Before upgrading to captain, I spent close to three years perfecting my stick-and-rudder skills under the tutelage of experienced captains. And while most of the airline profession can be summed up in one word: standardized, the personalities of each pilot-in-command are far from it. They range from laid back and empowering to the wielding of power like Lord Vader, choking the fun out of flying.

Thankfully there were plenty of fun days: a clear blue sky welcomed us to Memphis, Tennessee, as we completed our final arrival preparations and lined up the passenger jet for landing on runway one-eight right. My captain for this particular trip was a bit reserved, skipping the redundant pleasantries due to switching first officers, often weekly. Save for the standard call-outs, the flight deck was, well, standard. Which is why this threw me for a loop (figuratively): It was my leg, and as I maneuvered the bird on final approach he said, “If you can make Mike 6, I’ll buy you dinner.”

He was referring to taxiway “M6,” which is actually best positioned for aircraft landing from the opposite direction—landing runway three-six left. To “make” Mike 6 meant a quick touchdown and aggressive breaking. Because I never pass up a free meal, challenge accepted, and like a champ—one oblivious to passenger comfort—I shocked the Air Traffic Controller by exiting Mike 6. Boom. Free dinner.

However, almost 15 years later, as I drove my aging grandparents home from a night of pizza—slowly accelerating and decelerating, taking turns cautiously, etc.—my mind wandered back to the many subsequent aircraft-carrier type landings onto a runway nearly 20 times longer than a carrier’s runway. I am thankful that while I never sacrificed safety, eventually self-awareness humbled me and allowed for some maturing, or as they say: prepared me for adulting.

This self-reflecting is on the heels of a thoughtful question posed by a former student. He asked, “What’s more important: the past, present, or the future?” I’ve studied the concepts of Bloom’s Taxonomy and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but realized I’ve neglected to be a student of what I’d like to dub The Hierarchy of Time.

Throughout Scripture, we learn to commit our plans to the Lord; to not worry about tomorrow; in all things seek first the Kingdom of the Lord. So on first glance, one might elevate the present to the top. But where do the past and future belong on the “org” chart? Is the chart linear? Holistic? Pie(?)—mmm, pie.

Maybe it’s not even a chart? What if instead, the past, present, and future are better represented by a giant slingshot: the past being the two pegs, the present being where the band is pulled rearward, and the future is the object being launched.

Think about it. The past is just that. While we may revisit the lessons learned, the past itself remains unchanged. It’s solid: one post is nature, the other post is nurture. As for the present, as they say, “It’s where your feet are.” The more you live in the past—standing closer to the posts—the less tension on the band. Regardless where you stand, the only way your future flies is to let go, which is a decision made in the present. Using the image of a slingshot, what really matters transcends which of the three is more essential for the recognition of their interdependence and influence upon each other.

The Past

At some point, we as leaders must embrace our past—the good and the bad.

Whether through prayer, accountability, or counseling, we must allow our past to become data that tells a story but not become a narrative that defines us.

If you live here, there is no tension in your band, and no matter how noble your gifting, abilities, and ambition, your future will fall flat.

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The Present

By nature, we like control; control makes us feel safe. However, in our attempt to control life, our default is safety: hunkering near the known. What’s known? The past. What matters here is learning to live with ambiguity. Being able to take your next step without seeing the whole plan in Asana or Airtable. Letting go so your future can fly means trusting that as you take each step—increasing the band’s tension, at some point, there will be an opportunity waiting. It’s cliché, but even I need to hear it right now: just start.

The Future

One of the most freeing things here: pray for a mindset shift. (Hey, what do you know, I’m going to paraphrase Craig Groeschel again.) He says that the longer we live on this planet, the easier it is to fall in love with the things of this world. Translation, the older you are, the more difficult it becomes to have a Heavenly mindset—to focus on the promised future. It’s not that worldly pursuit are wrong—we have rent to pay and Cane’s Chicken to buy—but absent of hungering and thirsting for righteousness our loyalties become hijacked by the temporal. Our future may fly but will miss the mark.

In the words of LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow, “Don’t take my word for it.” Understanding the past, present, and future is too large of an undertaking for one article. This is merely a call to think differently about the three and share with others what you discover about your own beliefs about The Hierarchy of Time. To examine your own trajectory—the ambition God placed deep within your heart—keeping your calling from making Mike 6 stopped short.

C.J. Wetzler is the student pastor at The Message Church in Lubbock, Texas. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. He loves to mentor the next generation of leaders and considers himself a fast food connoisseur. For questions or comments, connect with him on social media: @thecjwetzler.