A natural human tendency is to think short-term. When a crisis is happening, the crisis is naturally top-of-mind, but when it is over, it is easy to dismiss it and think about other things. One of the biggest problems with this human tendency is that the things that are important are not always the things that are urgent, and important things that seem like they can wait, will sometimes get short shrift. But if we give way to this tendency, we risk being unprepared when they do become urgent.
This is true in the Christian life. Jesus warns against the tendency. To his disciples, he talks about the “day of the Lord”, a time of trouble to come. He warns his followers to be prepared for it:
Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. [Luke 21:34-36]
Similarly, in the parable of the ten bridesmaids, Jesus tells of wise and foolish bridesmaids, entrusted with oil lamps for a wedding. The wise ones take extra oil for their lamps, and the foolish ones don’t. When there is a delay and it becomes clear that the extra oil is needed, the foolish ones have to rush off at the last minute to buy more, and they end up missing the wedding. [Matthew 25:1-13] In this parable, Jesus is advising us to prepare ourselves when we can, because waiting until the last minute may not leave us enough time to do it.
In the parable of the talents [Matthew 25:14-30], Jesus tells of a rich man who entrusts to his three servants some of his wealth, to grow it according to their ability. Two of them grow the wealth, but one simply hides it away, despite knowing that more is expected. When the rich man returns, he asks for an accounting. He is pleased with the servants who grew his wealth, and displeased with the one who simply hid it away, not even putting it in the bank to earn interest. In telling this story, Jesus is reminding us that God has entrusted some of his bounty to us, and we have a limited time to do good with it. Some day we will be called to account for what we have done with it, and doing nothing will not be good enough.
All of these things remind us that we are not to think short-term about living the Christian life. We are called to remember what we are supposed to be doing, and prepare for what we know is coming: a time when it will matter what we have done so far. Like the servants growing the wealth their employer has entrusted to them, like the wise bridesmaids preparing for eventualities by bringing extra oil for their lamps, like watchful people who keep awake, ready for the crisis that they know will come, Jesus advocates that we make ourselves ready while we can. So let us not delay because the need is not yet urgent. We should prepare ourselves in advance, so that when the need arrives, we will be ready.