Wide awake—be ready
This morning I was reading Matthew 24. One of our number has been teaching about things like spiritual warfare and eschatology, subjects about which I have not had much teaching and it is great to learn, and these are important.
But I have also found that all these things in the Bible also have important applications for our lives here and now in the fleshly existence as well as the lessons for the future and the spiritual existence. I personally believe both realities are playing out at the same time, though I do not understand exactly how.
One day, I believe it was August 10, 2010, I was at a morning retreat at my church. I had just been elected to sit on Session and ordained an elder. It is a medium sized Presbyterian church. I was filled with enthusiasm to work on the projects of building and growing the church organization. (I those days I did not perceive a difference between the organization, the building and the Ekklesia; or the saved, the seekers and the curious.)
At noon, when we were adjourning, I was hit with a pain in the right side of my back just below the ribs, and it was steadily increasing and so much so that when I reached the hospital on the way home, I stopped and went in and was barely able to stand. The next two weeks were beyond painful, and it is all described in I, Witness and I won’t repeat all of it here. Suffice it to say, my right kidney was destroyed by a blood clot and I was put into stage III renal failure, restricted diet, numerous medications and many other issues. I was off work for eight weeks and was afraid for my life. I still had kids in high school and didn’t have enough savings to care for them and my wife if I were permanently disabled.
Before all this I was advancing at work, in the church, in my life as I saw it. I had big plans. I was overweight but otherwise reasonably fit, and I had increasing courtroom skills, and was feeling very good about my future with my company.
Suddenly, I was worried about having to go on dialysis, needing a transplant, providing for the family.
This past year the world was looking pretty good. Regardless of politics, the situation of the economy and jobs as measured by homeless people being able to get a decent paying job and an apartment they could afford was much improved over previous years. And reported statistics were that unemployment among all races and categories was all-time low. Then – seemingly out of nowhere – coronavirus threw millions of people out of work, forced businesses to close, and killed many people, and you couldn’t buy toilet paper anyplace.
Once more fear and panic gripped the people and they forgot their Christian teaching and acted foolishly. I had to wait six weeks to get back to my work at the shelter, because they were not allowing unpaid volunteers to work. You know all too well the sequelae of these events. Business failures, unemployment, and hard times for all. Personally, added to all these, a new diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma to go along with my long-term issue of prostate cancer.
The point is obvious. We are never ready for what comes next. We don’t know what is coming and we don’t know when it will come. Wars, rumors of war, fire, flood, pestilence, plague, earthquake, tsunami – all are possible any time, any moment any day.
We will be tested, shaken. The issue is never about the test; it is always about our response. And how can we be prepared, if we don’t know what the test is going to be? Emergency food packs? First aide kit? Those may be helpful but the thing we need is a plan.
So, as soon as we are not running for our lives; or as soon as the bleeding is stopped, the first place we should be is on our knees. “Lord, if this is a test, show me the way…” Let God ease the panic and soothe the spirit. Ask for strength, ask for courage, ask for guidance. Ask for a chance to serve.
Forty years ago, when I was a nurse, we had disaster trainings. We learned that as soon as practicable, we who were able should contact the hospital and find out if we were needed and come if we were needed to help with our own units, or with emergency care, or triage, or evacuation—whatever needed to be done. Realizing that some had a first duty to be sure their children or elderly parents were safe, the rest would be headed in to do whatever we could for the people who would need us.
This is one of those things that must be thought about beforehand, in prayer and contemplation. I can’t just shelter in place if there are those who need me (unless it is determined that this is what the first responders need most). If nothing else, we could contact our neighbors and make sure they are ok, and if they need anything; even open our home to people (even to strangers) and provide shelter and food for them. Calm those who are frightened, feed the hungry, all the things a Christian should do. With cheerfulness and grace, put others first, ourselves last.
Having these things arranged in our minds ahead of time means we do not jump in the pickup truck and run to get everything from the store so that there is nothing for the next person. We do not fill up three carts with toilet paper. We do not attempt to profit by hoarding and selling. Instead, we take the opportunity to unselfishly serve. To give away our excess and if there is opportunity, to work day and night, happy in the knowledge that this is what the Lord wants.
I have never claimed to be a scholar or theologian, but of these things I am certain. We don’t know what happens next or when; therefore we must be ready. And if it is Christ coming in glory, great. But if it is death of people we love, if it is cancer, if it is natural disaster or oppression and persecution, we must accept it and deal with it as Christians. Above all do not panic and do as the unregenerate do. There are blessings in every challenge. There are rewards in the cost.
And remember, everything in the physical world goes as the foot of the cross. It is just a matter of when. And that we never know. Our plans are not God’s plans. The future we imagine is a fantasy. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Be ready for anything. Expect the unexpected and you wont be disappointed. Personal tragedies and natural disaster and political upheavals are all part of God’s plan. We ARE able to cope if we invoke the help of the Holy Spirit. If we act as saved people, we will not be ashamed in that hour. Amen.