Recently, several people have asked me, “What are you thinking right now?” When I can answer, it’s usually something that has little to do with the present, or even related to why I am there with them at the moment. When I’m not actively thinking about something right in front of me, my mind gravitates toward big problems. Jobs with intricate details, people with deep issues, and Christian activity that is seldom ideal.
We live in a restless world. A few weeks ago, I was struck by a quote from Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”* Something in this was very relatable. At school, everyone either talks about painfully-difficult assignments, or anticipates big events. At work, customers only have us come when they aren’t OK with the way things are. When I think about people, a cloud of past pain and impossible futures fills my mind.
In the last year, I’ve become increasingly aware of my mental default positions. When I’m in bed trying to go to sleep, I think about everything I wish were different. I imagine a perfect world with specific situational and individual replacements that would make everything so much easier. I know it’s unrealistic and downright impossible, but I still think that way.
I specifically remember one night when I was desperately wishing everything were different. I was talking to God, telling him what I was feeling and it hit me that I just wanted to jump out of the present. I wanted to be with different people. I wanted to escape deadlines. I was tired of winter and would have been thrilled to time travel to summer.
As I prayed, I realized that God strategically promises his presence for a specific point of existence, right now—the present. He never meets us in the past or the future. As this reality sank into my mind, I was finally able to rest.
Jesus taught a clear doctrine of today,
“So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:31-34 CSB.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry and as he left, the present was the focus. The disciples were not instructed to look back and remember the times Jesus walked with them on Earth. Instead, he said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 CSB.
The theme of the present never comes out of focus in the New Testament. Paul instructs believers to give thanks and pray rather than worry. He then tells them, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself.” Philippians 4:11 CSB.
The Spirit of Jesus in believers is depicted beautifully in the book of Acts as the source of wisdom and the ability to answer present needs as seen in the stories of Peter’s and Stephen’s responses to crowds. It is very clear that confidence, hope, and peace are normal parts of a believer’s experience.
But we often forget this. I know I need frequent reminders to rest and trust. As Augustine stated, “Our hearts are restless until we rest in You.” As I observe restlessness in myself, in believers around me and even more distinctly in the culture I interact with, it is my prayer that I can experience rest and be filled with His Spirit of confidence, hope, and peace.
We offer a message of rest to a restless world. Yes, the overarching picture is eventual final rest in heaven, but right now we anticipate it as we extend Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28 CSB
*Saint Augustine of Hippo 354-430, Confessions.