Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (Luke 12:32-40).
Passages like Luke 12:32-40 used to turn me off. They seemed the property of Hal Lindsey and his Late, Great Planet Earth. Later, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s (no relation), Left Behind series and Michael Drosnin’s Bible Code. These books exploit our anxiety to control the coming cataclysm. Verses on the return of Christ seemed quaint, antiquated stuff that only served as fodder for charlatans out to make a buck.
So I glossed over these teachings about the end times until I found myself at the crossroads of two questions: First, what does it mean to follow the call of Christ – to live a Christian vocation – regardless of whether we pursue a religious career? Following a strong sense of call did not lead me to seminary and ordained ministry but to a secular occupation as a psychologist. Moreover, Jesus does not seem to emphasize a specifically religious office so much as a life, a way of being.
So I concluded that we must find our vocations not primarily in a career but in the way we live our daily lives, an everyday spirituality. Yoga and Buddhist meditation taught ways of awareness in our everyday lives. Hence the second question: What did Jesus teach us about that?
My first thought: Certainly not in those teachings about the end times. Karl Marx criticized Christian teachings about the triumphant second coming and heavenly hopes as “the opiate of the people.” For Marx, such teachings distract us from injustice to keep us off the backs of wealthy and powerful people who exploit us. Humanistic thinkers in general saw such teachings as an escape from responsibility for present problems and from the fact that we all must die.
But then I had a second thought: Jesus’s teachings about the end times present a remarkable irony. He counsels a wakeful faith like those who keep their lamps lit for the bridegroom’s arrival at night or those who keep the house ready for the master’s unscheduled return. Yet, perhaps in anticipation of many who distract us with teachings and books predicting details of the apocalyptic drama, Jesus specifically said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:32-33).
What is the practical upshot of his point? For one, take heart in hard times: Contrary to all appearances, they mean God is near, not far away. Moreover, all teaching about the future guides our present. To my question, What did Jesus teach about everyday awareness? Jesus answers, “Keep alert. Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming.” A wakeful faith is awake to him.
Moreover, he said in the present tense, “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Christ meets us there. In Matthew 25:31-46, we learn that Christ meets us now in caring service to “the least of these.” In Acts 2:1-13 we encounter the Spirit of Christ drawing the church together as a community of loving witnesses. The everyday awareness Jesus taught is one of open expectancy of Christ in our midst each day. Whatever our station or task, however lonely or socially engaged, in joy and suffering, Christ is among us. How shall we then live? What is our vocation? To welcome him, listen to him, and gladly heed him in all things.
Those thoughts prompted me to write a book on this theme, A Wakeful Faith: Spiritual Practice in the Real World (Upper Room, 2000). The book’s first half develops the biblical spirituality of wakeful waiting for Christ. The second half explores the practical implications in waking and sleeping, work and leisure, community and family relationships, and spiritual practices and mundane routines.
Over two decades after the book’s publication, I am still learning, still humbled by the challenge to live in expectant waiting for Christ both present and coming. Now I cherish passages like Luke 12:32-40 and return to them again and again, not to feed futuristic speculation, but to feed my soul.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).
To purchase my book, A Wakeful Faith: Spiritual Practice in the Real World, you may click the title in the text to purchase straight from The Upper Room or go to the Books page of this website to purchase from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.