The other day I woke up in a fog. You likely know the feeling. Everything seems a bit more ominous; your vitality and energy seem low, the skies seem gray or perhaps even foreboding, and there is a general sense of low-grade dread that lingers in the air. For whatever reason, that was the mood I woke up in that day. Sorry to burst any caricature you may have had of "the pastor" and how he wakes up every day full of joy, prophesying over his family, fasting all meals and speaking only in tongues. It was just "one of those days." Now, here's the funny part, it wasn't even mid-morning, and I already wished the day were over. In fact, I was totally cranky, not wanting to deal with the day ahead, dreaming about being in another time and place altogether! A time and place where I was 100% circumstantially happy, where I had no impediments on my will, when I didn't have bills to pay, things to look after, a community to care for, governmental mandates to follow that lack common sense and are often completely self-defeating (did I just say that?), deadlines, taxes, the pressure of parenting... the list goes on.
That morning, as with many days it seems, lately, I couldn't have been more removed from the here and now. My dreams and my dread were both stemming from a focus on somewhere else, from somewhen else.
Is it possible that so much of the depression, despair, anxiety, heartache, addiction, and anger we experience in our lives are rooted in the space between the reality of the here and now and being in another time and place?
It is very hard to be here now when now and here are so hard.
Think about some of the things we tell ourselves. "If I only was in a place with more money." "When the kids are older_________." "If the pandemic would just be done already." "Two months until we go on that cruise." "8 more years until retirement!" "It's only Tuesday???" "Is it the weekend yet?"
Is it possible that wanting to be somewhere else, or some time else, is robbing our lives more than we think? What if so much of the heartache we experience daily is fueled and empowered by an unhealthy fixation on a time and place that we are currently not in?
Living in the past and living in the future rob us of the gift of the present.
Proverbs 13:12 says that "hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life."
In other words, to the degree that our hope or desire is fulfilled, we experience real life. So much of the day to day, existential malaise we experience comes from an inability to be here now. When our hopes and desires are set in some not yet, or not anymore, or not now, not here place, our hearts get sick. The farther away the desires of your heart are from the reality in which you are presently living, the sicker you become.
That morning last week was similar to so many mornings I've experienced lately, where I wished for time to speed up and for my reality to shift, longing for another place and another time. It was then that the Lord spoke to me through His word.
"This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.' Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,' declares the Lord. This is what the Lord says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'" Jeremiah 29:4-13
Did you catch it? Maybe a little context will help: This is a message from God through the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel who were in Babylonian captivity. They had been taken away from their homeland (which God had blessed them with as their birthright) and forced to live under foreign rule in a strange land. Israel had been forced to endure Babylons strange customs, the not as nice scenery, the unbearably hot weather, the less desirable food, all under the fear of a tyrant named Nebuchadnezzar. Talk about wanting to be some time and someplace else. The Israelites were doing what any normal human beings do when they're in an undesirable moment, they were wishing it away. "If we could only go back!" "If we could only get away!" "If we could only get through this captivity!" "We just need to endure this, and God will get us out of here," they'd tell themselves. There was only one problem; it wasn't going away. Then, a message from God comes, and instead of saying, "just hold tight, this will all be over soon," God invites them to fully engage Him in the present. To be right here, right now, with Him.
Seek the prosperity of the city.
God commands his people to be here now.
He invites us to seek Him wherever and whenever we are. God invites us to find that He is the ultimate what, where, when, why and how of life.
The Devil wants to rob you by taking you out of today. God wants to fulfill you in the midst of whatever and wherever today may bring you. It's not because the present can't be that bad; it's just that God is that good.
I was reminded the other day that I am invited to engage God in this day fully. That I must look to give myself to the moments I find myself in, trusting that God knows the plans he has for me (even if I don't). I was reminded that He is good enough, strong enough, and smart enough to make the mundane, the frustrating, the frenzied, the grievous, the gray and the hard times full of meaning and fulfillment.
God invites us to grow gardens even when we're in exile.
What if God isn't letting you escape the moment you are in because He is inviting you to find Him in it?
What if God isn't giving you what you think you want when you want it because He is inviting you to find Him sufficient here and now?
What if God isn't letting the church escape the moment we are in because He is inviting us to partner with him in his purposes, to seek the prosperity of the place and time he has planted us?
What if the key to our satisfaction and fulfillment is finding God in the here and now, and ultimately and completely trusting Him with the plans he has for us?