The Fierce Urgency of Now

The Fierce Urgency of Now

As a preacher, you become more familiar with death that most people. In some cases, that is through visiting someone, maybe even sitting at the bedside, as they are getting close to the end of life; in others, it might be through performing the memorial service, hopefully helping grieving loved ones to find some measure of comfort. And all that has only increased in frequency since I became a hospice chaplain a couple of years ago.

But whether or not you deal with those situations as frequently as I do, death is an inevitability that all of us have to face in our lives—and not just our own. It confronts in the loss of friends and family. It’s difficult sometimes in such situations to know just what to do. Where do we go from here?

I think of a story I have heard my father tell about the passing of his grandmother, just a few years before I was born. She departed this life on the Lord’s Day. She attended services that Sunday morning, though she did not feel well. When she laid down that afternoon for her nap, her clothes were neatly laid aside to be put back on to return that evening. But she never had the opportunity to attend that service. That evening, friends came to call and to attempt to comfort. One who knew her well made the observation: “well, she lived until she died.”

On the surface, you might say, well…yes. Obviously. That sounds like a tautology. It’s true of all of us, isn’t it?

Is it? Most people never really live. Most of us are so full of what we are going to do that we never get around to doing it. We never really live today for today.

You see, it is one thing to plan for the future. It is quite something else to live in the present. We all know the necessity of looking forward, but it is extremely dangerous to do that while neglecting the present. Jesus warned us of this in the Sermon on the Mount. Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34)

Extreme daydreamers never live today. They are always living tomorrow. Therefore, they never get around to real living. Many of us are like that.

This kind of existence brings a lot of misery. The friend we intended to visit died before we could get over to see him. We intended to say something kind to someone we thought deserved it, but they moved on before we got around to it. We never found that right time to invite our neighbor to church with us to learn about Jesus.

I imagine we are walking on familiar ground as you read this. We see it. The question is: what are we going to do about it?

The answer lies within us individually. It is not something beyond our grasp, but something we must make up our minds to do. That is not to say it is easy. It requires a change of mental habits, but it will bring surprising results. Satisfaction that we have never realized will be ours.

We must stop allowing the future to absorb today. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. There are certain tasks that are ours every day. They may seem like small matters compared to what we intend to do, but what we intend to do depends largely on how well we take care of these things. God requires something of us every day. He calls us to offer up the best of ourselves as a living sacrifice to him (Romans 12:1). It is easy to tell God what I intend to do when I make my fortune, but God wants the service I can give him today. If I don’t do it when the opportunity comes, the chances are I will never get around to it. There are people in our world who need to be brought to Jesus. For them to find him, I must make it possible. Then let me be busy doing what God would want me to do today.

We don’t need to look for some great service we can perform in some far off tomorrow. You and I will never be needed more in the Lord’s service than we are today. It is possible that the service you can perform today will contribute to success where otherwise there would be failure.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King famously talked about the “fierce urgency of now,” a phrase I borrowed for the title of this article. In context, it is a call for racial justice in society. But the underlying idea—that “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action”—should resonate with us as Christians in every aspect of our walk, especially when we look at the world around us and our missed opportunities and misplaced priorities. It is possible that the Lord’s church will never need you more than it does now.

Let’s not wait to do what needs to be done now. What we plan to give, let us give it now. What we plan to do, let us do it now. What we hope to be, we can be only by being all we can for the Lord today. Now.


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