Guest poster Emily Jennings offers advice for why you shouldn’t always be fully present.
If any social practice has value today, it is being fully present. Be fully present.
Some restaurants have placed conversation cards on tables to minimize scrolling and encourage eye contact. Concertgoers have been told from the stage to enjoy the show instead of documenting their attendance on TikTok. It’s even common pulpit counsel: Stop thinking about where you’re going for lunch. Be fully present for what God has for you right here and now.
It is good advice, but it’s incomplete. Christians, particularly those serving the church, must constantly live in both the past and the future.
The practice of being fully present is certainly a helpful pushback on our hyper-distracted culture. For Israel, being fully present was the door to their demise. Rather than telling them to be fully present, God put a premium on Israel’s memories and hopes.
Before their sandals even touched the mud of the seabed, Moses announced the future focal point of the Jewish calendar: the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast was not a casual dinner party. It was a well-ordered and sacred celebration reverently prepared for one purpose: remembering God’s faithfulness. Once a year, forever (Ex. 12:14), Israel would remember how God delivered them from Egypt.
But God didn’t just command the methods and fare of this feast. Just before midnight, when the final plague would come and Israel would flee, Moses said: “When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, you are to observe this ceremony (Ex. 12:25)”
Moses deftly reminded Israel of a promise God made generations earlier to give them a land. In a single speech, he confirmed their future while teaching them to remember their past. Why are these two parts of Israel’s timeline knit together in their most anxious hour? Without firm memories of God’s past faithfulness and steel confidence in His promised future, the present will crush you.
Fear of death. Empty bellies. Unbearable thirst. Long waits. Golden statues. Poisonous snakes. Tall foreigners. After the exodus, Israel would be repeatedly crushed by their present. These people, thousands of them, had witnessed God perform a concentrated dose of supernatural acts: teeming mountains of frogs, walls of water folding over chariots of enemies. Surely there was enough faith in the tank to wait for a meal. But no. Israel walked by sight, not by faith. Instead of trusting in the words and deeds of their God, they allowed present circumstances to eclipse Him and went bankrupt in every way.
We’ve been there. Being fully present didn’t work for Israel and it doesn’t work for us. When a kindergartener sits across from me on Sunday morning and shares that her mom is sick and won’t come home from the hospital, I can’t tell her the present is a gift. When a beloved staff member leaves the church because sin looked sweeter, the present is a burden too heavy. Even when the present is blissfully the opposite of crushing, it fails us. Earth’s most glorious moments turn to dust and surprise our souls with emptiness.
God constantly pled with Israel and now pleads with us to not live only in the present. To finish well with our faith intact, we must find a way to remember His past faithfulness (Ex. 13:3) while gazing on our future (Phil. 3:20). We must live in three places at once.
How? Living in the past doesn’t mean dredging up traumas or drowning in nostalgia. We must wisely and surgically choose these memories, and they must burn brightly of God’s faithfulness. Travel back in the Bible, but detour in your own story. Did God ever send a teacher whose love and investment changed your course? Has He provided an actual miracle in health or finances? Has God graciously removed an evil from your life? Live in those memories.
Why live in your future? Sin will die, disease will end, relationships will be restored, and the feasting is forever. This future can buoy your soul now. Again, Scripture champions eternity’s general glories, but be thoughtful about your own life: What is broken in your life that will be completely healed? What will you finally and fully enjoy? What besetting sins will be gone? Living in our future with Christ rubs hope into present pain.
Living in both the past and the future will carve and fill a deep, living well in your present. You need this well. The people you serve, lead, teach, and share coffee with need this well. Is being fully present bad? No. But being only present is crushing. As you are fully present, firmly plant your feet in God’s past faithfulness with both eyes fixed on your vibrant future with Him. (Three places at once. You can do it. You must.)