Janet Miller sat on the couch, weeping. Her husband Paul had just put down the phone after having invited yet another Church of God family who were urgently seeking food and shelter to move in with them. Besides their son, his wife and their three children who had joined them about a year earlier, three more people would now share their home.
"How will we feed and house 10 people?" Janet softly asked. Paul, placed his arm around Janet's shoulder and said, "Honey, God has always seen us through tough times and we can be absolutely sure He'll do so again." Indeed the Millers had endured many ups and downs throughout their 34 years of marriage and during decades as members of the Church.
Just four years previously, Paul had retired as a high school principal. The Millers lived in the same modest house in a suburb of a medium-size city where they had raised a family of two girls and a boy and enjoyed many happy times. But now, the world they had known was turned upside down.
A Daunting Challenge
The economic cataclysm that had swiftly and unpredictably engulfed the entire world was now beginning its third year. Like countless others, the Millers had been severely affected by harsh financial reversals. Their son, Jim, was also no exception. After having been terminated from his job and spending many months in an unsuccessful employment search, he found himself bereft of income and savings. As a result, Paul and Janet invited him and his family to move in with them.
Paul found that his recently reduced Social Security income and teacher's pension was barely adequate to support the new arrivals. But now, with three additional people to support, it would certainly be a daunting challenge requiring fervent prayer and deep faith.
The impact of this economic disaster was also no stranger to the other brethren of the local congregation. Attendance at Sabbath services had fallen sharply over many months. Now, due to the unrelenting financial strain, members were only able to meet intermittently on the Sabbaths in various homes.
Many brethren had lost employment and some had moved away. Sadly, a few, like their friends John and Jane Doe, had completely stopped attending services. Over many months, Paul and Janet had pleaded with them to stay close to God and put their trust in Him. But their urgings fell on deaf ears as the Does lost hope and turned away from the Church and from God.
Although this situation deeply distressed the Millers, they were personally determined to remain faithful no matter how difficult times became. And indeed, hard times were getting progressively harder.
In country after country, moderate governments collapsed as citizens demanded strong central leadership to insure protection and public order. For the price of personal freedom, hard-line rulers and dictators promised they would shield citizens from danger. Yet, instability was pervasive in many nations and as a result, numerous governments had suspended constitutions and installed martial law.
Food riots and murderous ethnic clashes, fueled by uncompromising radical elements, sprang up in many countries. Even in the United States, state governors were forced by growing lawlessness, including burglary, assaults, carjackings and other violent crimes, to declare overnight curfews. National guard units were called up to help the police control unrest and patrol the streets of many cities.
And, it wasn't long before these troops required the support of regular military units, many of which had been withdrawn from worldwide outposts. As a result of the power vacuum left by large-scale global U.S. military withdrawals, ethnic and border clashes escalated in many nations.
New power blocs and coalitions formed in the Middle East, the far East and in Europe. Having abandoned former alliances, these new federations and their dictatorial leaders amassed enormous control and influence, generating antagonism and dread among rival regions.
Rumors of pending war were rampant, creating fear, apprehension and panic. Simmering tensions exploded repeatedly into armed military conflict as nations and groups of nations rose against each other.
Intense political pressures and escalating hostilities, on top of severe economic strain, set the stage for severe food shortages that quickly turned into famine in many nations. Growing starvation, combined with the lack of adequate sanitation, attacked weakened human immune systems. Often the result was the spread of epidemic diseases, with millions of people dead or dying.
Besides increases in starvation and disease resulting from human conflicts, natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods and fires, rocked the globe. Lacking adequate medical care, clean water and food, the ravaged survivors often weakened and died.
Beginning of Sorrows?
As these strenuous conditions advanced, it appeared to Paul, Janet and many other brethren, that the prophecies of Matthew 24:6-8 were rapidly being fulfilled. As they witnessed wars, rumors of wars, nations rising against other nations, famines, pestilences and earthquakes, it looked like the "beginning of sorrows" and the coming of the prophesied Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21).
And it wasn't just national or international events that stirred the Millers' thinking. People from all walks of life were not only suffering, discouraged and frustrated, but they were angry. Stirred by false media reports regarding the cause of their adversities, many looked for scapegoats—seeking something or someone to blame.
Those who appeared to be outside society's mainstream were often suspected of complicity in a scheme to destroy the economy and take down the government. Sabbath-keepers and others were often included in those who were suspect.
In one instance, Paul and Janet had themselves been approached by several neighborhood acquaintances who openly queried why they held "conspiratorial" meetings in their home on various Saturdays. Rumors circulated that Sabbath-keepers in other cities had literally been beaten for their beliefs and one had died as a result of severe injuries.
Yes, the Millers and other brethren were facing stressful, demanding times that they had never before witnessed or endured, with the threat of worse times ahead. Even so, Paul, Janet and their household guests were committed to faithfully handling the dangers and uncertainty with perseverance and faith. They were determined to be spiritual survivors by placing their trust in and reliance on their Savior, Jesus Christ.
Back to Today
Although the above story is fictionalized, is such a future scenario really possible? Just what lies ahead for members of the Body of Christ? Jesus Christ warned that stressful, distressing times will come at the end of the age unless repentance occurs (Matthew 3:2). "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21).
Christ will return in the midst of terrible destruction, death, suffering and heartache. In fact, the entire global population would be completely wiped out if it were not for loyal brethren of God's Church (Matthew 24:21).
Jesus warned that coming, traumatic times will also severely affect those very same brethren. He said persecution would grow and "then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake" (Matthew 24:9).
Because lawlessness would proliferate, many Christians would, regrettably, fail to continue on the path toward the Kingdom (Matthew 24:12). Jesus declared that they would "be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another" (Matthew 24:10) They would give up their crown (Revelation 3:11) and surrender their spiritual armor, sword and shield (Ephesians 6:17).
Obviously, such a result would be a spiritual disaster in which we would not want to participate! But what can we personally do to prevent such a result? How can we insure our spiritual survival in the face of persecution, trials and hardship?
The answer is simply that we must not quit! We must spiritually endure, carry on and persist in faithfulness. We must persevere. Matthew 24:13 says, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." And how can this be accomplished? Only by relying on the strength, power and guidance of our Heavenly Father (Psalm 115:11).
Jesus promised that He would never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and His faithful people would not be tried "beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Even so, physical protection and survival is not an absolute guarantee. The Bible explains that some of God's saints suffered and even died martyrs' deaths (Hebrews 11:37). However, spiritual survival was absolutely assured although some did lose their physical lives due to intense persecution (Hebrews 11:39).
But should that thought frighten us? Should we be overly concerned about our physical lives and circumstances? What did Jesus tell us? "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on" (Luke 12:22-23). He also said, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
Found "So Doing"?
Christ tells us that no matter how terrible events become, we should have courage and faith that we will receive our spiritual reward (Luke 21:28). To be spiritual survivors, we need to pray fervently, be filled with the Holy Spirit and stay repentant and humble.
As God's people, we must be aware of the "times and the seasons" in which we live (1 Thessalonians 5:1). We must carefully guard our spiritual condition. "But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth" (Luke 21:34-35).
So, we are to watch and pray (Mark 13:33) and diligently seek God's help, direction and guidance (Isaiah 55:6). We must be fully engaged in the work of preaching the gospel (Matthew 24:14). Furthermore, we must grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18) and use our talents and abilities to love and serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
Will we be found "so doing" when Christ returns (Matthew 24:46)? With our spiritual survival at stake, will we be among those who quit and then lose out on eternal life?
Or will we be like Paul and Janet Miller and choose to heed the Bible's instructions to stay awake and alert (Romans 13:11) and who are determined to survive spiritually no matter how difficult times became (2 Thessalonians 2:15)?
The question is, will you be a spiritual survivor? The choice is yours and the time to choose is now! UN
John LaBissoniere is an elder in the Knoxville, Tennessee, congregation and an employee of the Media and Communications Services department. The first article appeared in February.