In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew:
It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.
—Aesop, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”
I lost my faith in American business years ago. The reason? I started working in American business.
In no time at all, the average worker (like I was) will pull back the curtain and confront the engine that drives American business: expediency. Today, mention long-term planning at a shareholder’s convention and you’ll get hoots from everyone. They’re only thinking about next quarter. Business summons its finest wise guys who know how to massage the numbers to please shareholders, and when another quarter goes by and everyone’s still got a job, they’ve been successful—at least until the next quarter.
No better indicator exists that the American Church has been wholly corrupted by business practices than the fact that we’ve lost our eternal focus. We’ve become the Church of “Tomorrow? What Tomorrow?” If we can keep the shareholders—pardon me, “congregants”—happy through Forty Days of Purpose and then another fifty sailing on that high, then we’ve had a successful quarter. The offering plates are full now, the church is growing, the youth group is still bright and shiny, and we’ve got good buzz in the neighborhood. Everything’s spiffy!
Or is it?
Laser-like, we concentrate on that moment of justification, but aren’t certain how to address the sixty or so years of sanctification and discipleship that come afterwards.
We set people up for experiential spiritual highs, but when we can’t maintain that warm fuzzy feeling forever, we watch them drift off to whatever Church of the Moment thinks it can.
We throw ourselves into ensuring Our Best Life Now and not our Infinitely Better Life to Come.
We pour all our energy into trying to train up our children to be good Christians, but we’re not sure exactly what the end product should look like anymore because we’re not so sure we’ve got our own faith down pat.
We build multi-million dollar edifices we call “church” that can burn down in an instant, but we don’t seem to be preparing the next generation for any sort of deeper life than to be consumers that build multi-million dollar churches.
We’re increasingly dispensational and premillennial because God knows we’ve got no plan if we’re not Raptured out of here the second things get a tad bit nutty.
The only time we think about the future is when we repeat our pseudo-Christian mantra of “Some day I’ll tell my neighbor about Christ. Some day I’ll go on the mission field. Some day I’ll volunteer at church. Some day I’ll read through the Bible. Some day I’ll stop committing that sin I can’t stop committing. Some day I’ll visit the sick, feed the poor, and clothe the naked. Some day….”
Expediency. As long as we feel fine about ourselves at the end of the quarter, we think we’ve done well. It’s a hard habit to break because many in the Church can find verses substantiating living only for the day. Consider this widely quoted one:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
—James 4:13-15 ESV
But that passage isn’t about living for the moment. Look at the context:
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
—James 4:12-17 ESV
That passage argues against haughtiness and judgmentalism by showing the lack of humility in the lives of those who are presumptive. Wise planning is not being presumptive. On the contrary, it’s required of us. If anything, God considers those who fail to plan foolish.
Consider the following parables of Jesus:
The man who built his house on the rock
The five wise and five foolish virgins
The wedding banquet
The persistent widow
All of these carry with them the idea of preparation for the future, be it the Lord’s return, being ready to face the storms of life, or persevering even when the moment doesn’t look promising. Jesus is not against us thinking about tomorrow. His only correction is that we let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day by not dwelling so much on the future that we ignore the present. Again, like so many things in the Christian walk, balance is needed.
Last weekend, I was in a small group meeting discussing marriage when I brought up one of my pet issues: starting marriage and family classes for children as young as ten in order that they be better prepared to be godly husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. My pastor is a part of that group and he immediately noted that parents would object to the church usurping that responsibility.
And he’s right. Some parents would complain. But by backing off completely, we open ourselves up for the same disappointments that expediency always brings. Kids in the youth group start having sex, a couple girls get pregnant and may even have abortions, and we’re left picking up pieces from shattered lives that may never have been broken had we thought long-term.
We can see the issue of God’s sovereignty creeping into this can’t we? Some would argue that long-term thinking attempts to play God or force His unforceable hand. But I’ve read the Bible and none of the Psalms begins, “Que sera, sera….” We have not because we ask not. Some kinds don’t come out except with prayer and fasting. Slay lambs and spread their blood over the lintels. Noah build an ark. Freely we have received, freely shall we give.
God doesn’t rain down manna from heaven to feed the poor, the orphan, the widow; He asks the Church to do the feeding or else it may very well not get done. Our godly plans and our earthly actions matter. We are the Body of Christ to go out and do, and that going out and doing involves planning, both short-term AND long. It is what God in His sovereignty has asked of us. If the Church had no reason to think beyond tomorrow, then God in His wisdom could have taken each of us up to heaven in a flaming chariot the moment we believed.
Nothing good comes to a church that thinks like Aesop’s grasshopper, yet so many churches have lost a vision for tomorrow’s generations, so lost are they on their own selves.
Winter is coming.