>In signs of times: Pray, Praise, Persevere

>Waking up this morning to news of Japan’s massive earthquake and the resulting tsunami threatening more Pacific Rim countries, I pray for the people in the tsunami’s path.

Prayer is appropriate and necessary in the wake of catastrophe, but sometimes our fears and concerns distort our prayers. We wallow in worry to the point of paralysis. We shouldn’t allow our worries to paralyze us. So I do more than pray. I praise. And I persevere.

How can I praise God in the face of such devastation? Because God is the Almighty and Most High God. He looks on the earth and it trembles, he touches the mountains and they smoke (Psalm 104:32). Earthquakes and tsunamis are small glimpses of God’s great power.

They are also signs of the times. In a private setting, Christ taught his disciples about the end of the age:

“And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Mark 13:7-8).

Global unrest and disasters confirm that we live in the last days, the time between Christ’s first advent and his second, and that every day brings us closer to the final great day of the Lord.

Perhaps the idea of that great day terrifies you. If you don’t believe in Christ, it should! But Christ reassured his disciples that they should “not be alarmed.” Luke quotes him as telling his followers, “Do not be terrified” (21:9). Christ said that catastrophes are only “the beginning of the birth pains.” Just as contractions alert a woman to the approaching birth of her child; these earthly calamities alert believers to the quickly approaching return of our king (see my 9 March 2011 entry).

Jesus used the following analogy to teach his disciples about his second coming as “the Son of Man”:

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matthew 24:32-33).

Earthquakes and tsunamis remind us of God’s incredible power and Christ’s impending return. But we do not fall prey to panic. We also do not prophesy.

Harold Camping of Family Radio proclaims that Christ will return on May 21 of this year. He claims the Bible guarantees it! Apparently he hasn’t read Matthew 24:44, which says, “…the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” or Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, which clearly state that “no one” knows the day or the hour of Christ’s second coming, “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

If Christ said that the angels didn’t know and he himself didn’t know, I doubt that Harold Camping knows. Nevertheless, I sometimes hope that God, in his inscrutable wisdom, would choose a day as soon as May 21; not in order to prove Harold right about anything, but because I ardently long for the day. Living with an increased awareness of Christ’s imminent return also focuses our living on actions with eternal value.

Even though life in these end times can be difficult and its pain overwhelming, I persevere.

I do so because Christ commands it. He said, “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). He also said, “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19).

Many succumb to fear and confusion when confronted with calamitous signs of the times, but not believers. They’ve read the Book and they know how the story ends.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).

When the sea roars and waves strike, nations are perplexed and distressed. People faint with fear and foreboding. But believers need not be bowed down with distress or despair. Christ tells us to “straighten up and raise your heads,” because our “redemption is drawing near.”

Christ encourages us to live watchful, worthy lives as we wait for his appearing:

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).

We must not drown our sorrows in debauchery or bow down in despair over our cares. Both these extremes weigh down our hearts. And both extremes dull our senses to the twinges alerting us to Christ’s return. We must stay alert and pray for the strength to persevere. We don’t persevere in our own strength, but only in God’s. He will enable us to stand.

Because God is in control even of catastrophes that signal Christ’s imminent return, we need not panic or prophesy. We pray, praise, and persevere.

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