In perilous times like these, is the church powerless to do anything? Are we to sit and wait for Christ to return? Or, are we called to take drastic action of some kind? When all around us the world is trembling, with men’s hearts failing them for fear, are we called to take up spiritual weapons and do battle with the adversary?
The prophet Joel saw a similar day approaching Israel, one of “thick darkness and gloom.” According to Joel, the day of darkness that was approaching Israel would be one such as never seen in their history. The prophet cried, “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty” (Joel 1:15).
What was Joel’s counsel to Israel in that dark hour? He brought this word: “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent” (Joel 2:12-14).
As I read this passage, I am struck by God's words. As gross darkness fell over Israel, God appealed to his people: “Even now, at the hour of my vengeance—when you’ve pushed me out of your society, when mercy seems impossible, when humankind has mocked my warnings, when fear and gloom are covering the land—even now, I urge you to come back to me. I am slow to anger, and I have been known to hold back my judgments for a season, as I did for Josiah. My people can pray and petition for my mercy. But the world won’t repent if you say there is no mercy.”
Do you see God’s message to us in this? As his people, we can plead in prayer and he will hear us. We can make requests of him and know he will answer the sincere, effectual, fervent prayers of his saints.
The prophets warn us that when we see God shaking the nations, and perilous times befall us, our natural man will fear greatly. Ezekiel asked, “Can your heart endure, or can your hands remain strong, in the days when I shall deal with you?” (Ezekiel 22:14).
When God warned Noah of his coming judgments and told him to build an ark, Noah was “moved with fear” (Hebrews 11:7). Even bold, courageous David said, “My flesh trembles for fear of You” (Psalm 119:120). And when the prophet Habakkuk saw disastrous days ahead, he cried out, “When I heard, my body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones; and I trembled in myself” (Habakkuk 3:16).
The fear that came upon these godly men wasn’t a fleshly fear, but a reverential awe of the Lord. These saints weren’t afraid of the enemy of their souls but they did fear God’s righteous judgments. And that’s because they understood the awesome power behind the approaching calamities. They didn’t fear the outcome of the storm, but rather God’s holiness!
Likewise, each of us will experience overwhelming fear in the coming times of destruction and disaster. But our fear must come from a holy reverence for the Lord, and never from a fleshly anxiety about our fate. God despises all sinful fear in us, the fear of losing material things, wealth, our standard of living.
All over the world, people are filled with this kind of fear, as they see their nations’ economies deteriorating. They’re afraid an economic flood will sweep away everything they’ve labored for throughout their lifetime. Such is the cry of unbelievers who have no hope. It ought not to be the cry of the godly. Indeed, if you’re a child of God, your heavenly father will not endure such unbelief in you.
Let God be your fear and awe. That kind of fear leads not to death, but to life!
There is an important lesson to take note of in the story of Noah. The tigers went into the ark and didn’t come back out plant eaters. Their nature did not change by being in the ark. The animals were saved from the flood. That is their lives were preserved for a time, but their natures did not change. They were not transformed. The tiger did not repent of eating other animals; he stayed the way he was.
If you have, at some point in your life, prayed ‘the prayer’ and asked Jesus to come into your heart but nothing has changed, that may have been a prayer based out of religious emotions, not sincere repentance.
I’ve been to Broadway shows that so moved my heart that I was in the theater crying. Let’s say they had given an altar call: “If you want to see a change in your romantic life like you just saw in this play, step forward and you can have a better relationship with your girlfriend, boyfriend or wife!” I might have gone forward and had someone tell me how to do it better.
Those kinds of emotions are based off of external events, and they can be good, but they’re rarely lasting. Sometimes we do the same thing with God, and the best way to tell whether or not this has happened is if we see real change in our hearts and lives.
When we come to Christ, we should be given a whole new nature. The Bible states, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14, ESV). God transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
When we come into Christ, there should be some changes. We should start to feel different, act different and respond differently. A life genuinely following God is always transformed.
C.S. Lewis wrote these words: “Forgiveness is a lovely idea until you have to forgive someone.” Nothing could be truer, right?
Corrie ten Boom has one of the most amazing stories about forgiveness. Her book The Hiding Place is about how her family housed Jews running from the Nazis in Amsterdam. The Nazis eventually caught up with them and put her whole family in the concentration camps. Every one of them died, except Corrie. She went on for 30 more years to preach the gospel.
One day, Corrie said, she was preaching in Munich, Germany decades after the days of the concentration camp. At the church where she was preaching, she saw a familiar face. It was a guard who had routinely mocked her and put her in a shower nearly every day, pretending that he was going to exterminate her, and who was responsible for her sister Betsie’s death. He was sitting there in front of her.
Now, suddenly, forgiveness is not so lovely of an idea, is it?
She recognized the guard, but he didn’t recognize her. After the service, the ex-guard came up and said, “Fraulein, I heard you mention Ravensbrück. I was a guard there. But since those days, I've become a Christian. I know that God forgives me, but would you forgive me?”
She said, “I stood there paralyzed. This man was a monster. He’d killed my family, and he’d killed my sister.” She said that as she sat there, this was her prayer: “Forgive me, Father, for the inability to forgive.” Then she said that the power of the Holy Spirit surged through her. She felt her hand go out, clasp his and heard herself say to this man, "You are forgiven."
Later, she said, "That day, not only was the man set free, but I was set free.”
When you forgive, you're not changing the past, but you are changing your own future. This is what the gospel is all about. That's the glory of what we believe; the way Christianity conquers its enemies is by forgiving its enemies.
“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:11-13, ESV).
After pastoring an inner-city congregation in Detroit for thirty years, Pastor Tim served at Brooklyn Tabernacle in NYC for five years and pastored in Lafayette, Louisiana, for five years. He became Senior Pastor of Times Square Church in May of 2020.
Here is the cry of the apostle John in the Bible’s final book: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, NKJV). It may seem strange that would John pray for this, though, knowing that Jesus himself told his followers, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14)? Can we have any impact on when Jesus returns?
When was the last time you prayed, “Lord Jesus, come quickly, come soon”? Personally, I can’t remember praying this prayer. I never knew I could hasten Christ’s coming by allowing myself to long for this and pray these words.
Yet Peter gives us proof of this incredible truth: “Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?” (2 Peter 3:12). In Greek, the phrase “hasting…the coming of (that) day” means “to speed up, to urge on.” Peter says our expectant prayers are hastening, speeding up, urging the Father to send back his Son quickly.
The Lord’s merciful patience dictates the timing of his return. So, does this mean we shouldn’t pray for his coming? Not at all. Christ himself tells us, “For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days” (Mark 13:19-20). Imagine what might happen if, all over the world, Christ’s bride were to wake up and pray in the Spirit, “Jesus, come.”
So, where do we hear this cry of the Spirit today? It comes through those who live and walk in the Spirit, their bodies the temple of the Holy Ghost, who are filled with a longing to be with the Lord. The Spirit cries in and through them, “Hasten, Lord, come.”