I recently heard my seminary president, Craig Barnes, preach a sermon on the phrase “if only.” Dr. Barnes said that when “if only” surfaces in a conversation it usually focuses either on the past or the future. “If only I had saved better for retirement.” “If only I had taken that other job instead of this one.” “If only I had been a better mother.” “If only I had been a better husband.” “If only I can get out of this relationship.” “If only my health would get better, I could do x,y, z.” “If only I could get into that school. The phrase “If only,” Barnes claimed, assumes that the key to a good and wholesome life lies either in a re-do of decisions made in the past, and/or the correct decisions made about the future. Yet, as a consequence, the present moment is forgotten, as it is collapsed into either regret about the past, or into the anxiety about the future.
While we might be fixed on the past, or the future, the Biblical witness focuses on today—the present moment God has given us. During Joshua’s farewell speech to Israel he said, “choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15). The Psalmist proclaimed: “This is the day the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24). When Jesus preached his first public sermon in the synagogue in Luke’s gospel, he read from the scroll of Isaiah 61 and proclaimed, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). To the church at Corinth, Paul preached the following: “see, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)! One more from Jesus: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own” (Matt 6:34a).
We get the point; God calls us to live into and appreciate the present moment. We do so, in part, because the present is all that we have. The past has come and gone, never to return. Likewise, we do not have a guarantee of the future. The truth is this: God’s love, grace, blessing, and God’s very presence in our lives is given to us now, today! I believe the proper anecdote to regret about our past, and anxiety about our future, is to enjoy the blessing of God that comes today! It is our only hope that sustains us on the journey.
(Rev. Will Wilson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)