Heeding the signs of the times

When the smoke detector goes off, what do you do? 

How about the fire alarm in a commercial building? 

What about a tornado siren blaring on a seemingly clear day?

Do you heed warning lights and signs? 

One woman shared her survival story after ignoring the mandatory evacuation orders during Hurricane Ian, and swimming to safety “with her three-month-old son tucked inside a plastic storage bin.”

Here’s what she had to say about the experience: ”I will never stay again. I will absolutely evacuate. I don’t care if it’s a category 1, I’m not staying ever again for a hurricane. I never want to experience that again.”

How many lives are lost when people do not heed the warnings to evacuate in advance of a coming storm or seek shelter from the stormy blast?  How do you respond when warnings blare? 

When compared with ages past, we have far superior predictive methods and technologies today giving people real lead time prior to the arrival of natural disasters. People can be warned to head for higher ground in advance of rising waters or underground before a tornado hits. 

Effective early warning systems save lives from natural disasters. But what about the challenges facing us individually and culturally that go beyond the weather? How good are we at reading the signs of the times to prepare for what’s coming? 

The religious leaders of the day came to Jesus demanding a sign from heaven. But they came, not as seekers in good faith, but to test Him. The truth was, they had failed to see the signs of the times in which they were living— Christ’s first coming.

Jesus openly chided their prideful ignorance, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:2-3). 

But Jesus does not want us to be caught unaware about the future. Here is what He says in Matthew 24 about what’s coming: 

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.  Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Matthew 24:6-14

With that in mind, we turn to the headlines on any given day and seek to see the signs of the times in which we now live. 

We know that no matter what, today we live one day closer to the return of Christ than we did yesterday. But we do not know exactly the time of His return. 

In terms of physics, this is referred to as the reality of location. You cannot escape it or transcend it. You are where you are right now in relation to everything and everyone else. You live in relation to the future promises of God and all that God has revealed in terms of what will happen, but until those things come to pass, the world will not “realize” their reality. 

So, how do we live as people who know what the future holds in terms of all that God has said will happen (biblical prophecies) and yet keep on living fully in the present as agents of grace filled with hope? 

Therein lies what Paul calls the secret of being content and operating in the mind of Christ in relation to all the matters of the day. 

First, pray. With an eye toward the end, the Church is instructed to pray continually and to rejoice and give thanks always (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Prayer and contentment go hand-in-hand. No matter the environment or circumstance, we can’t help but be filled with gratitude when we are consistent in prayer.

Second, look for where God is moving and join Him. The godly response to the signs of the times is not a retreat from life, but the opposite— do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) There are Christians who are mobilized today on every front. Ask God to lead you to the specific place or people group or concern where He has prepared in advance good works for you to do.  

Third, speak the truth and let your light shine that some might yet repent and be reconciled to God. Yes, that will be costly.  God tells us that we will pay an escalating price to declare unpopular Truth. Jesus predicted: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). That provides an opportunity to bear positive witness to those who oppose us mindful that they are not our enemies. Paul makes clear that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,” we should not be surprised when they reject “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So, the god of this age is our enemy, but not the people who are his captives. 

We live in a way that bears witness to the hope we have in Christ. The future may feel unknown and uncertain but it is not.

So, how do you read the signs of the times when you hear about wars, famine, nuclear threats, predictions of climate catastrophe, deep cultural erosion and moral decay?

We live in a way that bears witness to the hope we have in Christ. The future may feel unknown and uncertain but it is not. Jesus has told us what will happen and we can trust His Word. We pray because God’s promises are true. We join God in His redemptive work because we live in freedom and not despair. And we speak the truth of the gospel to those around us because it is the best thing we have to offer to a broken world.

Today is certainly one day closer to the end than yesterday. Which means that no matter how many days there are between now and “the End,” let us live as if there’s no tomorrow in terms of our prayers and compassionate love.  

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash