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How to live in the now

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 6.28-34

A friend sent me some interesting facts about the class which recently graduated from high school in America. They have no recollection of the Reagan era. There has been only one Pope in their lifetime. They were five when the Soviet Union broke apart and do not remember the Cold War. Tianamen Square means nothing to them. Atari predates them, as do vinyl albums. They have never heard of an 8-track. The Compact Disc was introduced before they were born. They have always had cable and VCRs. Popcorn has always been cooked in the microwave. They have no idea that Americans were ever held hostage in Iran. Kansas, Chicago, Boston, America, and Alabama are places, not bands. They don’t have a clue how to use a typewriter. And Jay Leno has always been on the Tonight Show.

Speaking of Mr. Leno, I once heard him say that his father complained about walking five miles through the snow to school. “What will we complain about to our kids?” he asked. “We had to get up to change the channel.”

Tomorrow comes so quickly that we worry about it today. But Jesus says that we should not: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (v. 34). How do we do this? A psychologist once said that 90% of his patients live in fear of the future or guilt over the past. Wouldn’t you like to refuse both? How do we live in the now?

Choose to live in the now

“Do not worry,” our text begins, translating a present tense imperative. Literally rendered, Jesus said, “Stop worrying, every time worry starts again in your life.”

“About tomorrow”—specifically, about anything having to do with the future. No exceptions, no qualifications, no loopholes.

Why? “Tomorrow will worry about itself”—it will take care of itself. You cannot. You can’t do anything about tomorrow, today.

Instead, focus on now, for “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” The word describes damage done to a crop by hail, the normal problems of living in this fallen world. You have enough to think about for today without borrowing from tomorrow.

The upshot: live in the now. Stay in the present. But that’s hard.

So why live in the present? For three reasons. First, worry over the future is pointless. A survey regarding worries revealed these facts:

40% of things most people worry about never happen.

30% of what we worry about has already happened and cannot be changed.

22% of what we worry about regards problems which are beyond our control.

Only 8% of what we worry about involves situations over which we have any influence.

Mickey Rivers, former New York Yankees outfielder, was right: “Ain’t no sense worry about things you got control over, ’cause if you got control over them, ain’t no sense worrying. And there ain’t no sense worrying about things you got no control over, ’cause if you got no control over them, ain’t no sense worrying about them.” Any questions?

A wise man once said, “The biggest troubles you have got to face are those that never come.”

It has been observed that the bridges we cross before we come to them are almost always over rivers that aren’t there.

Winston Churchill once quoted a man on his deathbed who said that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened. Don’t live in tomorrow, for such anxiety is pointless.

Second, refuse to worry about the future, because tomorrow doesn’t exist.

The Greeks pictured history as a line, and made five-year plans. The Jews knew better. They saw time as a dot, the here and now. “Yesterday” is gone, and “tomorrow” doesn’t exist. It’s just a word with no substance. We live in the past and the future; they lived in the present.

Take Paul’s experience on his second missionary journey. He thought he was to turn back East when God called him West. The result was his ministry in Macedonia and Europe, and the movement of the gospel to the Western Hemisphere. The apostle had no idea this was his future; he was simply staying faithful in the present.

Third, choose to live in the now, because it’s the only way to know God. All of God there is, is in this moment. He is the great I Am, not the I Was or the I Will Be. He cannot help you with the future, for it doesn’t exist. If you want to know God, you must live in today.

Jim Carrey’s comedy Bruce Almighty has caused significant problems for Dawn Jenkins, and she isn’t even in it. The character of God leaves his phone number on Carrey’s pager. But instead of the usual 555 prefix used by most television shows and films, God’s number is a common exchange—it’s Dawn’s cell phone number. She’s been getting about 20 calls per hour, with callers asking for God before hanging up.

The only way God can answer your call is when you make it about the present. He’s already forgiven every sin you’ve confessed to him from your past; he will guide every step you’ll trust to his will. So live in this moment, and you’ll find God there.

Learn to live in the now

So we choose to live in the present, in this moment, in the now. How do we do this? I have been helped much this week by rereading Thomas Kelly’s classic A Testament of Devotion. This Quaker missionary was a scholar in philosophy of religion, but even more a student of the soul. He suggests these principles, which I endorse to you.

First, invite Christ to dwell in your soul. Make him your Savior and Lord.

When you do, your body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and Jesus himself comes to live in your heart.

As a result, “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continually return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-worn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself” (p. 9).

It is this Christ within you who has called you to his worship today, and to hear this message. You are here by his initiative and invitation. He wants you to know the peace that passes understanding which will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). So make him your Lord, and you will find in him your peace.

Next, learn to practice his presence through each day.

“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings…It is at this deep level that the real business of life is determined” (p. 12-13).

How do we live on this deeper level? “By quiet, persistent practice in turning of all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward Him who calls in the deeps of our souls” (p. 15).

We turn our thoughts to God constantly. We pray to him with brief phrases all through the day. We seek his word in our minds and hearts. As we walk in his presence, we find that he prays for us and through us. We find ourselves carried along by his Spirit. We sense ourselves in his peace.

Third, disown yourself.

“It is just this astonishing life that is willing…sincerely to disown itself, this life that intends complete obedience, without any reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me—commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him” (pp. 24-25, italics his).

How? Begin where you are. Obey what you know to obey from God today. Surrender what you know to surrender. Confess what you know to confess. As best you can today, give up rights to your own ambitions, dreams, hopes. Put them into God’s hands. Trust that the One whose Son died for you, the One who knows the future you cannot see, will guide your life better than you can.

Ask him to guide your next step, to reveal your next decision, to use your life for his purposes. When you sense yourself taking your life back, give it again. When you take it back, give it again. Time after time after time. Disown yourself.

And here’s what you’ll experience: “self-renunciation means God-possession, the being possessed by God” (p. 31). Here is the key to the power of God. It is the key to the peace and presence of God. It is the key to the life you seek this morning.

The bottom line: choose to dwell in the presence of Christ in each moment.

You will experience “a deeper, internal simplification of the whole of one’s personality, stilled, tranquil, in child-like trust listening ever to Eternity’s whisper” (p. 37).

This is “the life beyond fevered strain. We are called beyond strain, to peace and power and joy and love and thorough abandonment of self. We are called to put our hands trustingly in His hand and walk the holy way, in no anxiety assuredly resting in Him” (p. 38, italics his).

This is to live in the Spirit, displaying the fruit of the Spirit. To what degree are you this morning experiencing love? Joy? Peace? Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? You can. If you will live in the presence of Christ, in the eternal now.

Richard Foster says, “The Christian life comes not by gritting our teeth but by falling in love.” When you dwell in Jesus’ love each moment, you have his peace.

Thomas Kelly concludes: “I think it is clear that I am talking about a revolutionary way of living. Religion isn’t something to be added to all our other duties and thus make our lives yet more complex. The life with God is the center of life, and all else is remodeled and integrated by it. It gives the singleness of eye…There is a way of life so hid with Christ in God that in the midst of the day’s business one is inwardly lifting brief prayers, short ejaculations of praise, subdued whispers of adoration and of tender love to the Beyond that is within. No one need know about it…One can live in a well-nigh continuous state of unworded prayer, directed toward God, directed toward people and enterprises we have on our heart. There is no hurry about it all; it is a life unspeakable and full of glory, an inner world of splendor within which we, unworthy, may live” (p. 76).

Conclusion

So live in the presence of God, and give your fear about the future to him every time it occurs. You may need to give that fear to him a hundred times this hour; do it every time. Eventually fear will subside and faith will take its place.

Plan for the future, but don’t live there. Pay your bills. Make preparations. Much of our fear about tomorrow comes from feeling that we’re not prepared for what it might bring. Be as ready as you can be. Then leave the results with God.

And choose to live in the now by walking in the presence of Jesus. Begin where you are. Give all you know of yourself to all you know of him. Stay in prayer and worship. Live in the world and in the Spirit. And find in the Eternal Now the peace your heart longs to know.

Elizabeth Cheney’s poem is still worth hearing:

Said the Robin to the Sparrow, “I should really like to know

Why these anxious human beings rush around and worry so.”

Said the Sparrow to the Robin, “Friend, I think that it must be

That they have no heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.”

Well?