“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34, ESV).
I was confronted several times today by the notion of living “in the moment” or “in the now.” Such terms popped up in a tourism commercial for Ireland (a visit to my ancestral homeland remains high on my “bucket list”), an article I read in a newsletter, a conversation with a friend, etc. (Furthermore, as a Bee Gees’ fan, I could not resist the opportunity to use the title of Barry Gibb’s recent solo album in a blog post.)
This concept permeates the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. Matthew 6:34 tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Ephesians 5:16 tells us to make the best use of the time, “because the days are evil.”
I value my time and place a high priority on time management. I keep a to-do list handy so that I can keep up with my diverse responsibilities and accomplish a few hobbies. I plan ahead; but do I make the best use of this present time?
I am not trying to discourage anybody from using good time-management skills. Like everything else in life, time is a limited resource, and we should be good stewards of it. However, I think too many of us fall into one of two extremes with time management. One person can be too spontaneous and fail to plan ahead; he might let friends and loved ones down, break promises, and squander life and opportunities by being guided by the feelings of the moment, with no long-term view. Another may focus so much on what is on the agenda tomorrow, or next week, or ten years from now that today slips away.
How can we live most effectively in the now? This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but a few thoughts come to mind:
- Make your plans, but keep them flexible. Being good stewards of our time requires some planning. I usually write a to-do list every day, but it is not unusual for my plans to hit a brick wall. What happens when I was planning to do some writing one night, but a last-minute change of plans occurs? Or, I have a rough day at work and am too mentally exhausted to write? I often record 20 items on my to-do list every day. I know I will not accomplish all of them; some items must be done and take top priority. There are items I would like to accomplish; and sometimes, there is a group of little things to do if I am not able to accomplish any important tasks. Some days, I merely cross a few small items off my list at the end of the day, but it is enough.
- Welcome opportunities to be a blessing to others. In the previous paragraph, I mentioned a “last-minute change of plans.” For me, such distractions often involve other people: my wife agrees to watch her brother’s children one night, a friend calls me on the phone with a problem that is really troubling him, etc. It is tempting to complain about the distractions, but what if they are God’s way of saying, “I want you to bless this person tonight”? Matthew 25:31-46 shares Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats at the last judgment. The sheep are rewarded for feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming strangers, visiting the sick and prisoners; whereas the goats are condemned for doing none of these. Jesus says that whatever we did for the “least of these” had been done for Him. [I cannot help but wonder if the “goats” had prayed for these people (James 2:16). God wanted action.]
We probably do not have to make an effort to find people to bless. If we are willing to surrender our time and efforts to God, we will see opportunities. There are people all around us who need a blessing; we just have to be alert to their presence and willing to recognize the distractions they bring as a mission from God.
- Keep it simple! We often overcomplicate our lives by thinking we need more than we actually do. Matthew 6:34 ends a teaching where Jesus urges His listeners not to worry; God will take care of their needs. The average American, though, has all of his needs met and is now worrying about his luxuries. We often work to buy products we cannot afford and do not need, adding excessive stress. Keep it simple: thank God when He has met all of your needs; entrust your cares to Him in prayer; and make the best use of your current time, realizing there is only so much you can do in one day.
- Avoid procrastination. Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Our lives are short. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey wrote that we should “begin with the end in mind.” We should think of what kind of legacy we would like to leave behind.
Do not waste your time on trivialities! Think about those things that you would like people to remember about you when you are gone, and set time aside to do them.
Time is a precious commodity. While we often need to keep a long-term, eternal perspective, we have to remember that we can only live in the now. Make the best use of today, whether it is by taking a few steps closer to a life-long dream, recovering from a rough day, or responding to an unexpected request for help.
As a parting thought, you may want to take about three-and-a-half minutes to enjoy this song by David Meece about living in the present moment, “Once in a Lifetime.”
This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.