“I wasted time and now doth time waste me.” This is the lament of Shakespeare’s King Richard II. He was an idle and indecisive king whose crown was stolen from him because he wasted his past, and as he speaks these words he anticipates living out the rest of his days in prison or exile. Another of Shakespeare’s great figures, Hamlet, is also famous for wasting time. After the ghost of his father appears and burdens him with the urgent task of vengeance, Hamlet spends the next four acts of the play finding excuses not to go through with it, because he fears what the future might hold.
The past is continually shaping us (or shaming us), the future continually compelling us (or frightening us), but the present is where we must do our living.
For the faithful, life is lived upon the cross; its four arms reaching outward in every direction, and us in the middle, continually pulled every which way: concern for the things of God drawing us upward; concern for the things of the world drawing us downward; the voices of the past drawing us backward; and the demands of the future pulling us forward. It is a tenuous existence even for the best of us. The young, though, have it even harder.
The curse of youth is to forget everything but the present: it is believing we have all the time in the world—“I will finish that work tomorrow, give up that vice tomorrow, develop that virtue tomorrow, seek that forgiveness tomorrow.” But inevitably tomorrow comes and far too often we have failed. We fall behind again, we are late again, we are ashamed again, we are still in the grips of that same old sin. Our lives fall out of balance and we are torn asunder on the cross of reality. We become like Hamlet, and fear of the future drives us mad. We become like Richard, and our past negligence poisons even our present leisure.
Often what you will be tempted to do at this point is to become your own physician, and sell your Sabbaths for a mess of pottage. After six days of being pulled and strained and rent, you will want to trade away the God-given day of rest and restoration, to treat it as one more opportunity in the week to be saved by your own labor—“Rest would be nice,” you say,” if only I had earned it.” Tired, sundered limbs trying to knit themselves back together; finite creatures attempting to conjure a few more hours ex nihilo, as only God could. It can’t work.
But the Messiah is a healer; He pulls us back together and restores us to life. We cannot heal ourselves because we cannot “make it up to God;” we cannot repay Him for a wasted week by laboring a little more on Sunday, because He lacks nothing and needs nothing from us. We must rely on the faithfulness of Christ, which is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In Christ His past is our past, His future our future, and that can only mean one thing for our present.
The charge, then, is to be faithful in the present moment—in every day that can be called “today”—but make no mistake about whose faithfulness it is that saves and heals. Instead, rest in the Lord: when you have been faithful, and especially when you have not.