How far can you reach? How far can you stretch? Such is part of your strength of youth. So much of that reaching and stretching has to do with your physical body. In softball, how far can you reach in fielding to catch the ball? In basketball, can you reach far enough by jumping with your legs and by stretching out your arms to slam-dunk? You have competitions among yourselves, not only to see who is taller, but who can stretch the farthest. Or think of distance training. To run fast for a short length requires practice and discipline, but to endure a long race takes a very different kind of discipline. A man who does very well in a race of a hundred yards may not be able to finish a marathon, and simply cannot if he does not know how to reserve his strength.
But there is yet another way you need to stretch out. You must be able to stretch out and reach out with your mind. Can you reach out with your mind when you read? Can you embrace with your imagination the world that an author is trying to create in his book? Can you reach out to understand the theme, the plot, the significance of what you read? Can you go even further and understand the implications of what you read, for yourself personally and for the society and culture that is reflected in these books?
God’s Word calls you to be long-term thinkers, to look beyond the here and the now. In fact, this calling from God’s Word is but one part of the greatest calling in Scripture: Believe! Faith itself means reaching out long and far with your mind. By it you are able to reach beyond your own self, your sins, and your own sinful nature, all the way out to the righteousness of Christ, and then to bring it back to yourself, to know that you are righteous before God in Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 23). We see evidence of the long-term thinking of faith in Hebrews 11. In that chapter there are especially two examples of that long-term way of faith.
The first example is Abraham. He was a believer who lived his whole life in tents and confessed that he was a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth. Yes, his whole life! Why? “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (). Because he was so certain that he would receive that heavenly inheritance upon his death, he was willing to wander on the earth as a sojourner.
The second example is Moses. He was “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” But he was able to look beyond the riches and treasures of Egypt. He was able to look beyond the possibility of being Pharaoh over all Egypt. And he forsook it all. He preferred to suffer affliction with the people of God. He chose that suffering over “enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season” ().
Other Scriptures clearly require this kind of long-term thinking. Scripture compares your life to an endurance race, and to a lifelong warfare (). You must continue to run, you must continue to strive. Scripture warns against thinking that you have arrived and that you have achieved. Scripture warns against despairing because you have not yet arrived ( ). The battle is not yet over, and you may not lay down your weapons until the very end of your life. You are not finished until you stand faultless before God’s throne, with the crown of victory on your head ( ). Many are the Christian virtues that touch on that manner of your life and thought: patience, endurance, steadfastness, hope. All these require the ability to understand and appreciate a far-distant goal.
Long-term thinking means that you must consciously and deliberately stand apart from the thinking of the world. The world’s thinking is all shortsighted and short-minded. The world works very hard to ignore thoughts of eternity, what lies beyond death and the grave. They refuse to acknowledge the wrath of God that they encounter in this world, especially as that wrath warns them of the wrath that is yet to come. The world’s thinking is hopelessly bound up in this present evil age.
That short-term way of thinking you see in finances and the economy. More and more people go into debt, not for necessities, but because of their desire for material things. You can have everything now, and pay for it later. Government even encourages this kind of thinking and this kind of spending, to keep the economy churning along. But it does not look far enough ahead to see that such thinking will lead to ruin for the whole country, even for those who do not spend themselves into debt.
Those ways of the world must not be your ways. But even more, the thinking behind those ways must not be your thinking. Think long-term. For such long-term thinking there is only one guide, because nothing else and no one else can take you that far. That guide is the Word of God. Let that Word take your mind, and especially your heart, to the kingdom of God and the hope of glory. Meditate on its truths of the life to come and its promises to you of that glorious and blessed end! Let that Word teach you long-term thinking!
But how do you think long-term? How can you change your thinking, to make it more long-term? We can begin with small matters and work our way forward, stretching farther and farther.
We begin with matters of worship, especially listening to sermons. Think also of your devotions. How much Scripture are you able to read before you are interrupted with your own thoughts? How much time can you spend in prayer before you find yourself out of God’s presence and back among your own thoughts, sometimes very far from God? How is your concentration? How is your focus? When listening to a sermon, can you follow a longer sentence from beginning to end? Or are you distracted by your own thinking before the sentence is finished? Can you take in an entire sermon, to understand the whole message?
There are two ways to help you pay better attention and keep your focus. First, turn down the volume of your own mind and clear your mind of your own thoughts. Second, concentrate. Pull your mind together. Give it one direction. Keep that direction toward one object. Make this more and more the habit of your mind and your heart. Developing long-term thinking requires practice, just as much as honing some physical skill that you have.
Then, too, you can think of what the Lord requires of you as young people. In many ways you must wait, and exercise patience while you wait. Are you waiting to be married? Wait until marriage to enjoy its physical intimacy! Are you waiting to drink alcohol until you are legally allowed? Do not drink before then. Do not listen to the world, or even to your friends when they urge you to do something just because you can. Do not give in to those urges inside that seem so strong you think yourself compelled and driven. No. Wait! Long-term thinking knows the benefits of waiting, and wisdom is strong to wait.
To go still further, even while you are young develop long-term goals under the Lord’s guidance. Make plans. Think about what you might enjoy doing for a career and how you might best use the gifts the Lord has given you to serve Him your whole life. Look ahead to that time, and plan for it. What kind of education will you need? What kind of gifts and abilities should you strengthen and develop for it? What resources will you need to have for this kind of work? As you think about these things, you need to think long-term. What kind of a career will allow you to be free of the compromise of union membership? What kind of work will not make necessary working on the Lord’s Day? Will you be able to get such work that will make it possible for you to support the cause of the kingdom of God, take care of your family, and pay for Christian school tuition? How important it is to keep those requirements in mind!
As you think, long-term, about these things, you come to know more and more your need of the Lord’s guidance and His gifts to you. In prayer to God, seek that growth, development, and education from Him and His heavenly throne of grace. When by the grace of God you seek those things from Him, you will find that He hears you and answers your prayers, by equipping you for a lifetime of faithful service. Your greatest desire, then, will be to hear Him say to you at the end of your race, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” This is long-term thinking!