A young lady poked her head round the door of my office at the church and asked if she could have a word with me. I had never met her before – she came along to our Parents and Toddlers Group, and she wasn’t a ‘regular church goer’ she informed me – but she wanted to talk. It was a really good ‘Parents and Toddlers Group’ that group. About 120 parents – mostly ‘mums’ came along to it – fortunately not all at once (apart from the Christmas Party) or we would never have coped. It was run by members of the church on a ‘soft-sell’ Christian basis who, when they discovered that quite a few of the women who came along didn’t know how to prepare or cook healthy meals, or sow or knit or mend, etc., put on special classes for those who wanted to learn during the time the Group met. I was usually down at the church on those mornings and operated an ‘open door policy’ that meant that if my office door was open anyone could pop in for a chat if they wanted.
Anyway … back to my lady visitor … seemingly she was finding life very difficult to cope with and wanted to ‘talk to the Minister’ about her problem. I listened to her story and – cutting a long story short – suggested that she try and live one day at a time instead of feeling guilty about not having done things correctly in the past or worrying about what further troubles tomorrow might bring her way? She seemed to find this advice helpful and went away to try and put what I had suggested into practice. We just talked together at this time – I didn’t do anything ostensibly ‘religious’ or refer to the Bible or pray with her? She came to see me again about three weeks later. She looked very different – more relaxed, much calmer. ‘This taking life just one day at a time is brilliant’ she told me, ‘it took a bit of getting into but I am now finding it so much easier to cope with everything – the children, my husband, life in general!’ And then she went on to say to me: ‘Your advice was ‘spot on’ … you are a very wise man!’ At that point in the conversation I confessed that the concept of ‘taking life one day at a time’ was not original to me but was something Jesus taught us – and then I read her the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So, do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’ (Matthew 6:25-34).
I was reminded of this story, and the principle Jesus advocated here in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, just the other day when I was reading something by one of my favourite devotional writers, A W Tozer. It has been said that prayer was of vital personal importance for Tozer. His biographer, James Snyder, suggests that Tozer’s ‘preaching as well as his writings, were but extensions of his prayer life’. Moreover, Tozer has ‘the ability to make his listeners face themselves in the light of what God was saying to them’. This is one reason why I like reading Tozer – he was someone blessed with that rare gift of ‘spiritual common sense’, a God-given wisdom that you don’t find much of today, something that is learned from being found regularly in the Presence of God, not from books.
Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897-1963) was an American Christian pastor, preacher, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor who hailed from a tiny farming community in Pennsylvania. He became a Christian as a teenager after hearing a street preacher say, ‘If you don’t know how to be saved … just call on God, saying, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!”’ Returning home, he climbed into his attic room and did just what the street preacher had suggested! Five years after his conversion (and without formal theological training) Tozer accepted a call to pastor his first church, and thus begun 44 years of ministry, with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a Protestant Evangelical denomination, 33 years served as a pastor in several churches in both the USA and Canada. Born into poverty, Tozer was self-educated (due to his home situation) and he taught himself what he missed in high school and college, going on to receive two honorary doctoral degrees. Among more than 60 books that bear his name at least two are regarded as Christian classics: The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy. Many of his books impress on the reader the possibility and necessity for a deeper relationship with God. Tozer had seven children (six boys and one girl). Living a simple and non-materialistic lifestyle, he and his wife, Ada, never owned a car (preferring bus and train travel) and even after becoming a well-known Christian author, he signed away much of his royalties to those who were in need.
What blessed me, and reminded me again of Jesus’ teaching at the end of Matthew 6 were these words from another of Tozer’s books, The Further Pursuit of God: ‘God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves!’ When Jesus advocated the principle of ‘living one day at a time’ he was (in some ways) simply modelling a divine attribute. ‘The Preacher’ (as the author of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes is known) reminds us that in God’s great scheme of things ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). In the Creation Narratives (Genesis 1-3) we see God bringing the whole of creation into being in a series of unhurried steps … with regular pauses in which to stand back and contemplate the goodness of each step, and time to rest from his labours. Writing about the Incarnation Event, the Apostle Paul tells us that it was at exactly ‘the right time that God sent forth his Son’ (Galatians 4:4). As Tozer suggests, ‘God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work’.
Clearly, in God’s mind, there is ‘a rhythm to life’ that we need to recognise, get into and flow with. We see this most obviously in the seasons of the year but we need to also implement this in our own lives. We live in a world (at least here in the West) where we are ‘driven’ by an ‘ought-ness’ (‘I ought to do this’ or ‘I ought to do that’) which is imposed upon us by others (in society or at work or school or college, etc.) and even by ourselves upon ourselves at times. Everything seems to have to be ‘instant’ these days … not just our coffee!? Even in church, especially in Evangelical circles sadly, we can be guilty of this sort of thinking. Two of the most popular Christian best-sellers in recent years have (unwittingly) added to this with the publication of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life (despite the fact that Holy Spirit leads rather than drives us). And yet, as Jesus tells us in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’ (Matthew 6:27).
Contrary to the opinion of the (rather theologically dodgy) premillennialist Cyrus Scofield (expressed in his infamous Scofield Reference Bible) Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is very applicable for today (and not simply something that only comes into force after the Second Coming of Christ). Jesus’ teaching here in Matthew 6:25-34, therefore, on the importance of living one day at a time instead of feeling guilty about not having done things correctly in the past or worrying about what further troubles tomorrow might bring, is very helpful and relevant for us all today … especially in a society where ‘ought-ness’ and ‘driven-ness’ reign! In Jesus’ view, all that is contained in just one day is about the maximum any of us can realistically cope with. And Jesus himself ‘practised what he preached’. Again, and again, in the Gospels, we find him deliberately ‘taking time out’ to rest and pray – particularly prior to all the main events of his life – and the overall sense we have of Jesus is that of someone who never seems to ‘hurried’ along by anything. In this sense – unsurprisingly since he is the Son of the Father – he reflects the God-given rhythm of life already mentioned.
In much the same way, then, we too need to (literally) take a leaf out of Jesus’ book and recognise that our sole (soul?) requirement in life is simply to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25). Recognising, as Tozer suggests, that ‘God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work … to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves!’ So here’s to a peaceful, restful, relaxed … and productive New Year for us all!