“If we know something is coming, and we know that it really matters, we will take practical steps to prepare.”
There are many things I look forward to at the start of each calendar year. My plans for this year include trips to many events and settings, all of which I will begin to anticipate months in advance.
This spring I plan to be in Jerusalem, along with thousands of Christians from around the globe, to participate in Pentecost 2015. Come join us! With the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games coming to Toronto in July and August, I will have the opportunity to serve as the co-ordinator for the Faith Centre in the Athletes’ Village. And at the beginning of the Games, Susan and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Yes, there is a lot to look forward to in 2015.
As we move through the seasons, we tend to live from anticipated event to anticipated event. Anticipation surrounding Christmas is replaced by anticipation of a holiday in the sun. Then we look forward to spring and summer breaks and activities. Throw in a family wedding or reunion, add a long-awaited visit with close friends and a favourite camp or conference, and a year flies by fast. We’re left with joyful memories, a few disappointments and, often, a stretched budget.
There is, however, an entirely different type of anticipation for those of us who are citizens of the kingdom of God. While we look forward to the events of the upcoming year, the greatest event we are to anticipate is one for which we do not even know the date. The awaited return of Jesus, which is our greatest hope and expectation, requires an entirely different kind of anticipation than any of the coming events of 2015.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us to “keep watch” for His coming and warns us of the serious consequences of not being ready for His arrival (Matthew 25:1-13). He also tells us that our watchfulness must be exercised with diligence, both in our ongoing stewardship of what God has given us and in our continued service to those He calls us to care for (Matthew 25:14-46). Our anticipation of Jesus’ imminent return is not a motive for a doomsday attitude or for living an isolated life. On the contrary, a sound awareness of Jesus’ imminent return will generate a Christ-like character and lifestyle (1 John 3:2,3).
So we come to a critical point. We may affirm the theology, but how many of us actually live in anticipation of Jesus’ soon return? Ask yourself, How long has it been since I gave this future event any thought? Days? Weeks? Months?
I’ve learned that to live in anticipation of Christ’s return requires spiritual discipline. It’s like preparing for an important event in our lives that has no set date. If we know something is coming, and we know that it really matters, we will take practical steps to prepare.
I know that someday, barring Jesus’ return, I will move into some form of retirement. (That day seems a lot closer now than it did a few years ago!) I have been preparing for that event for almost 40 years. In fact, every pay period I am reminded that we—Susan, the PAOC, the government and I—are doing what we can to be ready for that day. As I anticipate the reality of my coming retirement, I keep updated on relevant factors such as the cost of living, housing prices and market conditions. I live every day, at least to some degree, in the light of that future event.
Similarly, and far more importantly, we need to keep the reality of Jesus’ return fresh in our hearts and minds. We do not know the day, but we do know the promise. My suggestion is that we build into our lives reminders of the promise of His coming. Like making a regular pension fund payment, turn a certain activity into an opportunity to reflect on His soon return. Every bill payment or grocery store trip can remind us to weigh the difference between things that are temporal and things that are eternal. Hearing news of wars, famine, decadence and spiritual decline can prompt us to be diligent in our walk with God, to keep watch and pray.
My great concern is that if we do nothing to awaken our anticipation of Jesus’ return, we will end up like the foolish people in Matthew 25 who were left only with their excuses—not the presence of the groom. Our gracious Lord, we remember the promise of Your coming. By Your Spirit align our hearts and minds in a posture of anticipation—watching and praying—until You appear. Forgive us for our inattention and lead us into a fresh season of anticipation and living that honours You. For Your glory. Amen.