It’s the time of year when university classes begin. I’ve been challenged this week by a conversation with a student who is contemplating how to leverage the present to get the best out of the future. That’s not a bad thing to be contemplating. Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager found at the beginning of Luke chapter 16 offers pretty strong support for the idea of planning for the future.
Without deliberate planning and acting about the future, I would never have married, would never have been employed, would never have taught well, would never have worn any clothes. All of those are good things that require forward thinking and planning. The Bible is clear, though, about the need to acknowledge that we aren’t in charge of our own destiny. When we plan for the future, the danger is that we succumb to the false idea of human autonomy that’s reared its ugly head ever since the events of Genesis 3. James 4:13-14 puts us firmly in our place by reminding us we don’t run the show.
Now, if you don’t run the show, you might be tempted not to bother about anything. Better off to seek the easy life than to wrestle with worrying about things beyond your control, you might think. But self-centred irresponsibility and self-centred arrogance are both problematic. We have neither the power to make all things happen nor the authority to disclaim all responsibility. The delusion of control and the temptation to disengage are equally deceptive in offering to free us of worry. Both are temporary anaesthetics for the pain that can accompany the privilege of choosing about the future. They might mask the pain, but cannot deal with it, leaving us only worry-bound after all.
Is it okay to worry? Jesus says don’t, because it can’t lengthen your life, which is in God’s hands anyway (Matthew 6:25-27). Philippians 4:6 tells us we are not to be anxious about anything. It would be odd if we were to ignore the commandment not to worry, or were to suggest that it’s really okay for Christians to worry because it’s unrealistic to expect never to worry. Not worrying is a possibility, but only if we trust that God is in charge. The question is, do we?
We are liberated from worry neither because we have all the power to make things happen, nor because we have no responsibility. What liberates us is the great freedom derived from knowing that God will guide the next step of the way after we have taken the one immediately in front of us. Remembering that, is the recipe for worry-free, careful, God-honouring preparation for the future.
God is an extraordinarily generous guide, who lights the way as we go. As Psalm 119:105 says, let his word be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path (Proverbs 3:6). The rest is mere detail. He uses our choices, the good and the bad, to shape us into the people he wants us to be. Looking back, I can see that he has done that in my life, even as I have taken wandering, tottering, false steps along the way. I am sure he will do the same with you, no matter what choices you make, if you seek to honour him in all things.