read Matthew 24. When will we get what we want? How much longer will we have to wait? We are wanters, we humans. We want so many things – some of which we’re aware of, some of which we’re not. Our hearts are filled with unfulfilled longings. We want love, joy, peace, and kindness. We want happy children, happy parents, and happy homes. We want our dreams to come true. We want our friends’ dreams to come true. We want health. We want recognition. We want to walk through the day with a spring in our step. We want what every Miss America hopeful wants: world peace. We want an end to global warming. We want no child to be left behind. We want no child to go to sleep hungry. We want an end to sickness, death and disease. We long for injustice to cease. We want not to Occupy Wall Street, but for God to Occupy the World. When will that happen? How much longer will we have to wait? When, Lord? When?
I don’t understand most of Matthew 24, but there’s one thing I do understand. When the disciples ask Jesus: “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?” I think they’re asking the wrong question. It’s like they’re asking for the Raiders of the Lost Ark moment – with lightning and bright lights and the air turning into sizzling molecules and the bad guys withering into skeletons with worms coming out of their eyes. When will we se the sign of the end of the world, they ask.
You’ll know, Jesus tells them. You’ll know when I’m coming back. When I come back, it will be “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” It’s not something you’ll be able to miss. Don’t pay any attention to the imposters, Christ says. Don’t bother running out into the desert after people who claim to be me. If there had been radio then, he might have added: don’t listen to those guys on the radio who claim to have calculated the Second Coming down to the second. “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows,” Jesus said in verse 36. If Jesus didn’t know the hour, no radio preacher can claim to know it either. We’re not to figure it out in advance so we can pack our best shoes, Jesus says. We’re supposed to be ready all the time.
But the readiness Christ is calling us to is not the readiness to be lifted into the heavens with relief while the bad guys are left behind, but the readiness to have the qualities of love, mercy and compassion. The thing that is missing from the disciples’ question is compassion.
The most chilling verse in this entire chapter for me is when Christ says of the time before the Second Coming: “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.” v. 12. What would that look like, to live in a world where love runs cold? If you want the answer, look into your own heart. What does your life like when you feel your own love has run cold? Is it any fun to live a cold hard empty loveless life?
Of course not. But it happens. It happens to all of us. So what’s the solution? How can we revive our hearts? How can we let Christ in – and the streams of living water that He promises will flow from our hearts when we believe in Him?
I was reminded of the answer at the Times Square Church yesterday. Pastor Carter Conlin preached on John 9. The disciples see a man who has been blind from birth. Instead of asking Jesus: “Lord! Look at that poor man! What can we do? How can we help him? How can we heal him? We’ve seen you heal people. Can’t you heal HIM?” they ask: “whose fault is it that this man was born blind – his or his parents?” Jesus answers that he is not blind because of anyone’s sins, but so the power of God could be seen in him. Then Jesus heals him.
Pastor Conlin said that the disciples were asking the wrong question. They were focusing on fault instead of forgiveness: “It’s easier to identify with the judgment of God than his mercy. When we judge others we absolve ourselves of any responsibility to help. Judgment was going to walk by, and mercy stayed and healed. I know the heart of God. The heart of God is mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. We’re called to intercede. We don’t want to see ourselves in the streets railing against anybody, but pleading for mercy. We need to go to God in prayer and say, ‘I want MERCY for my brothers and sisters.'” By the time Pastor Conlin was finished, the 2000 people in the church were on fire. They were weeping. They were praying for their friends, families, acquaintances and enemies. Why? Because judgment kills, but mercy brings us to life. It revives us. It brings us back to our knees. It softens our hearts. Mercy brings us to the place we’ve always wanted to be, without knowing that that’s what we wanted.
When our hearts are soft, we discover that our love is no longer running cold. Instead, our love is running hot and swift and strong. When we lift up the people around us to God in prayer, and ask for mercy for them, we discover an astounding truth. We actually LOVE other people. We really love them. We adore them. We love them so much it hurts. I wonder if it isn’t fear that prevents us from realizing how much we love other people. We’re afraid of being rejected and hurt, and so we pretend that we don’t care – even to ourselves. But when we allow God’s ways back in – and we cry out for mercy not judgment – His love fills our hearts. Our cups runneth over. We cry, but this time they’re tears of love. And those are the sweetest tears of all. Those are the tears that God himself weeps for us, when he sees us reject Him, and He asks that we come to him in prayer and weep for others, and in so doing, we will find everything we’ve ever wanted.
Don’t ask for the sign of when other people are going to be zapped. Seek God’s mercy. Beg him for forgiveness for yourself and others. Bother God. Pester him. Pepper him with prayer. “Not you again,” He’ll say, but He’ll say it fondly, the way a father says it to a child who, yet again, knocks the newspaper out of his arms because she wants his attention.
We’re wanters, because God made us that way. He wants us. We want him. But it takes a heart that is willing to beg for mercy to discover the solution to all that wanting. It’s mercy.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on November 14, 2011