“Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning — lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” — Mark 13:33-37
Toward the end of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus has made clear to them that, when they get there, He will be tortured and killed for the sins of mankind, and will then be resurrected three days later victorious over death. The disciples are understandably a little freaked out — focusing more on the fact that Jesus is going to die than that He will rise again. Pretty hard stuff for them to get their heads around, to be sure, so we can’t be too hard on them.
Even when Jesus is resurrected, He’s not sticking around. The eternally-existing plan is for Jesus to hang out for a few days in resurrected form, “prove” the resurrection, give us a glimpse of what we’ll be like someday (1 John 3:2), and then return to the Father. At that point, the disciples will all be tortured and killed (martyred for their faith) as well, and thousands of additional years of history will go by, but someday Jesus will return again. This time, there’s no “lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9) or “emptied himself to become a servant” (Philippians 2:7). The next time Jesus appears in human history, justice is going to flow like a river (Amos 5:24). God’s patients will only last so long, and someday, Jesus is coming back to set every wrong right. And on that day, every clever 21st century we’re-smarter-than-God-now-because-we-think-we-know-what-a-quark-is idol will be torn down, every knee will bow, and there will be absolutely no doubt of any kind about who’s running the universe.
Jesus knows all this, but the disciples don’t. So, Jesus is teaching them what to expect after He’s gone, and what to teach to their children, and their children’s children. Reading recently in Mark 13, I noticed something that I hadn’t really thought deeply about before. In Jesus’ teaching that “no one knows that day or hour” (where He explains that His return will be sudden and unexpected), I noticed with fresh eyes His emphasis on “Stay awake!” That has such broad sweeping implication for life; I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before.
The clear implication of God’s command and Jesus’ teaching in this passage is to be prepared for Christ’s return. We don’t know when that’s coming, so we can’t schluff around (technical term) until a couple days before, then quickly clean the house, wash the dog, and pretend things were always clean. When I’m out of town on business, my wife feels the freedom not to worry about the dishes or do the laundry, but she jumps on those things the night before I get home because she likes to have the house clean when I walk in the front door (which I think is super sweet and loving). But that only works because she knows my travel itinerary. If I could come home at any random time, she’d have to keep on top of the dishes every day if she wanted the kitchen to be spick and span when I got there. So is it with our lives.
What does that really mean, in practice? Well, first, “while He’s away”, God has given us work to do – work He considers important. Not things to check off a list, so much as ways to be. God has called us to worship Him only, to pray for others, to serve them, to be together as a family of believers, to live generously, to bear each others’ burdens, etc. You know, to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). We only have a brief few moments on this earth, and then it’ll be over – on a day we won’t expect it to be. And on that day, God will require an explanation … first as to how we responded to Jesus, and second as to how we invested the time, talent and treasure He gave us. What return have we reaped for God out of the vast resources (money being only one of them) that He left in our care? Part of staying awake (we could call it “paying attention”) is diligently being about the Master’s business with what He has entrusted to us.
More than doing the things that God wants us to do, God wants us to be with Him. The Lord created us to walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day … to tend the garden for Him, yes, but also to enjoy it with Him. In every small group I’ve ever been a part of, the #1 thing anyone ever talks about is wanting to become consistent in their “quiet times” with God. This basically translates to an all-out war to squeeze 15 minutes a day – with Bibles open and prayer lists in front of us – into our busy lives on a semi-regular basis. But I’ve come to understand that this involves a significant dose of wrong thinking … which takes us another level deeper to what I think might be the heart of the issue …
I really don’t think God is not interested in our leftovers. He’s been clear with me that He’s not interested in mine, and in this way, we’re all the same. God wants all of us. Our whole hearts. The Pearl of Great Price costs a lot more than squeezing in a few minutes a day of “quiet time”. In fact, I can’t imagine God is all too keen on the idea of “squeezing” Him into our lives in any sense. It’s clear to me that God wants to rule on the very throne of my life. Every decision. Every desire. Every thought. All for Him. God has been teaching me that he wants me to slow down and bring even the most trivial things to Him. I think He intended for our lives to be done entirely together with Him the way Jesus did life entirely together with His Father (John 17:20-26).
That cannot be done after we’ve exhausted ourselves on every other conceivable desire, but it can be done. The cost is a bunch of stuff we don’t really need and shouldn’t really want, but there is a cost. I want the picture of my life to a soldier at attention in the pouring rain, not some guy in a commercial asleep at the wheel.
God deserves more than a few droopy-eyed minutes of Bible reading after we collapse exhausted into bed at the end of a long day. He expects more than our inability to concentrate in prayer because we worked late the night before or are totally distracted by the many tasks in the day ahead. There’s no way to have the life God intended for us by checking “quiet time” off the list before racing to get to something more important.
Whatever it takes, we must start saying “no” to lesser things, build the necessary margin into our lives, go to sleep on time, get up early, and stay awake!
There will not always be a tomorrow. We have no idea when the Lord will return. In a matter of moments, this life will be over. And when our King does come back, He will be taken VERY seriously … by everyone. For those of us who claim to love Him… Will He find us faithfully about His business? Will He recognize us from the quality time we’ve spent together? Will it be obvious that our lives have been increasingly about Him? Or will He find us proclaiming victory because we succeeded most days in squeezing Him in?
I don’t know about you, but no matter the cost, that’s just no longer going to work for me.