The future is arriving faster than anyone expected. I don’t say that because I’m growing older, although I admit my Medicare card arrived a lot sooner than I expected. People who live and work at the frontier of creativity and technology are saying it, too. “For the first time in history,” one futurist wrote recently, “the world’s leading experts on accelerating technology are consistently finding themselves too conservative in their predictions about the future of that technology.”1
Folks used to be too optimistic about that. For example, predictions of flying cars and missions to Mars seem as far away today as ever. But the accelerating pace of change continues to gain speed, and we’re having a hard time keeping up. Even Ken Goffman, who for forty years has worked on “the cutting edge of the cutting edge” and is one of a handful of people in the world whose futurist credentials are considered unquestionable, has confessed to being too conservative in his predictions. The future is surprising even him.2
Seen through the lens of Christianity, I think, not only is the future surprising us by arriving faster than we expect; the biggest surprise of all seems to be that the future – the one that counts – has already arrived, and we continue to miss it.
When Jesus and his disciples came off the mountain after his transfiguration, they asked him about Elijah, the great Hebrew prophet who was expected to return just before the culmination of history and the fulfillment of God’s promised reign on earth. And do you know what Jesus said? “I tell you, Elijah has already come, and he was badly mistreated” (Mark 9:13a nlt).
The perfect future everyone has been hoping for had arrived, and almost no one recognized its harbinger. The perfect future you’ve been waiting for, Jesus said, is here (Mark 1:15). It’s all around you, and most people simply don’t see it (Gosp. Thomas 113). You’re standing knee-deep in it already, drinking its heady wine, and only a few people catch at least a taste of it, and their lives are changed forever (John 2:1-11).
Sensing the divine future that’s already present, and living it imperfectly until we live it perfectly, is what we Methodists aspire to do. And in two-and-a-half centuries we’ve learned some things about how to do that. We’ve harvested the wisdom of 6,500 years; we’ve tested and refined it in the laboratory of reason and experience; and we’ve learned how to position ourselves to live the future John Wesley envisioned. “I continue to dream and pray,” he wrote, “about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions.”3
Wesley’s vision is worth reclaiming. A new and personal experience of the holy; a clear sense of being part of God’s mission; authentic human community; spiritual empowerment to be all God is creating us to be: those are parts of my dream, too. And though I can’t make them happen any more than I can make the wind blow, I have learned from the Methodist tradition how to set my sails to catch the Spirit when it does blow.
“You did not choose me,” Jesus told his followers, “but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). That’s an almost incredible message, and sometimes I think I haven’t fully heard it. Being Christian is not something I chose, and it’s not something my parents chose for me; it’s not something anyone chooses. God chose me! Before I knew God was at work in my life, God was working to bring me into this relationship. Prevenient grace, Wesley called it: divine grace that takes the initiative. “No one can come to me,” Jesus said, “unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:44).
Think of it! Being a member of the body of Christ is not your choice; it’s God’s eternal gift. You don’t come into the church hoping to gain God’s favor. You don’t come into the church because it’s what you must do to be accepted by God. You don’t come into the church hoping to gain a place in heaven one day. You come into the church because God chose you and blessed you – You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:11) – and gave you irrevocably a place in God’s eternal plan.
“And I appointed you,” Christ says, “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” What a thing for an itinerant Methodist pastor to hear! “I appointed you to go.” It’s as if Jesus was the first Methodist bishop! But it’s not only I who has been appointed to go. If you are Christian, if God has drawn you into relationship with Christ, then God has commissioned you. Part of your mission in life is to go. You have been sent on a mission for God.
There are many ways to express that mission. Maybe I had better say there are many aspects of that mission shared among members of the body of Christ. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” is one way to say it (Matt. 28:19-20). “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” is another (Matt. 4:19).
“Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” might be your mission (Mark 5:19). Or you may be sent out as part of a team, given authority over unclean spirits, and charged to make people well (Mark 6:7-13). Or you may be called to feed Christ’s sheep, to nurture other disciples in the faith (John 21:15-17). Or you may be called to a ministry that reconciles others with God and neighbor (2 Cor. 5:19-20).
Maybe you’re called to feed the hungry, or welcome the stranger, or clothe the naked, or care for the sick, or visit the prisoner (Matt. 25:31-46). Maybe you’re gifted for mission as a prophet or truth teller, one who serves, a teacher, an encourager, a giver, a leader, one who offers compassion, a healer, a faith holder (Rom. 12:6-8, etc.). Maybe you have the gift of music or something else that helps build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 14:26).
Whatever your gift, whatever innate talent you were born with, remember God has appointed you to go and use it to bear fruit that will last. “The greatest use of your life,” William James said, “is to invest in that which outlasts it.” If you and I will do that, if we will use our gifts for the mission on which God has sent us into the world, then we will be known as “the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (Isa. 58:12), as the rebuilder of broken walls and lives, and we will finally be about the real work of Christmas.
notes — 1. Steven Kotler, “The Acceleration of Acceleration,” on singularityhub.com, 7 February 2015. ▪ 2. Ibid. ▪ 3. John Wesley, How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer (Uhrichsville, Ohio, 2008).