One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a book by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn records a day in a Russian labor camp. Solzhenitsyn, who himself spent time in a Russian gulag, writes from the perspective of the character Shukhov (Ivan’s nickname). We experience the day from when Shukhov first becomes conscious in the morning until he falls asleep. Solzhenitsyn masterfully frames the book around all the events in a single day. If the prisoners tried to survive for the month or the year they wouldn’t make it. The best way is to focus on one day at a time. An extremely interesting character in this book is Alyoshka the Baptist (his most common title). Writing a story about the evils of a labor camp in Russia during the height of communism is risky, including a Baptist as an important character even more so.
Towards the end of the day Shukhov has an interesting conversation with Alyoshka the Baptist. Shukhov sees Alyoshka praying frequently and asks him why he doesn’t pray that they will be let free. Alyoshka is quick to respond that he would never pray for something like that. He simply prays for his daily bread. The ability to get through one day at a time. He genuinely appears content with that, which is a huge puzzle for Shukhov. By the time he falls asleep, Shukhov still has a feeling that the Baptists are crazy, but a genuine respect has grown for Alyoshka.
Often we live in the wrong place in time. We live in the past, which can’t be changed, or the future, which is nothing more than a series of guesses. In doing this we miss living in the area we can most immediately affect, the present. There is a very important reason why Jesus taught his disciples to pray for their daily bread, instead of having enough bread for the next month. The Now is the moment that God intervenes in our lives. As C.S. Lewis says in the Screwtape Letters, “For the present is the point at which time touches eternity.” (Letter fifteen has a great treatment of this subject). When we spend an excessive amount of time praying for the future or rehashing the past we miss the chance to invite God to work in the present. Strength to remain in him during the day.
Trials often have the ability to move our focus from the past and the future to the present, not always but often. Fasting, a chronic pain, or living in a gulag forces us to focus on the present because it is the only way to survive. God frequently will not give us the strength to endure a year long trial, but will give us the strength to endure day by day, or moment by moment.
We don’t have to wait for a trial to live like this. Habitually relying on God day by day or moment moment we can come to truly allow him to live through us. This really goes against our present culture. We are encouraged to make goals and set five year plans, even in the church. Making plans for the future is not wrong. The Bible encourages that we prepare and be ready for the future. What we must not do hold to tightly to those plans we have made. In a moment God may rip them from our hands. If our obsession with future plans gets in the way with living out God’s will day by day there is a problem. Excessively worrying about the future is also wrong. Even are best guesses of what we happen are just that, guesses. Pray is best spent on praying for things that exist, instead of several imagined outcomes.
If you grew up watching Veggie Tales you may recognize the name Phil Vischer. He created Veggie Tales and was the voice for Bob the Tomato, among others. After his business went bankrupt and he was forced to sell all his characters and ideas his life stopped. Phil still has a minor consultant role with Veggie Tales, but the characters he gave birth to are no longer his. After a time of doing nothing he began to come up with a few non-veggie stories. In his biography he describes the discussion he had as he talked to a Christian publishing company about turning those stories into a couple of children’s books. They asked him where he wanted to be in 2 to 5 years, a natural question for someone who had led a large business. His reply was, “In the center of God’s will.” Phil made sure that what he said was placed at the top of the white board as they wrote down the plans for the books.
I believe that God cares much more that you are in the center of his will than whether you are in a specific place; on the mission field, in a business, leading a church, etc. If you are in the center of God’s you will be in the specific place you need to be. The center of God’s will is a place that is achieved day by day as you rely on his life in you.