“I’m in a mess. What do I do?”

I was in a mess, drained, riddled with worry and hopelessly confused. As a Christian. But why? I thought I’d been doing what Christians are supposed to do.

I’d taken my responsibilities seriously, studied my Bible ’til my eyes ached, prayed even when I didn’t have anything to say, said “yes” to any request from someone in need, listened for hours to people pouring out their problems, driven through horrendous weather to fulfill my duties, given up many pleasures and hobbies, delved deeply into controversial issues that Christians have wrestled with for centuries, tried to keep up with all the latest trends in Christianity, furiously defended my congregations from weird ideas, bought hundreds of books to make sure I was on the right track, worried through many a night about keeping up with all my obligations, and so on.

A commendable life of dedication and diligence, you say? But from where I sat, I was a mess. I became so stressed out, physically and mentally, I ended up in hospital six times thinking I was having a heart attack. The symptoms were frightening and very real, to the point I was afraid to even go for a walk outside (fearful I might not make it back). It wasn’t my heart, though, it was stress – but stress so bad that my Doctor told me I could lose everything I held dear if I let it continue much longer. I was, to be blunt, digging my own grave as fast as I could shovel.

So I had to do something, and fast, but what? Go on a strict regime of not worrying anymore? Make a New Year’s resolution to ease up on myself? Take a 3 month stress leave? Go on anti-depressants? Get psychiatric counselling? Get a hobby that might, at least, turn off the worry switch in my head for a few blissful hours? Pray more? Get out and about more, and do normal things with normal people? Stop being so conscientious and delegate more? But I am who I am – and you don’t change a leopard’s spots overnight, either, so now what?

Well, I’m not the first Christian to be “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure.” Paul was too, 2 Corinthians 1:8. He “despaired even of life,” it got so bad. He “felt the sentence of death.” He simply couldn’t handle any more. “But it happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead,” verse 9. Is that why God lets us sink so low, then, and lets us reach the point we’ve had it? So that, at last, we realize Christianity is all his doing, and not ours?


Those who endure to the end will be saved

The King James Version of Matthew 24:13 says, “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” So, does that mean our eternal salvation depends on our endurance, or that salvation only happens after we’ve endured, and that it’s possible for us to lose our salvation if we don’t endure?

But in context, what does “saved” mean in this verse? Does it mean saved from eternal death, or saved from hell? Is “saved” here an eternal life and death issue, deciding our fate forever? Is that the salvation Jesus is talking about?

No, it isn’t. In context he’s talking about being saved from the dangers that Christians face as conditions in their world get worse. The dangers are many, verses 4-12 – natural disasters, violence, attention-grabbers predicting the date of the end, preachers pushing their own version of Jesus, worldwide persecution and murder of Christians, and a world where it’s every man for himself. The strain of it all will test even the stoutest heart. We can survive it all, though, Jesus says; it’s possible. So stand firm, because those who stand their ground will make it through, no matter what this insane world throws at us.

But Jesus also warns us in Luke 21:34, to “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” As the world goes down the tubes we can go down with it and resort to ITS ways of dealing with stress, rather than the world’s worsening troubles being a source of hope for us that “your redemption is drawing near,” verse 28. The worse it gets, the sooner it will be over. “When you see these things happening you know that the kingdom of God is near,” verse 31, and the restoration of everything under Christ will begin (Acts 3:21).

So stand firm, because it’s all going to be over and done with one day, once and for all. And those who do stand firm can make it through with their trust in Christ intact. It really is possible, no matter how bad the world becomes. So don’t even “be afraid of what you are about to suffer,” John writes in Revelation 2:10, because as Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you wil have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” and with his help so can we, Hebrews 13:6. Because “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

That’s right: What can the world do to us that Christ can’t deal with? So stand firm; HE will get us through.

Does God decide the day we die?

Some Christians believe that God decides how long we live, and we can’t change it. Our lives belong to God, they say, so we are totally subject to his will. If he wills the day we die, then so be it, our days are numbered according to however many days God wills for us.

To other Christians, however, the idea that God decides the day we die creates all kinds of problems and neuroses. It’s scary, for a start, knowing we could drop dead at any second for no other reason than “God decided it.” It could make us careless too, because what’s the point of looking after ourselves and making right choices if our actions and choices don’t have any effect on how and when we die? If tomorrow we die only because God decided it and not because of anything we do, then we might as well eat, drink and be merry. We can do whatever we like because there aren’t any consequences, and that surely can’t be right.

So, what really decides the day we die? Is it God or us? Does God simply allot a fixed number of days for us to live, or does he adjust the time of our death according to our choices and actions? If a Christian decides to fight in a war, for instance, and he’s killed, is that because God willed it to happen or because he allows us the freedom to choose? Does God base our death on the consequences of our actions, or on some predetermined plan of his?

Well, in Scripture, the day we die is a total non-issue, because we’re already dead. “For you died,” Paul writes in Colossians 3:3. And when did that happen? We “died with Christ,” Romans 6:8. “Don’t you know,” verse 3, “that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” When Christ died, we died. But God then “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms,” Ephesians 2:6, so not only are we already dead, we’ve also been raised from the dead too, and right now our lives are “hidden with Christ in God,” Colossians 3:3.

When it dawned on Paul that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live,” Galatians 2:20, it got his mind off death entirely. And when he realized that Christ was now living HIS life in him, then death really did become a non-issue because Christ never dies. Instead of worrying about how and when he was going to die, then, Paul could concentrate on this new life he’d been given that would last and grow forever.

Can we predict when the end is near?

When it comes to predicting “the end”:

1) The state of Israel today tells us nothing about when “the last days” are. In Romans 11:25, Paul writes, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in.” In other words, what happens to Israel is not what’s important at this time. God’s timing, according to Paul, is determined entirely by the “full number of Gentiles” coming in, and who knows when God decides that’s been done? Israel, meanwhile, remains in its dormant state until God’s done his job on the Gentiles.

2) The book of Revelation was not written to enable us to predict the end. It was written for Christians in the first few centuries who were facing horrific persecution. The book was written primarily to encourage them, telling them in apocalyptic terms they understood that Jesus is in total control and God will get them through whatever is thrown at them.

3) The prophecies of Matthew 24 and Luke 21 are not “signs” for us today. They’re aimed primarily at the Jews in Jesus’ day who are about to face the horrors of the Romans in the terrible destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

4) Knowing the state of our present world can help us prepare for tough times, but world conditions do not determine when the end is near.

Anyone who’s ever used Scripture, Israel or world conditions to predict the time of the end – or warn people that the end is near, or tell people they need to straighten out their lives because the end is near – has ended up with egg on his face. The end has never come on any date that anyone has predicted. But Jesus did say in Matthew 24:36 that “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” His parting words in Acts 1:7 were: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” In other words, none of us humans can know when the end is, and to say that we do know is to take the Father’s authority to ourselves.

The focus of Scripture is not to provide us with clues to pinpoint when the end is close. Its focus is on what Jesus has done for us and all humanity through the cross and his resurrection, because that’s what prepares us best for the end of time – whenever it happens.

Are we in the end-time?

Lots of scriptures talk about “the end,” but it’s verses like 1 Peter 4:7 (” the end is at hand”), Matthew 24:14 (“then the end will come”) and Romans 13:11 (“now is our salvation nearer”) that have stirred Christians since the early years to wondering “Are we in the end-time?” – meaning, is God about to wrap things up soon, especially in the state our world is in today, because if we get into a war over resources, or a world war over anything, what would be left of us?

“A good war might be just what we need, though,” a young man told me, “it would knock the population down and give us breathing space for a while.” I can’t blame him for thinking that way because he’s got a lot of life to live yet, and it doesn’t look good for him the way things are. That being the case, wouldn’t it be better, then, if God did wrap things up soon, got this agony over with, cleaned out the lunatics and started again with Christ in charge? God could certainly do that, so what’s he waiting for?

But “bear in mind,” Peter writes, “that our Lord’s patience means salvation,” 2 Peter 3:15. God’s focus is on saving people, not getting rid of them. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” verse 9. God’s taking whatever time it needs to grow us for eternity.

For how long, though? It can’t last much longer, surely, because look at the mess we’re in. But, Peter replies, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness,” verse 9. God’s definition of slow has nothing to do with time. It has everything to do with “keeping his promise.” And what is that promise? To make a “home of righteousness” for us, verse 13. He’s building a world for us that won’t have the problems our world has. How? By transforming us. By making human beings “spotless, blameless and at peace with him,” verse 14. Think what the Earth would be like if everyone was like that. Well, that’s exactly what God is patiently putting together for us, so we’ll have a home that will last us forever.

And he’s not being slow about it, either. According to Peter, God’s smack on target because he keeps his promises. That perfect home we all hope for one day is in the works. In which case, Peter continues, rather than wondering when the end is going to happen, live in a way we can look forward to it coming at any time, verse 14.