"We're living in the end times." My friend's eyes matched her tone: fearful.
"Why do you say so?" I asked.
She listed reason after reason: political crises, world events, cultural climate, devastating hurricanes and wildfires, immorality. It was a list mired in anxiety and dread. Nothing she shared hinted at God's power and promises.
As I listened I couldn't help but hear the 1980s REM song go through my mind: "It’s the end of the world as we know it … and I feel fine." I'm not detached from what is going on in the world, but somehow, even in all this doom and gloom, I am not freaking out. Fortunately, I managed to keep the thought inside.
Do I believe we're living in the end times? Sure, I can pick out newsworthy items from the media and circle a date on my calendar. We do it all the time—the most recent one I heard was a claim that September 23, 2017, was to be our final day on earth. I must admit I considered tossing my diet and gorging on Chicago-style pizza—just in case.
We really should know better. The Bible tells us that no one knows when God will declare an end to the present order of things (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32).
But the Bible is clear on three things we can know for sure:
1. God isn't finished working with us.
Every Christmas the same thing happens—I run out of time. I try to observe daily meditations to prepare for Christ's birth, send Christmas cards, clean and decorate the house, meet friends for brunches, attend every party and seasonal shindig in my community, bake, shop, and … every year I still arrive at Christmas Eve with a list of undone to-dos.
"I need more time!" seems to be my yearly holiday theme.
I think it's God's theme too. God wants to give us more time. The writer of 2 Peter 3:9 says that "the Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins."
And we are reminded of God's motivation in 1 John 3:1: "See how much the Father has loved us! His love is so great that we are called God's children." God is patient so everyone can experience that love and the ability to be called children of God. The Lord isn't rushing us into the end times because God isn't finished wooing and working with us.
2. God won't rush the work of the kingdom.
I'm not a protesting kind of gal, but I respect when others take to the streets to expose injustices. I do cringe, however, when I hear protestors shout, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? NOW!" I want justice now too—but not the way some protestors mean. They want it by any means necessary, even if their own actions are unjust.
The prophet Habakkuk could have been one of those protestors. He saw the injustices around him and questioned why God wasn't doing something about it immediately. “O LORD, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence? Why do you make me see such trouble? How can you stand to look on such wrongdoing?" (Habakkuk 1:2-3a). In other words: "God, get a move on!"
God's response to Habakkuk is the response for us, as well: "It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed" (Habakkuk 2:3b).
In essence God was telling the prophet—and us: "I've got this. I see what's happening and I won't let it go unpunished. But I am working in ways you don't understand. Don't rush the process. Don't be so eager to see my wrath."
God's plans take time to develop and come to fruition, and we need to keep the long view in mind: "God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). When we are tempted to think God has forgotten us and we find ourselves longing for the world to just end already, it's critical to refocus our sights on the greater things of the kingdom: "God's Kingdom is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of the righteousness, peace, and joy which the Holy Spirit gives" (Romans 14:17).
3. God has important work for you and me to accomplish.
Several years ago while at a friend's house, my friend's uncle decided to ask my thoughts on end-times prophecy.
I knew the uncle. He wasn't interested in a discussion. He was angling for an opportunity to lecture me on the ills of society and God's coming judgment. When I didn't take the bait, he taunted me: "Do you even believe in salvation?"
Thinking about this question later, I realized that our call from Jesus is not to endlessly discuss how terrible the world is and when it might end. Jesus wants us to do something about it. He says to pray that the Lord will raise up workers to bring in the harvest (Matthew 9:38), and to make sure we ourselves are ready (Matthew 24:44). We are to focus on the things that matter: imitating God (Ephesians 5:1) and becoming willing partners with God to be the harvest workers the kingdom needs.
We will always have crises and hurricanes and upheaval. If we aren't careful, it is easy to fall prey to end-times fears. But we can take comfort in knowing that even though "heaven and earth will pass away," Christ's "words will never pass away" (Mark 13:31-37). And these are some of those words: "Do not be afraid" (Luke 12:32) and "I will never leave you; I will never abandon you" (Hebrews 13:5).
As we embrace what the Bible says about who God is and who we are in Christ, you and I can rest assured that we will be ready when the end does come. In the meantime, we have an important role in the history of the world, and God will not give up on us. We know who is coming back, so when our Lord returns, let him find us not living in fear but faithfully at work (Mark 13:34).
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