As a Regus Professor of Medicine at Oxford, a founder of the world-famous Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a knight – made so by the King of England himself – William Osler was a man that many regarded as being of “exceptional intellectual quality.” Yet, in a speech to students at Yale University in the spring of 1913, he attributed his massive success not to the size of his brain – which, he said, was “of the most mediocre quality” – but rather by living in what he called “day-tight compartments.” He told of a time not many months before when he had crossed the Atlantic on a great ocean liner, and had observed the captain pressing a series of buttons that shut off various compartments of the ship, isolating them from one another. With that in mind, he advised those students to live in the present, saying, “Shut off the future as tightly as the past…the future is today…there is no tomorrow. The day of man’s salvation is now. Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future…Shut close, then, the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of a life of ‘day-tight compartments.’”
Saying the same thing in a much more concise way, Jesus demonstrated in His model prayer this same manner of contentment, praying to God to “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). While many of us have no doubt, read that passage, what is remarkable to consider is the fact that Jesus only prayed for the things He needed to get through that day. He didn’t pray for next week, or the week after that, but rather the things that pertained to Him that single day. It brings to mind another thought that He would bring up not 23 verses later: “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). Jesus truly understood the idea of taking things “one day at a time.”
To some of us, that idea may sound foolhardy – “Of course we should pray for tomorrow! We have to plan and prepare!” But what Jesus is not saying is that we should neglect our future work in exchange for temporal satisfaction; indeed, Paul would tell Timothy that those who didn’t provide for their own and for their household were “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). It is our duty to make sure that our family is well-taken care of and provided for, and that we are sufficiently discharging our obligations. What Jesus is advising against is to have unnecessary anxiety for the future; rather, expend your energies on the matters at hand.
Anxiety that is unchecked and uncalled for will only lead to unnecessary trouble in the present, and thinking about what we will do tomorrow instead of today only means that today’s work takes a backseat for a time. Far too many of us have failed to do the things that were necessary in this life because we’ve thought too far in the future. For instance, we put off talking to that co-worker about the Gospel because we want to wait “for a more convenient time” (Acts 24:25). We fail to take care of temptations today because we believe that next week will be easier. Or we wait to start on our daily Bible reading because we think the beginning of the year will provide us with more motivation. Whatever our reason for putting off the necessities of life, the end result is the same: things are not getting done when they just as easily could be.
By praying that we would only have what we need to get through today, it helps us to keep our minds on the things that we can affect. Tomorrow is not guaranteed (James 4:13-17), today is very much within our grasp. We don’t know what tomorrow will be like; it will come with it’s own set of worries, concerns, emergencies, supplies and goals – none of which we can know today with 100% accuracy. What we do know is now, today, the situation as we see it in front of us, and while the tendency is to put it off for tomorrow, the necessity is to handle it today, and to ask for God’s help in accomplishing it.
Try this tomorrow morning. Instead of waking up and rushing through your routine, take a moment and pray that God will give you the resources and the strength you need to accomplish what you need to do today, both in life and in His kingdom. Don’t pray for (at least at that point) things that you’ll need next week, or trials in the future, but focus on overcoming your temptations today. And then, the next day, pray for it again. And again the next day. Pray for the things in the day you’re living in, and let tomorrow handle itself.Last modified: January 22, 2019