Past, present, and future
|"He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us." (II Corinthians 1:10, NIV)
By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
If you and I were talking about your faith in God as we enter into this New Year, I wonder what verb tense you would use. Would you speak in the past tense, and tell me how good God has been to you in days gone by? Or would you use the present tense and say you know God is at work in your life right now? Perhaps you would use the future tense and speak of God’s promises and of things yet to come.
In this remarkable verse from Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle uses all three tenses in the narrow span of one single verse. And what a verse it is! In only 28 words, Paul captures the God of the past, present, and future, and conveys that there never has been nor ever will be a time God is absent from our lives.
That’s the word I need to hear as I enter the unknown of 2010. Perhaps so do you.
As we move from year to year and place to place, we take a lot of things with us. Among the most precious of those possessions are the experiences we have with God over the course of our lives. The faith that molds and shapes each of us over the years is—borrowing a phrase from a popular commercial—priceless!
Each time Paul was asked about faith, he looked back on his own experience and drew from that. Often he said, "This is what God has done for me! This has happened in my life! This I have discovered for myself!"
Paul used the past tense to speak about faith with special authority because he had put that faith to the test on so many occasions. The "deadly peril" that Paul speaks of in this verse was present throughout his ministry—but so was God!
And just as God delivered Paul, so has God delivered us. Past tense.
But keeping your faith in the past tense will not suffice. You need an up-to-date faith, too. Understand that you are standing within the deliverance of God right now! Yes, in this very moment, this present tense.
I encounter people who intend to do great good when the opportunity is right. Somehow that is always in the undetermined future. What are you doing with your life now? Do you know what Jesus would tell you? A would-be follower of Jesus announced he would follow Christ wherever he went, but only after attending to the matter of burying his father. Jesus responded, "Let the dead bury their own dead. Follow me!" (Luke 8:57)
It sounds harsh, I know, but Jesus was telling the man that good intentions do not belong only to the future. If you want to follow Jesus, it must be now!
Christianity has so much to offer you. Your faith has so much to say to you—all in the present tense. Everything about it is true for you at this moment. Christ’s claim is on you now. His offer of grace and power is before you now. If your faith truly is going to mean anything in your life, it must mean something now.
Don’t be cheated of the amazing opportunity to be in touch with the great God of Now!
Faith also has a future tense. Paul was certain of this, and so am I. With God there is always an afterward, a next, a subsequent action. In other words: It ain’t over when it comes to God!
There is always a "to be continued" after defeats, sins, sorrows, and even death. We know this because there was God’s glorious afterward to the Cross. Faith has a future tense, and whenever you speak of your faith that way, it is usually in words of hope, comfort, cheer, and peace—even in the most uncertain of times.
Most greeting-card verses are not memorable, but a hymn of our faith contains the words from one such card, written in 1874 by British poet and hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal.
At age 38, Havergal sent the words below on a New Year’s greeting card to all her friends. They became the lyrics for the hymn "Another Year Is Dawning." ("Take My Life and Let It Be" is perhaps her most widely known hymn.)
She gave God the credit for her words. When asked to explain, she said, "I believe God suggests a thought and whispers me a musical line or two, and then I look up and thank Him delightedly and go on with it. This is how my hymns come."
As we enter this new year, let us thank God and Frances Ridley Havergal for these words.