God Is Always There First
When I was a kid, I thought God was in the past. Or at the very least, I thought God sort of hung out in the past, and was always trying to pull people back into the past where God was.
I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. The phrases I heard to describe God and God's actions were almost always in the past tense. They went something like this: God spoke. God created. God acted. God redeemed. God did.
Most of the Christians I was around in my formative years seemed to be totally fine with this idea. In fact, most of them seemed to prefer the past to the present. To them, the past was when everything was as it should have been. The present was where the world was going to hell in a hand basket.
I think there are a lot of Christians who unwittingly adopt the belief that if we could all just get back to the God of the past, then we would truly be ready to experience whatever God has in store for us in the future.
During the time of Jesus, there was a large movement within first-century Judaism to return to the past, so to speak. The people who advocated for this return were known as Pharisees. They saw the past as a blessed place where everyone followed the rules, kept the laws of the Torah to the letter, and where God blessed God's people as a result.
The Pharisees saw no hope for a blessed future unless everyone returned to the past. They also perceived that anyone who advocated for a different approach to discovering the blessings of God was a threat to the well-being of society.
Jesus taught that religious laws did little to deepen your relationship with God. It wasn't what you said or who you thought you were that mattered to God---it was what you did right now in the present that mattered, how you lived, how you loved others.
He also taught that God was drawing God's people toward a blessed future--a future where there was an incredible "place" already prepared for them.
For this reason (and many others as well) the Pharisees struggled mightily against Jesus. They were so focused on keeping the letter of the law, they missed the point of why it was there in the first place. Jesus constantly called them out for their own hypocrisy.
13-14 You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. You won’t go in yourselves, and you keep others from going in. (Matthew 23:13-14)
It's so easy for us followers of Jesus to get caught up in the same longing for the past the Pharisees felt. But this subverts the message of Jesus, the Good News he came to proclaim.
A.W. Tozer once wrote, "God is always previous. God is always there first...." I think those of us who call ourselves Christians would do well to remember this.
May you find peace in the realization that God is still speaking, still creating, still acting, still doing and redeeming. May you find lessons from the past, but not dwell in it. May you come to know more intimately the God who is already ahead of you, compelling you to move forward in your journey after Jesus to a blessed and hopeful future.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.