Tomorrow

“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).

I am tempted to skip this verse, or to try to separate it from the beautiful promise of Jesus that we need not be anxious, that we can be like birds and flowers, safe in the hands of the Lord. The glorious crescendo of seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness, coupled with the guarantee, “and all these things will be added to you,” seems like a fitting conclusion to the Lord’s admonition not to worry. I would be happy to stop at that promise. It seems wrong, somehow, for Jesus to talk about the trouble of each day. That mention of daily trouble seems cold, almost cynical, after we have been told not to be anxious.

But in this sin-polluted world, every day has trouble. The same Lord who promised blessings on the poor in spirit and on those who hunger and thirst for righteousness also spoke blessings on those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. While we strive to imitate Jesus, our very efforts will bring forth enemies whom we are commanded to love. Christians have faced arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution for the sake of Christ and is Gospel. Communist governments and Muslim governments have forced Christians to endure hunger, thirst, nakedness, homelessness, and disease—even while Christians in other parts of the world were laboring to send food and water and other necessities to their fellow believers in Christ.

As we try to lift our spirits and praise God, other concerns weight on our minds—the needs of our fellow Christians, and our own needs as well. We need daily bread. We sin every day and need God’s forgiveness every day. Other sinners harm us every day, and we must forgive them every day. Every day we are tempted to sin. Every day we are confronted with evil. Every day we need God’s gifts, his forgiveness, his leading, and his deliverance. We cannot live two or three days at a time, which is good, because one day with all its problems is enough for us to bear.

Therefore, we do not pray about yesterday’s bread. We received it yesterday and thanked God for it yesterday: now it is time for us to move on. We do not worry about tomorrow’s bread. Tomorrow is not here yet; we will ask God for the things we need tomorrow when we get there. We pray for daily bread today. Likewise, we do not pray that God would forgive yesterday’s sins. We prayed about them yesterday, and we are confident that those sins are already forgiven. We do not pray about tomorrow’s sins. We hope that we will not sin tomorrow, but when we do sin, we will ask for forgiveness then. We pray today that God would forgive the sins we committed today. In the same way, we forgave yesterday the sins committed against us yesterday. We have no need to think today about the sins that might be committed against us tomorrow. We seek help from God to forgive the sins committed against us today. We ask God to lead us today. We ask God to rescue us from evil today. Yesterday is over and will not be changed; tomorrow is still in the hands of God. Today is the only day we need to consider today.

This manner of living one day at a time does not require us to ignore all other days. We remember God’s blessings of the past, the things he did for us earlier, with joy and thanksgiving. We anticipate the future with joy, looking forward to the blessings God has promised. We make plans for the future—unlike the birds, we sow and reap and store in barns. Jesus tells us not to be anxious. Let tomorrow come with its problems, but do not worry about those problems today. Allow faith to be a daily exercise, not something limited to the past or to the future.

All his life Jesus knew that the cross was coming. He did not weaken himself by being anxious about it every day. Only when the hour of his Passion arrived did Jesus spend time in prayer wrestling with the reality of the cross. Until the day of his suffering came, Jesus was content to live each day on its own terms, dealing with the challenges of that one day. Now he gives each of us sufficient strength for each day. If we borrow trouble from other days, we weaken ourselves. “Tomorrow will be anxious for itself,” Jesus says. We have enough to keep ourselves busy today. J.

Poor in spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Possibly Jesus is describing people who lack spiritual qualities, saying that even they can be blessed by God, in spite of their spiritual poverty. That possibility is unlikely, though; on another occasion Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God… but woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:20, 24). As uncomfortable as this truth might be for us, Jesus is talking about wealth as the world means wealth, and Jesus then says it is better to be poor than to be rich. He also said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 9:24).

Is there no hope for the salvation of the wealthy, as wealth is measured by the world? What about Abraham and Solomon, who were both very wealthy? There is hope, because Abraham and Solomon were not owned by their possessions. It is not how many possessions you own that determine whether you are poor in spirit; the question rather is how much do your possessions own you? What Abraham and Solomon possessed did not matter much to them, because their eyes were on a better world. Though they were wealthy, they were poor in spirit, not being owned by their possessions.

A pauper with nothing in this world might still fail to be poor in spirit, if that pauper envies other people and dreams of what he or she would do with a million dollars. “Poor in spirit” describes a person’s attitude towards wealth and possessions, whether that person has wealth and possessions or only wishes for wealth and possessions. Lack of interest in worldly wealth is a virtue to Jesus; it is also a virtue in other religions. Stoics and Buddhists teach their students to be disinterested in this world, not to care about riches or about poverty. Disinterest in worldly wealth is a common theme among the religions of the world.

How does one acquire this splendid ability to be disinterested in the world and to be more interested in higher truths? Stoics and Buddhists teach that a person must work at developing such an attitude. Jesus offers an easier way. He says that the virtue of disinterest in wealth is the result of a gift, a blessing from God. The name of that blessing is the kingdom of heaven.

No one can earn a place in the kingdom of heaven. We do not earn a place in God’s kingdom by forcing ourselves to be poor in spirit. The kingdom of heaven is God’s gift to us because he loves us. Through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are rescued from all our failings, including any sinful interest in worldly wealth. God claims us as his children and makes us citizens of his kingdom. We are promised eternal life with Jesus in a new creation. Even today we are already citizens of that new creation. Our membership in the Church that trusts Jesus, our invitation to speak within God in prayer at any time, our confidence that God is taking care of us today and meeting all our needs: all these good things are privileges of our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.

Because we have these privileges, we can be poor in spirit. We can stop being concerned with the wealth and pleasures that the world offers, as our attention is diverted to the other kingdom where we are citizens. Those who are blessed with the gift of the kingdom of heaven will, by nature, become poor in spirit. This, according to Jesus, is one way we might recognize the people who have received his gift of the kingdom of heaven. J.

A new man from head to toe

I have a radio in my car. I like to hear music while I’m driving. The station I’ve chosen plays songs from the last forty years. I’d like the station even more if it expanded the selection to the last sixty or seventy years, but I enjoy most of the songs it plays. Their DJs chatter a bit too much for my tastes, but on the other hand the music is free.

Of course nothing is truly free. Someone has to pay the costs of running a radio station, and that someone consists of sponsors. In between the songs I like are advertisements trying to make me discontent with my life. They seek to create a need that they then can satisfy by selling me their product. Our national economy depends heavily upon this creation of needs and desires, along with the sale of items to meet those needs and satisfy those desires.

So the radio sponsors want to remake me from head to toe. One warns me of hair loss and promises to stop and reverse the loss of my hair. Another offers to improve my hearing so I will know what I’ve been missing. A third offers eye surgery so I will no longer need glasses or contacts. A dentist’s office offers me a better smile, assuring me that people who smile more are happier and live longer. Yet another sponsor offers to remove pockets of fat, leaving me looking younger and fitter. Still another criticizes my wardrobe, promising to interview me about the clothing I like and send packages of clothing to my home—I only have to pay for what I like; I can send the rest back at no cost. Finally, one sponsor assumes that I am miserable because of foot pain; this sponsor says my life can be fuller and happier if I buy foot supports at their store.

I’m glad that these services exist for people who want them and need them. We all need dentists, and a few people need foot supports. But on the whole, I’m content with my body. I know that Christian stewardship includes caring for the body God created. I keep it clean, eat properly, and try to get enough exercise. But no radio ad is going to persuade me to spend money to reverse my hair loss, fix my eyes, or fill my closet with a whole new wardrobe. I accept the way I look. So far as I know, my appearance does not frighten animals or small children. So I think I’ll keep my money until I spend it on things that matter more to me.

After all, I only get to use this body for a lifetime. Some day it will be dead and buried, and I won’t be using it any more. After that a Day will come when it will rise, healed of all its problems, and then I will have it forever. It will be new from head to toe, and in the new creation nothing will ever go wrong with this body.

So I do not need to envy the full head of hair other men sport, nor their 20-20 vision, nor their fancy clothes. The Bible tells us not to covet. Advertisers have different ideas about coveting, but my confidence is in the Lord, who promises me a brand-new resurrected body at no cost to myself. J.

The Lord’s a Shepherd I don’t want

When I was a little boy, I misunderstood the meaning of Psalm 23, verse one. When we read, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,” I thought that we were saying that we did not want the Lord to be our Shepherd. Only later did I come to understand that the verse really means, “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” Rather than proclaiming the goodness of the Lord and the sufficiency of his blessings, I thought we were confessing the depravity of our own hearts, our likeliness to wander away from the Shepherd who is caring for us.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,” the prophet Isaiah wrote. We are not content with the blessings provided by our Shepherd. He makes us lie down in green pastures, but to us the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence. He leads us beside still waters, but we have more exciting beverages in mind. He leads us on paths of righteousness for his name’s sake, but we want to strike out on our own and blaze a new trail for ourselves.

He teaches us to pray for daily bread, but we desire a larger supply and more variety; like the Israelites of old, we would soon grow tired even of the miracle of manna. He tells us to be content, forbidding us from coveting what he has given to our neighbors, but we covet all the same and try to keep up with their worldliness. He warns us against earthly treasures, vulnerable to rust and moths and thieves. He promises us heavenly treasures that cannot be stolen and will not spoil. When we talk to him, we tell him much more about the earthly treasures we want and say much less to him about the heavenly treasures he wants us to have.

Jesus describes the hired hand who abandons the flock. Undoubtedly, one of the temptations Satan offered the Lord was the opportunity to forsake the flock, to permit us to wander, to stop trying to care for rebellious and wayward sheep. Jesus said no to this temptation as he resisted all the devil’s temptations. He continually explores the wilderness, finding his straying sheep and carrying us back home. He even lays down his life for us, taking upon himself the penalty we deserve so we can belong to him forever.

If Jesus abandoned us in the wilderness, we would be lost forever. Instead, he provides for us in every way we need. He gathers us into his one flock, the Holy Christian Church. He guides us with his Word in the Bible and in the teachings of the Church. He blesses us in the Church, preparing a Table for us and blessing us with his anointing. He has blazed a trail for us across the valley of the shadow of death, assuring us that we are not alone even on that journey. Instead, we will dwell with him in his house forever. Meanwhile, his grace and mercy accompany us every day, for Jesus is our Shepherd, whether we want him or not. J.

Contentment

God says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” (Exodus 20:17).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.”

Salvageable adds: Luther, like other Christians of his time, distinguished two commandments against coveting—one involving property bought with money, and the other involving relationships. (The prohibition against worshiping graven images was treated as part of the first commandment.) “Your neighbor’s house,” then, includes all the things in and around the house—your neighbor’s car, clothing, electronics, book collection, and so on. God makes certain property available to you, things you can buy with money you earned or received as a gift or inheritance. God has placed other property into the care of your neighbor. Each of you should take care of what God has given you, while also helping the neighbor to keep and maintain what is his or hers.

If your neighbor buys a new car and you admire the car but are happy for your neighbor, you are not coveting. You might wish you could afford a new car and regret that you are still stuck with your old car, but wishing and regretting is not coveting. When our neighbor’s good fortune annoys you and irritates you, then you are beginning to covet. Whenever it makes you unhappy to see someone else with a good thing you cannot afford, you are breaking God’s commandment not to covet. Envy toward the possessions of others is not part of the life God intended each of us to live.

Coveting is a sin against your neighbor. You cannot love your neighbor while you covet your neighbor’s property. Coveting is also a sin against God. You do not trust God while you remain convinced that he has not given you as much as you need. You cannot love God when you resent the size of the earthly property God has invested in you.

The opposite of coveting is being content. When we are satisfied with what we have—and thankful to God for what we have—we are not coveting. Paul wrote that he knew the secret of being content, whether he had a lot or only a little (Philippians 4:11-12). That secret is knowing Christ, trusting Christ, and being confident that Christ is caring for us in the way he knows is best. When tempted to covet, we look to Christ and not at our neighbor’s possessions. When we find that we have coveted, we ask Christ’s forgiveness and also seek his help to remain content. J.

Contentment

Several times this month I have tried to write about contentment, but I was never satisfied with what I wrote. This might be an example of irony. It might be evidence that I do not heed my own advice. It might affirm the proverb that says, “Those who cannot do, teach.”

The Bible describes contentment. “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm” (Proverbs 19:23). Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (I Timothy 6:6-8). “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

In these verses contentment seems to rest in satisfaction with what possessions one has in this world—enough food, enough clothing, enough money, but none of these things in excess. Lotteries thrive on the lack of contentment in our society. Advertisements would not work if most people were content. Lack of contentment seems to be a driving force in many of the decisions people make every day, and in the large lifetime decisions people sometimes struggle to make.

The opposite of contentment is coveting. God has forbidden coveting in his Ten Commandments. Coveting is not merely wanting something; coveting is seeing what another person has and desiring it for one’s own. If you are happy to see your neighbor with a new car, you are not coveting—even if you admire the car and wish you could have one like it. When you see your neighbor’s new car and grumble, complaining how unfair life is, then you are coveting. When you are angry at people who have good things you do not have, then you are coveting. Coveting is a sin because you cannot love your neighbor while you covet what belongs to your neighbor. Moreover, you do not love and trust God when you are angry and unhappy because of the things you do not have.

God tells his people not to covet their neighbors’ house. This includes anything that can be bought with money—not only the building next door, but also the car, the clothing, the concert ticket or season ticket, or the winning lottery ticket. Whenever you ask, “Why him and not me?” you are in danger of coveting. God also tells his people not to covet their neighbor’s husband or wife, not to covet their neighbor’s workers, and not even to covet their neighbor’s work animals. This includes anything that is tied to a person by loyalty—pets and friends as well. In junior high school, people are sometimes very open about coveting each other’s friends, to the point of crying because “Susie likes Jane more that she likes me.” As adults we are more subtle about the way we covet, but sometimes we are still unhappy and even angry because of the friendships and relationships other people have that we do not have.

Contentment does not mean that we cannot plan for improvements, work to earn money to buy the things we want, or hope for a better life. We are content, not only with what we have today, but also with what is available to us in the future. Contentment does not mean being satisfied with mediocre work. A content person has done his or her best at a task, and when the task is finished, the content person is able to move on to something else. Contentment does not require us to tolerate evil. When we see wickedness and evil, these things should make us angry. Accepting evil and not resisting it is not being content—accepting evil and not resisting it is being calloused and cold.

Contentment is easier to define in negative ways than in positive ways. Yet contentment is not an absence of desire or of anger. Contentment is a positive state. Contentment is “peace at the center.” Contentment is confidence that God is working all things for good. Contentment is trusting God, while also working to serve God by loving him and by helping our neighbors. Like peace and joy, contentment is a deeper quality than happiness or pleasure. Contentment does not disappear even when things are going wrong. If a Christian is struggling with credit card debt, if a Christian is struggling to pass a difficult class, or if a Christian is lonely and looking for friends, that Christian can still be content. The forces of evil hate to see God’s people having peace and joy and contentment. They fight to strip these qualities away from the Christian. Yet peace and joy and contentment are rooted in God’s gift of faith, which is the very reason that our enemies cannot take away our peace and joy and contentment.

I have seen an inspirational poster that says, “Living in the future is anxiety. Living in the past is depression. Living in the present is contentment.” In part, I disagree. Happy memories and nostalgia also involve the past—not all thoughts of the past are depression. Hope and eager expectation also involve the future—not all thoughts of the future are anxiety. The only time in which a Christian can live, though, is today. God has guaranteed our future. He has already taken care of all our past problems. Now Jesus teaches his people to pray for daily bread, for daily forgiveness, for the ability to forgive others each day, for daily guidance, and for daily protection. Because of the work of Christ, we do not have to pray about the past. Because of the promises of God, we do not have to pray about the future. Jesus teaches us to live one day at a time, praying that day for that day’s needs.

This, I think, is the secret of being content. It starts with knowing God, trusting God, and loving God. It continues by living one day at a time, neither frightened of what is past or worried about what is to come. Living one day at a time, though, we can still thank God for the good things of the past, and we can hope for (and plan for) good things to come in the future. Before writing about his contentment, Paul first gave advice telling how to be content. “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, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

I know one more secret about contentment. It cannot be pursued successfully. What a Buddhist says of enlightenment, I say of Christian contentment: the harder you seek it, the harder it is to find. You only receive it when you are not looking for it or trying to get it. When I was a boy I used to chase butterflies, but I never captured any. Now that I am a man, I sometimes sit in the garden, and butterflies land on my knee. May contentment come to you, not through your striving, but rather when you are least expecting it. J.