“Today is the day,” my dad used to announce in the morning.
“The day of what?” I’d ask.
“The day,” he’d say. “The day is here.”
There really doesn’t need to be an explanation. To-day is always the day. And therefore, because I’m not where I used to be (yesterday), and I’m not yet where I’m headed (tomorrow), today is all I have, and it’s what God has given me.
So, “today is the first day to the rest of your life.” And, “Yesterday’s history; tomorrow’s a mystery; today’s a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.”
These are the sort of one-liners I grew up hearing, and as corny as they might be, and as oblivious to it as I might have been at the time, these little adages were the brick and mortar of a theology — a theology of today.
I don’t mean that in a comprehensive way, or as some sort of philosophical theory on time in general, but I’m talking practically. We all have some basic theology of what “today” is. Right now, this very minute as you read these words, you carry with you a conviction about this moment, about the span of hours that led you here, and about the subsequent hours that unfold ever so slowly (or quickly?) until your head hits the pillow tonight. What is that? What should we think and do with the time that we’re awake? Also called, today?
So we could go a lot of ways with this, but I just want to mention three things here. These are three truths the Bible teaches us about “today.”
1. There is a limit on our tomorrows.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
We read about this in Genesis 3. It’s part of the curse of sin. God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
Our earthly existence that we currently experience will not last forever. There is a clock that is ticking. Our days are numbered. And this truth apparently is the tonic of wisdom. Moses prayed for God to teach it to him. He wanted to have a real, accurate understanding of his days because he wanted to be wise from the heart. And we could infer the converse — that to be apathetic about our days, to be flippant about our time, is to possess the heart of foolishness. There is a limit on our tomorrows, and knowing that means good for us.
2. We don’t know what tomorrow holds.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
James is clear enough. Moses said that our days are numbered, and he prayed that God would teach that to him. Now James says that we don’t know exactly what that number is, which leads to even more implications. The first one, which he mentions, is how we think about making plans. There is a presumptuous kind of planning that he commands us to correct. Don’t look ahead as if you’re omniscient or something. That’s the rebuke he starts with. But realize your ignorance of every moment outside of the very one you’re in, and refer to those moments as to whether the Lord wills them. That’s the correction.
And the wondrous confession here is that although we don’t know what that number is for our days, God does know. He wills them. And so this reminds me of another one I’ve heard before, almost definitely from the great Billy Graham: “We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds tomorrow.” And tears well up in my eyes as I recite those words, because they’re so true. So relevant.
3. Today matters.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Do you hear what the apostle Paul is saying? He is talking about knowing Jesus. He is talking about counting everything else in his life as a loss compared to the bewildering worth of having fellowship with Jesus Christ. He wants to know Jesus more. He wants to have him, to be found in him, to share in his suffering. Whatever it means, whatever it takes, I want more of Jesus.
And Paul frames this pursuit in terms of time, in terms of today. He says that he forgets what lies behind. He means not mainly his past sins, but his past successes. He is moving on from his spiritual highs “back then.”
Instead, he is “straining forward to what lies ahead” — which is clearly a reference to the future. But notice that Paul isn’t living in the future, he’s looking to the future — which is what hope is. When it comes to where he lives — when it comes to where he does this “pressing on” — it is in the now. He lives in today, because that is what God has given him. It matters. He forgets what is behind him and stretches for what’s ahead — which was happening in the present as he wrote those words so many years ago. If there will be a pressing on, it has to be in today. That’s what Paul did.
And so must we. Today is the day.