We all have questions and hopes about the future, but if we’re not careful, they can become issues that consume us. For instance, I often hear people worrying about what the economy will be like in five or ten years and whether their investments will pay off. I’ve also known freshmen and sophomores in college who expressed fear that there wouldn’t be employment for them when they finished their graduate studies … Only God knows what will happen in the future or what turns our paths will take. This is why James 4:13-15 admonishes, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” … You and I may not know what our futures hold, but our loving heavenly Father does. And there is no one who can lead us more tenderly, wisely, and effectively into tomorrow.
—Charles F. Stanley, Emotions: Confront the Lies, Conquer with Truth
My wife likes to joke that she talked non-stop in our first year of marriage. She told me every memory, each story, she could recall from her life since birth. I, on the other hand, didn’t have as much to tell: I’ve never been one to linger in memories, and as a result, many have faded in the haze of gone time. The past has little sway over my conscious life, best I can tell; it’s the future that has preoccupied my vision.
I’m the kind of guy the psalmist wrote about not becoming: always striving, often forgetting that God is God (Ps. 46:10), concerned all too often with the advancement of minor earthly kingdoms, and not least my own—a kingdom drawn in the mist miles from where I am. A shoddy palace that for all I know will amount to little more than a mirage. Here’s the thing: I understand that the present moment is all that truly exists, the past already gone, and the future not yet come. Yet the temptation is powerful: We may be limited creatures, but we really do have power to make our tomorrows.
“Only God knows what will happen in the future or what turns our paths will take.”
The prospect is both exhilarating and terrifying: Yes, God grants us the freedom to shape the future. It’s relatively simple cause and effect, really: If I do X today, then tomorrow (even a tomorrow months or years from now) Y becomes more probable. And when I give more time and energy to a possibility, the odds of eventuality increase. Of course, there’s only so much I’m capable of seeing and knowing—but with the right amount of fortitude (or stubbornness), I might arrive at exactly the place I’m imagining and even longing to be. Naturally, that doesn’t mean any of it will actually be good for me.
So far as I can tell, we have two options for how to proceed: We can fashion our tomorrows according to our own desires and fears, with no promise any of it will come to pass and or endure. Or we can participate in our own becoming, collaborating with Christ as He creates our future one day at a time—a future that will last and be fulfilling beyond our wildest imagination. We can choose to remain in the smallness of our finite capacities, or we can grow into our God-given freedom, honing it the way an artist realizes her talent by mastering both materials and techniques one painting at a time. The blunter way of saying this is, we can either make tomorrow in our own perishable image, or we can co-create a future that will last into eternity. We do the latter by allowing the Lord to guide and teach us how to fulfill His intentions for our life.
We can participate in our own becoming, collaborating with Christ as He creates our future one day at a time—a future that will last and be fulfilling beyond our wildest imagination.
“There is no fear in love,” 1 John 4:18 says, “but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (ESV). Whatever happens, whatever I choose, with God nothing is wasted. In the mystery of His grace, even missteps can become crucial parts of our transformation into His likeness.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus said to the disciples, who were beaten back by the wind and waves (Matthew 14:22-36). And those words echo across the deep of my own tumultuous heart. If we look up from our worries and strivings, we’ll see Him standing there among the waves. We’ll hear His voice calling us, beyond all probability, to step out and walk on water.