of the past in shaping us and the future in inspiring us.