Francois de Fenelon, a great Christian leader in seventeenth-century France, wrote in a letter to an unknown recipient, “The future is not yet yours; it may never be. Live in the present moment. Tomorrow’s grace is not given to you today. The present moment is the only place where you can touch the eternal realm.”
Ask yourself whether you’re living in the future or trying to get there early. What does God want you to do in the present? When we worry about the future, we fail to truly trust God, to realize that he is already there. To God there is no future, no time, no constraints. He is not limited in the ways we are limited, and he can see everything we can’t.
Does this mean we shouldn’t plan for the future, dream about what is to come or prepare for possibilities? Of course not—worry is not the same as planning or preparation. Unlike making reasonable plans and preparations, trying to control the future or worrying over possibilities is completely unproductive. It accomplishes nothing, and it tries to take what only God has in exchange for what he has given us: the here and now.
When you think about the future, refuse to picture a future without God’s love, grace and care for you and the people you love. The future may not look the way you want it to, but you will not be on your own. We all fear the unknown—but is there really any such thing in a world ruled by an omniscient God who has graciously and shockingly promised he will never abandon us? God is already there, and nothing surprises him. Nothing is unknown.
As I tell my daughter when she worries about the approach of high school, “When you get there, you’ll be ready.” The key is to do what is before you today so you’ll be ready for the future when it becomes the present.
When the future comes to haunt you, prayer is always a right response. But how should we pray in a way that combats worry? Try praying for God’s will. When you don’t know what else to say, breathe the prayer, “Thy will be done.” Thank God for living in the future and walking through it with you.
When you do have something specific to say, say it! Don’t try to hide your worry from God. He is completely aware of what is happening in your mind, and he is able to interpret it much more clearly than you can. Remember, Jesus serves as our High Priest, an intermediary who goes before God on our behalf. “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
In Jesus’ life as a man living on earth, he had an awful lot he could have worried about. He understands exactly why you feel overwhelmed by your circumstances, your responsibilities and your uncertainty about the future. Lay it all out for him. As in any relationship, your honesty will build intimacy. Then thank God that he is in control of all that worries you, that he lives in the future and will be there when you get there, that nothing mystifies him. Be quiet and allow the Holy Spirit to remind you of what the Bible teaches us about God’s character and capabilities. Reminisce about the specific ways God has taken care of you and other people whose stories you know.
Express your confidence in God’s wisdom and love, even when life is a bruised and bloody mess. Acknowledge that God is not merely a nurse, a butler or a genie. He does not live to implement our plans or fulfill our dreams. He calls us to a life that finds meaning and joy in his plans, which produce much greater results than simply our own comfort and happiness. Reaffirm your commitment to trust him and to reject worry, and ask for his help in living up to that commitment. Then accept his peace and focus on what the next moment requires of you.
Living in God’s peace does not mean denying reality. Faith and trust in God can give us the courage to face reality with greater boldness than we could muster on our own. As with Job, your worst fears may become reality: “What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true” (Job 3:25). But as with him, God will give you strength and grace to declare in faith, “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last” (Job 19:25).
When the future seems threatening, imagine the worst and make peace with it as a possibility—but at the same time, recognize that it’s probably unlikely. Also recognize that your worrying can’t prevent it. Then look at it in light of God’s truth and promises. Even if the worst happens, he’ll be with you and will grant you a kind of strength you won’t know until you need it.
At the same time, balance your perspective by imagining the best. Instead of worrying about the future, picture the marvelous possibilities— good things God might do in the future. Keep in mind that while your future in this life is unknown, for every follower of Christ, the long-term future is certain and eternal.
Take a lesson from the apostle Paul and refocus your gaze on what lies at the end of this dark and echoing tunnel, where you can see only the ground you stand on: For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
The Bible—like common sense—makes clear that the future is not our domain. We have no claim on it, right to it, knowledge of it or assurance that it will ever arrive. The future belongs only to God, who rules and lives outside the limitations of time. And that same God is so good and beautiful, he has greater gifts in store for us than we can even imagine. Our unknowable future is bright!