“How Then Shall We Wait?”
Patient endurance and the Second Coming
It had been a stirring Week of Prayer at one of our Adventist colleges. The pastor had preached on end-time events: Jesus was coming soon! In fact, so soon that some parents had to field phone calls from their college offspring along the following lines:
Daughter: “Dad, Jesus is coming back soon. The signs of His coming are fulfilled. It’s just around the corner. I think I should drop out of my degree program and start knocking on doors.”
Father: “Well, I am so glad that you are enjoying this Week of Prayer. Why would you want to drop everything right now?”
Daughter: “But Dad, this is urgent. We cannot just go on like before. Jesus is coming back.”
Father: “I am so thrilled to hear you talk like this. However, would you not be able to serve Jesus better when you finish your education degree? Can you think of creative ways of sharing Jesus—even while you are studying?”
Planted solidly in the cities and byways of this world, they represent Jesus’ hands and feet and are committed to serving “the least of these.”
We often struggle when we have to wait. “When will I earn my first real paycheck?” ask college students as they enter their senior year. “When will Christmas come at last?” children inquire impatiently. “When will I get better?” wonder those suffering from a chronic disease. “Patience is a virtue” goes a saying, and virtues, it seems, are out of fashion. We live in a world of instant gratification.
Abraham and Sarah had to wait—25 years, to be precise (Gen. 12:4; 21:5). Waiting did not always come easy. In fact, Ishmael’s birth, 11 years after God’s initial promise, seems to have been a detour that caused much pain for all involved. Yet Abraham and Sarah waited and waited, and continued to settle in the land that God had promised to give them. Like many others following them, they lived by faith (Heb. 11:8-12) and trusted God to come through.
He did. And He will do it again on that great day when He finally appears in the clouds of heaven. Revelation 14:12 tells us about the characteristics of God’s end-time people. We know about the faith of Jesus and keeping the commandments. We do struggle, however, with the “patient endurance” (verse 12; cf. Rev. 13:10) that is part of the core essentials of this group. They are faithful; they understand about God’s end-time timetable; they believe in God’s prophetic gift; yet their most urgently needed trait, coloring everything else, is patient endurance.
Patience and endurance are intimately linked to faith in Revelation 13:10. Those who discern evil and resist the charms of the beast and its stand-ins are patient and will endure. They will not compromise; yet they will also not hide in monasteries and remote wilderness regions. Planted solidly in the cities and byways of this world, they represent Jesus’ hands and feet and are committed to serving “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40).
Jesus includes a thought-provoking story in His end-time sermons. Describing a royal judgment scene, He locates a group of sheep on the right and a group of goats on the left of a royal throne room (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). Clearly Jesus did not want to speak about animal husbandry or the characteristics of sheep or goats. In Jesus’ story the King, speaking to the righteous on His right, commends them for feeding Him when He was hungry; for providing cool water when He was thirsty; for visiting Him; for clothing Him; for inviting Him. Jesus sketches the picture so masterfully that as readers we can nearly see the sheepish look on the face of the righteous. “Lord, when did we see you hungry?” (verse 37), they reply. Then the King will answer: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (verse 40).
End-time waiting is active waiting. It involves serving those who are needy and associating with outcasts. It calls us to step out of our comfort zones and embrace people we normally would not embrace. Whether in a center of influence in a secular and poor inner city, or in a small and ill-equipped medical clinic in rural Africa; whether in the boardroom of a highly sophisticated educational institution offering Ph.D.s and master’s degrees or in the backwoods of the countryside, God wants His people to show the world what it means to really wait for His coming.
“We are waiting and watching for the grand and awful scene which will close up this earth’s history,” writes Ellen White. “But we are not simply to be waiting; we are to be vigilantly working with reference to this solemn event. The living church of God will be waiting, watching, and working. None are to stand in a neutral position. All are to represent Christ in active, earnest effort to save perishing souls.”*
Here is another element of patient end-time endurance: Waiting for the Master to come and take us home is not relying on ringing alarm bells. People around us don’t need fever-pitch excitement and rumors of eye-popping conspiracies. Scripture confirms the existence of satanic powers bent on deceiving—even the elect (Matt. 24:24). Persecution, misinformation, distortion, fanaticism, and manipulation are—and have always been—handy tools in the toolbox of God’s archenemy.
Yet, Jesus’ focus in His end-time sermons is upon service and mission. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (verse 14). How encouraging to know that Jesus cannot be surprised.
Planting a Garden
Every day a bus driver had to wait seven minutes at the end of his route in the ugly part of town. Waiting to start his tour again, he noticed an empty lot full of garbage. Plastic bags and junk lay scattered all around. Day in and day out the bus driver looked at the run-down place. Then one day he made a decision. Something had to be done about this ugly sight. He got out of his bus and started filling a big garbage bag with debris. Seven minutes later he was on his way again. This became his daily routine. He would stop, get out of the bus, and start cleaning.
People in the area noticed the change. Once all the garbage and dirt had been removed, the bus driver brought flower seeds and bags of earth to the lot. He began to plant a garden. People who read about this in the newspaper started to take the bus to the final stop. Some would help the bus driver as he planted and cared for his garden. Others would just enjoy the beautiful sight. Seven minutes every day were enough to change and inspire an entire community.
Waiting can be disconcerting and demoralizing; it challenges us to the core.
Yet in the midst of our waiting, God wants to give us the patient endurance of His end-time saints. As we wait, we are called to quietly search our hearts, then get to work. Yes, Jesus is coming back soon. Yes, He is looking for a people whose hearts and minds are totally committed. But while we wait, let’s serve Him where we are—with all our heart, our soul, and our strength (Deut. 6:5).