“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That strut’s and fret’s his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
-William Shakespeare, “Macbeth,” 5.5.19-28
”And now, I’m glad I didn’t know, the way it all would end, the way it all would go…”
-Garth Brooks, “The Dance”
Do you ever worry about the future? Are you ever anxious about tomorrow?
Or am I the only one?
I don’t think I am. Shakespeare, after all, was a pretty good chronicler of common human experience, and what was true at the start of the seventeenth century seems just as true today. We’ve all found that some days seem to “strut and fret,” walking the tightrope between false-confidence and trembling terror. Likewise, we all know that sometimes this anxious worry comes as slowly as a cat stalking its prey. The passage forward into the future “creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”
And we don’t like it. Oftentimes we tell ourselves that our present would be far more secure if we could only get a handle on what tomorrow might bring. I’ve been thinking that over the last twenty-four hours. When I woke up on Monday, I didn’t have any idea that Amy would have a wreck on the interstate just a few minutes after leaving our home on her way to work. I didn’t know my week would start with dealing with insurance deductibles, body-shops, and a wife with a swollen hand and a scared heart.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, Amy’s little accident was a wonderfully small thing. No one was hurt. No one was injured, and the car’s worst damage was due to the air-bag deploying. Things could have been much worse. But, there’s a part of me that would have at least liked to have had some warning! That’s how these things always happen, isn’t it? They hit us from out of nowhere. Have you seen the commercials where men and women get a note as they are eating breakfast telling them the horrible things that are going to happen to them today? Well, for better or worse, life doesn’t work that way. All of our tomorrows lie in a fog-draped realm.
And that’s why we worry. We like to be in control. We like to live with the myth of our own stability, sovereignty, and sufficiency. We think we’re good at micro-managing our lives, but at the end of the day the future won’t allow it.
And that’s a very good thing. Our inability to gaze too far into our own futures is a gift from God that teaches us to trust him. Far from being a prison that confines us to confusion and concern, it is really a key that unlocks the shackles of anxiety, leading us to follow Christ away from the foolishness of fret and onto the firm foundation of faith.
That’s a point that Jesus rather bluntly makes right at the beginning of the church’s long endeavor to fulfill the Great Commission. The book of Acts is all about moving into the future, and it starts with the disciples strangely coming to Jesus and asking him to tell them the future. In a bizarre moment of human frailty, the followers of Jesus are tempted to treat Jesus like a resurrected version of Miss Cleo. In Acts 1:6 we’re told that the disciples “gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” That sounds like a religious question, but it’s a thinly veiled attempt to treat God like a divine psychic for our own purposes.
The question appears to be about Jesus’ work. It seems to be centered on Jesus’ task of ushering in the kingdom. It’s really a question about the disciples’ mission, about their commission to trust the resurrected Lord’s authority (in all heaven and earth) and be obedient to what he has told them to do. In the guise of eschatology, the disciples begin the book of Acts by trying to assert their own agenda, time-table, and vision-statement into the opening moments of Christ’s church. The book that most vividly displays God’s power to change the world by the proclamation of the gospel throughout the centuries, starts with the small band of proclaimers wringing their hands in a “come to Jesus” worry-session about the next few days.
But Jesus won’t allow it. He isn’t fooled by their sudden fascination with end-time events. He knows they’re not asking about starting a Jerusalem prophecy-conference. They know that the time for his ascension is approaching and they’re starting to freak out about what the future holds without his bodily presence. So, what does Jesus say? He replies, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).
Notice what he says, and notice in the process how Jesus’ words liberate us from the arsenic of anxiety:
First, Jesus calls them to be humbled in their submission to God. He says, “It is not for you to know the times or dates…” In other words, he says quite clearly, “That’s none of your business. That’s not your concern. Know your place.” All worry is a weak attempt to exercise our own sovereignty, slyly exercising our own self-inflated views of ourselves. We face the future knowing that it is not for us to know what awaits.
Second, Jesus calls them to see that humility in submission to his own authority. We’re told in Matthew that Jesus had earlier proclaimed that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. Now, notice how he subtly draws attention to his authority over the disciples. Notice what he says, and what he doesn’t say. He says, “It is not for you to know.” He does not say, “It is not for us to know. Jesus is not included in the community of the uncertain. He is not unaware of the future. It is for him to know, and in following him we’re called to let that be enough for today. We face the future without knowing the future because we are assured that Jesus isn’t blind to what awaits us.
Third, Jesus calls them to rest in the meticulous sovereignty of God. Jesus’ reply is both chastening and encouraging. Balanced with the disciples ignorance about the times and seasons is the assurance that those times and seasons have indeed been set by the Father’s own authority. The future is not open to random chance. It isn’t spinning out of control. It isn’t going off the rails. The Father is the one who has established the future.
Fourth, Jesus calls them to be live in the power of God’s presence. In other words, their power to face the future is a result of God the Spirit being graciously given to his people. They are told “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Their strength for tomorrow is not in their knowledge of tomorrow. It’s in the Spirit of the Living God who indwells his people. The believer’s life is not to be characterized by materializing his own self-sufficiency. It’s to be characterized by a whole-sale reliance on God to meet every need.
Fifth, Jesus calls them to be busy with the task he has given them, a task to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Notice that Jesus doesn’t allow the disciples anxiety about the future frame the agenda for the disciples’ lives. Their worry about tomorrow doesn’t get to determine what their tomorrow is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about Jesus, making him known, taking the good news about him quite literally to the ends of the earth. When we worry about tomorrow we tend to worry about it through the lenses of how our plans and desires will be impacted. Jesus calls his followers to a reassessment of their very reason for living. They exist for him. He decides what our future will be. We don’t decide what his will be.
Sixth, and finally, Jesus calls them to live all of life in the overflowing joy of the person of God. A life that lives in the freedom from worry is a life that is lived in ongoing relationship with the triune God. Have you noticed how in this verse each Person of the Trinity is mentioned as central to the believers’ lives? They trust the sovereign authority of the Father. They live in the infinite power of the Spirit. And they go into all the world under the command and in the name of Jesus the Son. All of life resounds from God and through God and to God, so that he is all in all. Our worries tend to always minimize the infinitely maximal majesty of his greatness. These verses that begin the book of Acts won’t allow that for a moment.
Five years ago, when Amy and I were just preparing to uproot our lives in Mississippi and move to Henryville, Indiana, Amy posted on Facebook a quote from the great Puritan commentator Matthew Henry. He wrote that, “God has wisely kept us in the dark concerning future events and reserved for himself the knowledge of them, that he may train us up in a dependence upon himself and a continued readiness for every event.”
Matthew Henry was right, and Macbeth and Garth Brooks are wrong. Life isn’t a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. And our lives aren’t better left to chance. Life is a tale told by a Galilean Jew from Nazareth who beat the death out of death and reigns supreme over the universe. Our lives are better left to his wisdom, goodness, mercy, sovereignty, and grace. I don’t know what the future holds. But I do know that tomorrow is held firm in nail-wounded hands that are strong and secure enough to handle anything that the coming hour might bring.