Disaster is coming…?
We’ve all heard the prophecies – it can be an earthquake, a storm, an economic collapse, riots in the cities, military attacks.
In more than forty years of Christian living, I can think of few seasons when there wasn’t a disaster prophecy floating around. Few came to pass, less than five percent.
There were always a few people who were in an emotional uproar about it, letting the predictions disrupt their lives. Others simply ignored the prophecies, expecting them to blow over.
Whether today’s prophets get it right or not, we need to face the fact that Jesus gave disaster prophecies. Read Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 21; then read the book of Revelation. Violent upheavals are sure to strike the earth, especially as we near the end.
But we also need to look to the words of Jesus to put disaster prophecies in context. He identifies a middle-of-the-road response, with a ditch on either side.
On one side is the ditch of skepticism – we ignore the words because so many have not come to pass, or because we don’t believe a loving God will allow bad things to happen in the earth, or simply because we find the words unbearable to think about.
On the other side is the ditch of panic – we make extraordinary survival preparations, or we look for a safe place to live in the wilderness, or we lose sleep and develop stress-related illnesses for fear of what might happen.
There is a highway of holiness between these ditches, and we need to stay on the pavement. This is what Jesus calls us to.
Respond With Courage
Prophets may foretell riots in New York City or hurricanes in the gulf region or earthquakes in California. It may be a matter of life and death for many.
But what exactly can you do if you hear prophecies about these things? Should you move? Not unless God tells you to. God wants faithful witnesses and strong churches in America’s cities, along the gulf coast, and in California. If God has put you there, He is not calling you to panic or to take extraordinary measures for survival; He is calling you to prepare yourself to keep walking with Him even if upheaval comes.
I was in Israel for a 50-hour prayer meeting just before the Gulf War began. Every Israeli citizen had a government-issue gas mask. They expected the US to attack Iraq, and then they expected scuds from Iraq to hit Israel.
I had time to get acquainted with one of the men in the church there. During a break we went out for a walk, and he was witty and lighthearted. He told about the years he had lived in the US, working as a shoe salesman. Finally I felt I knew him well enough to ask:
“I’m sure you’ve thought about the possibility that a missile could take your life at any moment. And yet, it must have crossed your mind that you could move back to the US and avoid all this danger…?”
His face changed immediately, and a steely look came into his eye. “I can speak not just for myself, but for every-one in my church. This is where God has put us, and live or die, this is where we will be.”
May God put this same steel into every one of us, a determination to be where He places us and to fulfill our mission there unflinchingly.
Let God Strengthen You
John the apostle is the one who penned the great words, “God is love.” John also gave us the book of Revelation, the ultimate in disaster prophecies.
The only person I can think of who better knew the love of God is Jesus Himself. He too gave disaster prophecies; the main one is in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
God loves us, but He has not promised to coddle us. If anything, we see from scripture that He often allows His chosen ones to go through extraordinary times of trouble. For Joseph, it was slavery and then imprisonment. For Moses, it was forty years of exile. For David, it was a season of fleeing from Saul, who wanted to take his life. For Saul the apostle, it was years of obscurity before he stepped into his calling.
Soft times produce soft people. If we should live in times when God pours His judgments on the earth, it is because He has chosen to make us into an extraordinary people. There is a side of God’s faithfulness that we can’t see until we get into a predicament where we can’t possibly save ourselves.
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but God delivers them out of them all.” David knew firsthand that this is what God’s love looks like in hard places; he penned these words hours after his escape from death at the hand of the King of Gath. When times were tough, he found God unfailingly faithful.
Stay In Covenant
God is like a landscape painter. With a large brush He paints cities, regions, and nations. With a small brush He paints the details of your life and mine. The big brush may paint in tones of judgment and disaster; the small brush meanwhile can paint in contrasting tones of mercy, faithfulness, and love.
Read Psalm 136. Every verse ends with the line, “For His mercy endures forever.” But some of the other words in this Psalm are fearful indeed: He struck Egypt in their firstborn, He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the sea, He struck down kings. Yet while all this was happening, verses 23 and 24 say He remembered us in our lowly state and rescued us from our enemies.
The way to prepare for disasters is to develop a relationship with God that is so intimate that when He must paint the nations with the dark tones of judgment, He will carefully get out the small brush and paint our lives in shining tones of glory. God is love, and He is looking for people in whom He can display His faithfulness.
The same waters that drowned Noah’s generation lifted the ark he had built because God had warned him. The same angel that brought death to the firstborn of Egypt respected the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the households of Israel. The same God who brought drought through the prophecies of Elijah sent a raven to feed him, then later sent him to receive miraculous provision in the home of the widow in Zarephath.
Psalm 91 tells of a secret place of the Most High, a place where anyone can live in God’s faithfulness even in the darkest of times. How do we get into it? Jesus said of Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered you under my wings.” He wants to gather us into His secret place. Humbly believe in His blood covenant. Cultivate an ear to hear His voice, and a heart to obey. Stay in first-love.
Let Your Light Shine
During the passion-week, Jesus spoke several things about disasters. Right after what we call Palm Sunday, He wept over Jerusalem and said He had wanted to bring them under His wing. A few days later He spoke the prophecies of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.
Look through those three chapters to see what He commands us to do in those scary times. “Look up…let not your heart be troubled…possess your souls.”
But Matthew appends three parables at the end of Jesus’ long disaster prophecy, and they fill the next chapter of his Gospel. The parable of the ten virgins tells us to keep a ready supply of oil; in other words, get in the habit of making small spiritual transactions daily so your lamps will keep burning brightly. The parable of the talents tells us to invest our gifts, bringing increase for His kingdom. The parable of the sheep and the goats tells us where to invest: in needy people.
This means that in times of upheaval, God is calling us to let our light shine and to do all we can to pour His grace into people all round us.
But a few other chapters carry key strategic thoughts that will help us walk through troubled times: John 14-16. This was the teaching Jesus gave hours before His crucifixion, a time of upheaval for all the disciples. He gave them keys that would empower them to live through those troubled times: to keep their hearts untroubled and unafraid, to pray, to get to know the Holy Spirit, to act on His words. The themes of these chapters give us the spiritual ingredients we need in times of upheaval. Hearing His word and doing it, a relationship with the Holy Spirit, a life of abiding in the Vine – He tells us how to bear fruit even in the worst of times. And church history shows that those who have leaned on Him have had victorious testimonies, no matter how dark the season they lived in.
Expect To Bear Fruit
We didn’t choose to live in the season we are in. In spite of the challenges we are now facing, we still have a lot to be thankful for. Things may get better or they may get worse, but either way God is faithful.
Jesus said in John 15:16 that we didn’t choose Him; He has chosen us and ordained us to bear fruit. Though the institutions around us are shaken, our fruitfulness will not be shaken.
Perhaps you were planning a season of mission work when you retired, but falling stock prices and failing financial institutions have swallowed your retirement fund. Obviously, things aren’t working out as you had planned. But keep abiding in Him. He will make sure your life bears fruit.
How should we respond to disaster prophecies? With faith, hope, and love. Everything in the world is shakable, but faith, hope, and love never fail.