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  • Writer's pictureJay Lowder

Premature Peril!

Updated: Feb 6

The Folly of Thinking about the Future before Future Grace!



Premature is not a positive word in our culture. One cannot think of any conversation about "premature ______" that would be a good one! To be premature spiritually in any sense is not healthy either.  Yet premature accurately describes the nature of some of the problems Christians have historically fallen prey to:

  • Mistakenly hoping that present culture could become a utopia now, this side of heaven.

  • Believing in the possibility or guarantee of perfect health and wealth now.

  • Hoping for sinless perfection in this lifetime.


Tomorrow’s Problems Ruining Today

               These "now" errors have always resulted from forms of “over-realized eschatology." But the most common “too soon” problem among Christians is the premature spiritual illness of anxiety.  The anxious Christian lives in the future that has not happened yet, bringing the stresses and pressures into today. They inflict on themselves premature pain, more often than not, about things that will never happen. Thomas Jefferson cautioned: “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!”1  

Jesus warned against premature distraction: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:34 ESV). D.A. Carson observes that Jesus is "implicitly teaching that even for his disciples, today's grace is sufficient only for today and should not be wasted on tomorrow. If tomorrow does bring new trouble, there will be new grace to meet it."2

 

Hijacked Meditation

Why do worriers prematurely stress themselves out, contrary to common sense and Scripture? The answer is that they meditate on the wrong things. Using their God-given ability to contemplate and conjecture, they muse about the future in the wrong ways. Meditation, which should be a path to holiness and happiness, is hijacked by panic! Unable to foresee the grace that will come to them, worriers cannot perceive how God will help them. Therefore, they spin all sorts of nightmare visions of the bad that will surely happen to them.

Though God gifted humans with the awesome power of imagination, worriers redline this imagination. They harm themselves more than could be done by anything bad that really might happen to them, maybe even letting worry cost their souls (Matthew 13:22). Richard Baxter described this torturous stream of consciousness, stating that "their fantasy most erreth in aggravating their sin, or dangers, or unhappiness: every ordinary infirmity they are ready to speak of with amazement, as a heinous sin: and every possible danger they take for probable, and every probable one for certain.”3 Edward Welch agreed: "An experienced worrier can go for days leapfrogging from past to future and back again, never landing in the present. When they travel into the future, they see it in Technicolor and vivid detail."4

 

Take Control of Your Meditation

     Since anxiety is a form of messed-up meditation, the solution is simple. Switch to meditating on where God's grace can be found, not where it will not be prematurely.

God wants us to meditate on his law “day and night” (Psalm 1:2) instead of worrying day and night.  This can include the precious precepts of the Lord and also all the stories of the Bible. What worry will not flee if you reflect before God about Daniel's calm night in the lion's den (Daniel 6:16-18) or Peter's sleep on the eve of his anticipated execution (Acts 12:6)

God's grace delivered Daniel and Peter in the nick of time, and it will be there for you, too! Maybe God will rescue you out of trouble. But if not, he surely will walk “with” you through it (Psalm 23:4). Even if the future is very hard: cancer, the death of a child, divorce, persecution, or your death, God's grace ensures that someday soon, you will be "away from the body and at home with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8). In addition to meditating on just God's specific words, choose to meditate on anything positive that falls within the freedom of Paul's broad categories of what is worth contemplating: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8).

 

Preparing for the Future without Living There

To meditate on the future is not always wrong and can pay dividends as long as you do it God's way. The many calls of Jesus to be “alert” summon us to think about the present wisely in light of the coming future (Matthew 24:42-23; 25:13; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 21:36 NASB). Like proactive ants (Proverbs 6:6-8), you can prepare for the future because God has revealed it in general terms. 

If you are God’s child, spend some moments today thinking about all that God has promised will happen - your safe arrival in heaven to receive your inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), the return of Jesus in glory, and the new heavens and new earth. God's grace already exists in and through these divine promises of what will happen. Grace can flow through God’s promises to you now as you fix your gaze on them. Think of Abraham, who must have stared at star-filled night skies and been encouraged by grace that "God was able to do what he had promised" (Romans 4:21).

So, uproot your mind from premature, infantile thoughts about the future where there is no grace yet. Replant your thoughts in the soil of hope about God’s words and God’s gifts such as spring flowers, the setting sun, art, literature, etc. Obey the old hymn Count Your Blessings: "So, amid the conflict, whether great or small, Do not be discouraged, God is over all; Count your many blessings, angels will attend, Help and comfort give you to your journey's end." 5

 


[1]Thomas Jefferson, “Letter CXXX. - To John Adams, April 8, 1816,” in Memoir, Correspondence and Miscellanies: From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Kindle Ed.(Anboco, 2016).

[2]D.A. Carson, “Matthew.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 82.

[3]Richard Baxter, William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 3 Logos ed. (London: James Duncan, 1830), 218–9.  

[4]Edward T. Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 50.

[5]Johnson Oatman, Jr., Lyrics to “Count Your Blessings,” Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Lifeway, 2008), 585.

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