Most of the time when we pray, we are focused on the “now.” It makes sense, doesn’t it?
It makes sense from our perspective. We see a need in our own lives or in those around us, and so we come to the throne of grace making our requests. This is the good and right thing for us to do, because there is never a wrong moment for prayer:
Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:13-16).
It also makes sense from God’s perspective. Jesus told us that we should pray for the “right now.” He taught us specifically to pray for our daily bread (Matt. 6:11), while in the same sermon telling us to not worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has enough worries of its own (Matt. 6:34). So it’s not wrong that our prayers should be tinged with immediacy. With a sense of urgency.
Here’s the thing about urgency and immediacy, though – there is a certain kind of tyranny that accompanies the urgent. When we have an urgent need, that need tends to give us tunnel vision. It’s all we can think about; it’s the constant background to everything; it’s the shadow that looms very large in our minds, much less our prayers. We can find ourselves, then, praying with anxiety over the urgent need and the daily now. And that’s why remembering “then” can shape our prayers for “now.”
But when is the “then”? The “then” is both the past and the future, and both should influence the way in which we pray for the “now.”
“Then” is the past; it’s what once was. It’s way back when “then” was “now”, and we were having the similar struggle that we have “now.” Back “then” we prayed and we asked, and God delivered. True enough, He might not have answered in the manner we thought was right or would have preferred at the time, but looking back we can see shades of His wisdom in the answer. We can know when we look to the past that God’s answer might not have made sense, but it was good and right and just. By letting our “now” be informed of the “then,” we can know that God is listening. That He cares. And that He will indeed answer and provide and deliver in the right way. We can draw confidence from all those “then’s” of the past to know that this God who never changes will once again act in the “now.”
But “then” is also the future. It’s what will be. It’s when everything will be made right and all things that are hidden brought into the open. It’s when the God of Justice will prevail and make sure that all things are put in their proper order. This “then” is encouraging, too, because it helps us remember that God is not in a hurry to act. He acts in His own time and in His own way. Even if we do not see that action right away, or even in the distant future, when we look to this “then” we know that the eternal makes the temporary fade into oblivion. Someday, in the “then”, we will see just how light and momentary all of these present afflictions really are.
So we pray in the “now.” But as we pray in the “now” we must remember the “then.”