Stop living for the moment
“A date that will live in infamy forever. “
That’s how President Roosevelt described the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor to the US Congress and to millions more on the radio one day after the attack. Today, long after almost all those involved have passed on, the words of FDR have proven to be true. That moment shaped countries, economies, and the lives of millions of people. The events of that date didn’t just change life for those on the base, but for people all over the world.
Much of our study of history is made up of these events, these dates and places that impact world history. They have names like “the shot heard around the world” or “Custer’s Last Stand,” or the simple “9/11”. Going back to World War II, events like V-Day or D-Day are still remembered and celebrated long after most of the participants have passed. For centuries students have had to memorize names, places, and dates of the most famous events in history.
There’s something about these types of events that draws me in. If we went back with a time machine we could actually see a day that the world changed. We could see Luther nailing his theses to the door, or be in the crowd as Constantine marched under the cross for the first time. The Bible is full of those events too. Moses and the Ten Commandments, Noah and the Ark, Eve and the fruit, Paul on the road to Damascus, and of course Jesus on the cross. The birth of Jesus was so important that it divides human history. Those events are important because history was headed one way before that, then something happened, and now history would be different. That seminal moment in time changed everything after it. The history of revival and missions is marked by those moments too.
Carey told Fuller that “I will go down if you hold the rope,” Edwards preached “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” and Billy Graham was saved at a meeting led by Mordecai Ham, before later preaching to thousands in NYC and Los Angeles.
I love these moments because they serve as a lens that helps us understand the present world we live in. The world is shaped by these pivotal moments, often led by people who turn out to be influential leaders known the world over who leave their mark in history.
When I surrendered to ministry, I thought subconsciously I would end up in one of those moments someday. I’d be one of those leaders I read about and children would remember my name. One of my favorite passages in the Bible supported this belief, or at least I thought. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah prayed on top of Mt Carmel, and the nation of Israel turned back to God after fire fell heaven. I’ve preached on this passage more times than I can count, a few of those times in front of pulpit committees. It even got me a job or two!
That passage shaped me in more ways than I knew though. Almost every Sunday morning, Sunday night, prayer meeting, and youth camp I pray for one of those moments. I’ve often prayed that years later the church or individuals could look back on that date and know that was the day it all changed.
Having come of ministry age along with the movements like Vineyard, Passion, and the ilk I was assured that my generation was going to create a movement, do something great for Christ, and be history makers. The worship was loud, the sermons passionate, and all signs pointed to seeing God do amazing things.
One of the songs of the band Delirious said this plainly:
Well, it's true today that when people stand
With the fire of God, and the truth in hand
We'll see miracles, we'll see angels sing
We'll see broken hearts making history
Yes, it's true and I believe it
We're living for you
I'm gonna be a history maker in this land
I'm gonna be a speaker of truth to all mankind
I'm gonna stand, I'm gonna run
Into your arms, into your arms again
I spent so much of my time trying to make one of those moments. If I picked out the right songs, preached the right passage, had the perfect illustration, gave a moving invitation, then that would finally get God moving into one of those moments. It is true that when God’s people pray amazing things happen, both scripture and history testify to that fact. And there are more than a few who are willing to tell me just how to do it. I was told to get alone with God for a week, pray for a while, wait for a vision, cast it before the church, fast and pray, have the service go just right, read the right books, pray the right prayers, preach the right sermons. If I do all that then it’s guaranteed that revival will come, the heavens will part, and as an added bonus my name will go down in history as being the humble leader of it all.
I finally began to realize that I wasn’t living in the moment so much as I was living for the moment. Everything centered around seeing God work in mighty ways. When the service was over and it was just another ordinary Sunday, part of me was disappointed. Yes I knew that God works in small things and all that stuff that we tell ourselves when no one responds at an invitation, but I still really wanted one of those moments that changed everything.
I shouldn’t use the past tense, since to be honest I still want it now. I want revival to break out on Sunday and I want this to be the day that changes me and changes everything. I know it’s possible because I see those dates in history. My shelves are full of books that explore those moments and entire college courses are taught about those moments even. But still I’m waiting for a moment of my own.
Living for the moment drives us to madness as the moments never live up to what we want them to be. And each event or moment then has to be bigger than the last or it becomes a let down. Living for the big moments of God makes us miss the quiet ways He is constantly working all around us. When we spend all of our time living for the moment, we are constantly measuring and comparing, wondering if this time will be better than the last time. We are too worried about what this moment is to enjoy what it is. We become disappointed in the moment we are in because it’s not the moment we imagined.
It’s undeniable that there are those moments in the Bible and in wider history. And even still today people promise that their next event, book, or program will be “life changing” or “momentum shifting,” just like how I want my sermons to be something that people remember forever. The truth is that most of my sermons won’t be that moment. A sermon might be God honoring, Christ exalting, passionate, and encouraging, and then forgotten after a few weeks. That Sunday might give a person enough to make it through the next day or week. But few people remember what I preached about months ago, and even then only a few heard it in the first place! It’s not something that will go down in infamy.
So I’ve resolved to quit living for the moment. It’s not that I don’t believe God can do something like that, I know he can. But I also know that the tender mercies God supplies every morning can change lives too. My life is marked by milestone events, just like everyone else’s. But in between those few large moments are millions of small ones, and the cumulative impact of those small moments often ends up greater than the singular impact of the large ones. Instead of pleading with God to be a part of a singular big moment, I’m believing that God is present in all the cumulative small moments, trusting His power to make an impact that shapes my path each day.
But even as I write that, and even as I desperately believe it to be true, I still hold out hope for one of those large moments. I still think that I can be a part of something that changes everyone forever. I hate that I become so focused on what God might do in the large and impactful moments that I miss what God is doing in the small and quiet places of my heart and mind, and become so focused on what God might do in the future that I lose sight of what God is doing already at this moment.
So this year I’m not praying for heaven to come down with fire and consume the offering. This year I’m not praying for revival. Instead of worrying about how God isn’t working in the big moments like I want, I’m praying for God to make me aware of how he is working in the small moments already. My prayer is that I stop living for the moment where God might be, and that I start living in the moments that God has promised to be and already is.