I had a horse trainer once tell me that when you’re riding you need to be thinking five steps in front of your horse while at the same time focusing on what you’re doing in the moment. The idea is that as you’re riding you need to think about what you’re going to do next, while at the same time focusing on what you’re doing now. For example if you are jumping as you are going over one jump you should be thinking about where the next jump is and what you need to do in order to be ready for it. However, you also need to be thinking about what you’re doing in that one moment. You need to pay attention to how you are jumping that first jump. If you try too much to anticipate what you are going to do in the future, or if you are worried about how the next jump is going to go, then you won’t make it through the first jump much less the next one.
The Balance in Focus
This balance of anticipating what’s next but focusing on the moment can be tricky. I find that I often end up thinking too much about what’s coming and not enough about what I am doing right now. The problem is that when I think so much about those things that will happen, I am unable to handle what is happening. I end up missing the moment I’m currently in. When I am focused too much on where my horse and I are going I am not able to ride as well where we currently are. And of course that affects how we ride in the future as well. But at the same time, if I am too focused on what I’m doing in the present moment, I won’t really be able to get anywhere. If I am too consumed with what I’m are currently doing, never looking for the next jump, never anticipating what’s coming, I won’t ride well either. I won’t be able to take the next jump well because I won’t be prepared for it.
As you could probably guess, I’m not just talking about riding horses here. I have noticed over these past few years that this balance of looking ahead and living in the moment is something that I struggle with. One of the biggest areas that I see this struggle in balance and focus is in trusting and following God. During the past year or so I have seen God moving in some pretty crazy ways in my life. I am seeing Him start to put a lot of different pieces into place. There are also pieces that I don’t even know about yet. It’s exciting to think about what He is going to do. I often find myself thinking about how things are going to play out. I try to be ready for the opportunities that God is going to give me. However, I have noticed that while I am looking ahead for those opportunities, I end up missing what God has already put in front of me. I simply get caught up in thoughts about what could be that I end up missing what is. I keep looking for what God is going to do in the future that I miss what He is doing right now. I get so excited about the next things that I completely miss what I am supposed to be doing right now. I fail to realize that God has already given me opportunities where I am. He has me in whatever spot for a reason, even if it’s not as glamorous as I would like. If I’m not paying attention right now I won’t handle what He has already given me very well. I’ll crash right through the opportunities He has already given me.
I think this may be something a lot of Americans could struggle with. We are the “land of opportunity” and the “land of progress.” Especially in this generation we are constantly moving forward. During school we are always encouraged to think about our futures, figure out what we’re supposed to do with our lives. We are told to be thinking ahead. What college are you going to? What job are you going to have? Where are you going to live? Who are you going to marry? Those are good and important things to think about. It’s good to have an idea of what things could look like in the future. It’s good to be prepared. But I think that a lot of the time we can get so focused on what could/will happen that we end up missing what is happening. We miss the opportunities that we have right now. It’s easy to be dreaming so much that we stop actually living.
Jeremiah Gets it Right
Even within the church we may find ourselves looking for “what God will do with my life” that we don’t realize “what He is doing with my life.” One of the most popular verses in America is Jeremiah 29:11. It talks about God having a future plan for Israel. It says that God knows what He will do in the future. This is a very inspirational verse. It encourages us to be praying about what God will do. It helps us look to the future and see hope when our present situation is far from hope. But I think we can start focusing so much on that one verse that we miss the rest of Jeremiah 29. The rest of the chapter kind of speaks to this idea of living in the moment but looking to what God will do in the future. Jeremiah tells the people that they will not be released from exile in two years like they thought. Instead, they will be exiled for seventy years. Because of this Jeremiah encourages them to settle down. He says, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they my bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease” (Jer.29:5-6). This is an encouragement for them to live where they are. They should take advantage of where God has placed them. Jeremiah also encourages them to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile” (Jer. 29:7). Instead of trying to get out of where God has placed them, they are to embrace where they are. It may not be exactly where they want to be but it’s where God has put them. Jeremiah says that if the city prospers then they will prosper. That means that if they are not taking advantage of living in that city, they won’t prosper. If they focus too much on the future when they will be free, they won’t prosper.
Likewise, if we in the church focus too much on what our church could be we will end up missing what it is. If we are thinking too much about what our lives could be, what our ministries could be, what our futures could be, we will end up missing what those things are. God has placed us where we need to be in the moment. If we weren’t supposed to be there then we wouldn’t be. Instead of trying so hard to get out or to escape where we are, we could try settling down. We could try really living where we are. This is something that I’ve had to learn over these past few months. God has put me somewhere and for the last 3 months I have been trying everything I could to get out. But He has been showing me that He didn’t bring me here just to move me again. He has brought me here and this is where I need to live.
Of course it can also be easy to be so focused on living in the moment that we don’t think about the future at all. We start looking down and we don’t see what’s coming. Just as we miss opportunity by looking too far ahead, we also miss it by never looking ahead. Right after Jeremiah tells the people that they need to settle down, he reminds them that God has a plan for their future. This is where we see that famous verse. In the following verses God tells them that He will bring them out of exile. He gives them something to look forward to, something to be ready for.
In the same way, while God is giving us opportunities in the present moment, we can also look to what He may give us in the future. Even if we don’t know exactly how our lives will play out, there is one part of the future that we can know for certain. We know without a doubt that Jesus is coming back. We may not know when, but we know that it will happen. While we are living in our current situations, settling down and taking advantage of the opportunities God is giving us, we can look forward to that future.