August 15, 2007

There Is a Future

Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always continue in the fear of the Lord. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. - Proverbs 23:17-18

One of the more challenging features of this life is that its most important endeavors—those efforts that matter most from an eternal perspective—usually take a long time to come to faithful fruition. Few fruits worth tasting spring forth from their branches overnight. The wise gardener knows she is in it for the long season.

A loving marriage, raising faithful children, becoming competent and proficient in your professional work, being a good steward of the retirement years—none of these are matters in which hasty impatience bears much fruit. And this is not even to mention a lifetime of Christian faith along the way: loving the Lord and loving your neighbor in the manner that Jesus both models and makes possible. In all these efforts, both public and private, we have to take the long view. One must labor with an eye toward the future.

This is perhaps why it is so aggravating when we see someone taking shortcuts with life, "getting ahead" by abbreviated or unscrupulous means. What can be much worse than, after many months of carefully and diligently practicing your craft at work, some joker on his own accelerated agenda leap-frogs over you with a grin and the latest promotion. No matter that he cuts all the wrong corners (everyone knows it) and flatters the boss every chance he gets (everyone hears it). It's easy to get angry over the injustice of it and envy his quick result.

But the counsel of Proverbs speaks well: Do not let your heart envy those who are fast-tracking around you, taking advantage of easy (if not sinful) shortcuts to get ahead in this life. Their pursuits are inevitably based on fleeting things, but your hope is based on the Lord's eternal goodness. When it all shakes out for good in the end, what they have amassed so quickly in this life will be consumed by a purifying fire (Proverbs 11:7, 2 Peter 3:10). God's word, by contrast, will not fade away. If there is a solid future to be found, surely it will be found there.

It is a faithful act of prayer regularly to consider what constitutes our most important endeavors, especially since the list can change as we age and mature. St. Augustine (the great Christian thinker from the 5th century) called such a list "ordered loves." Take a moment now and then to jot down your top five on a piece of paper. Then ask yourself: What are my best hopes for these endeavors? What are my deepest longings? What future for these efforts do I hope for, do I imagine in my mind?

Once you've fleshed out some answers to those questions, fashion them into prayers. Regularly invite the Lord to guide you and to bless the results, however far in the future those "results" may be. In the case of a big project at work, it may be merely days; in the case of parenting, it may be a lifetime! Whatever the span, these prayers are important. If anything good is to be born out in our lives—in our homes, our families, our vocation, our church, our community—surely it will require the blessing of the only Lord who can provide a solid future, who will not "cut off hope."

Don't envy those who race by you in this life or seem magically to have it all together with little or no effort. Instead, through prayer, commit all of your most important labors and loves to the Lord. The triune God is faithful and good. He will see them through to the end (Philippians 1:6).

Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off. - Proverbs 24:14