Some recent experiences have caused me to think some about the times leading up to Christ's return and our preparation now. In one experience, I was driving on relatively safe winter roads when I encountered some dangerous, ice-covered bridges; seven or so in a row. After realizing that the first bridge wasn't safe, I continued to slow down over each successive bridge and came to realize that I had no control over my car on any of them. The whole time there were cars and trucks strewn all over the shoulders of the road or wrecked on the bridge railings. By the last 2-3 bridges, I had built up a lot of fear and was no longer thinking, but merely reacting. I was in another situation involving road rage only two weeks later and had similar results. There was no time to think, only react and do everything that my experience told me to do in that situation, right or wrong.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch it or not, but Tom Cruise's movie War of the Worlds sent chills up my spine when I saw masses of people running for their lives and doing anything it took to escape the invading alien forces. People murdering each other just to steal a minivan, children and adults alike only able to scream and run or stand and stare in horror. There was no trace of rational thought and no one was really able to flee the powerful army. It struck me that this could be a representative picture of the coming tribulation and Day of the Lord that will soon be upon the whole world.
When we have control over our minds, humans are capable of so much. We can dream, plan, grow and build. We can act and behave any way we want. We can even convince ourselves to overcome just as we can act convincingly that we are someone we may not be. However, when we lose control over our minds from fear or sudden change of situation, we are reduced to our basest thoughts and actions.
I believe this is one major reason why it's so important to study God's Word, to meditate on it day and night, and why we must regularly put it into action. On those icy roads, had I been a 16-year old from a warmer state, it's quite possible I would have ended up with a busted front bumper or in the median. But years of experience driving on icy roads (as well as God watching my back) taught me not to overcorrect my steering, to not quickly brake or accelerate, etc. Those were my "instincts", so to speak.
Similarly, what kind of faith, knowledge, wisdom, character and habits we form today may very well be ultimately tested in the biggest trials to come to mankind. Make no mistake, we will have some part in tests and trials leading up to the Great Tribulation. The first 4-5 Seals of Revelation will most likely be opened during our lifetimes where we live, much in the same way that the Israelites were allowed to experience the first several plagues on Egypt. And at the same time of greater stress on this world, there will be powerful signs from false ministers. Matt. 24:24 - "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders; so much so that, if it were possible, they would deceive even the elect."
One way that the elect will be deceived is by not being prepared mentally or spiritually for such a situation. How could we possibly prepare for what's described as the worst time in human history in which there can be no precedent? Well, put simply, God tells us to surrender our will to Him, do as He instructs and grow in grace, knowledge and character. We must do this until it is firmly ingrained in our brains and habitual. Then and only then will He see us through it.
Ask yourself: What words come out of my mouth when I hit my thumb with a hammer or stub my toe? What transpires in my mind when someone really ticks me off? What do I say or think about others when they're not around? How about my boss or minister? Do I secretly or publicly sin and can't stop? What makes me think that I will somehow magically change when fear takes over? Quite frankly, if we can barely hide these things under normal conditions when mustering all our self-control, we will most definitely revert to our true nature when this world is falling apart around us.
(As a side note, this is why I've been harping so much about government lately. Many believe that they can ridicule or ignore God's ministry and human leaders and yet still fully submit to Christ when He returns. This is false reasoning simply because Christ is using mankind's governments today to test our willingness to grow in submission and servant leadership. "Why do you say 'Lord, Lord' and do not the things which I say?" This is similar to watching how your date treats your waiter in order to determine how she treats people in general, including you. Following the same premise of habit-forming, it is wise to practice the same form of government in the Church that Christ will set up in God's Kingdom rather than being led by our own will or electing others, essentially giving them our own permission, to lead us.)
I approach things from this angle only to show that it will be extremely difficult to enter God's Kingdom. As Mr. Reynolds once said in a sermon, "Gaining entrance into the Kingdom of God is not as easy as falling off a log." Understated, but well put. Similarly, only in-depth Bible study, fervent prayer, regular fasting and deep meditation on God's ways, will and Law, followed by real action, will train our brain to react correctly when under great duress, as well as normal, everyday situations. Not doing these things... well, we probably won't be as wise and brave as we'd like to think. To know where you currently stand, analyze how well you handled your last real trial, not just what you learned from it.
For an example of how meditation can permanently change how we do things, note what religious and medical folks are learning about the brain. An interesting article in Newsweek discusses the Dalai Lama's "interest in neuroscience. A few years ago the Dalai Lama was visiting an American medical school and watched a brain operation. Afterwards, he chatted with the surgeon, telling him how his scientist friends had patiently explained to him that all of our thoughts, feelings, memories, dreams and other mental activities are the products of electrical and chemical activity in the brain. But he had always wondered something, the Dalai Lama told the surgeon. If electricity and chemistry can produce thoughts and all the rest, can thoughts act back on the physical stuff of the brain to change its chemical, electrical and other physical properties?"
Back then, the surgeon said no. "The brain produces and shapes mental activity, the brain surgeon said; mental activity does not alter the brain." However, today, scientists think otherwise. Repeated experience, thought and meditation about a particular activity causes the brain to persist in that activity even when not actively meditating or thinking about it. For example, thousands of hours of meditation for having compassion on the entire world leads Tibetan monks to "an enduring change in the brain which persist even when the brain is not meditating: it looks as if thousands of hours of meditation ramps up activity in the brain's empathy region, and keeps it ramped up even when you are not engaged in meditation." In other words, it's always primed and ready for empathy and compassion. It's one of their brain's first reaction to any stimuli.
Similarly, if we regularly study, meditate and act on God's Word, our brain will be ramped up and trained to react to every situation with righteous character rather than our selfish, sinful way. Consider it strength training, for it really is. Our mind will learn to filter out the trash that this world produces and see it for what it truly is. If we mimmick King David's meditations in Psalm 119, we may one day also be a "man after God's own heart". All tests and trials in our lives both help us to see problems with our current path as well as gauge how well we're letting Christ live in us. Would I react to my sins like King David did in Psalm 51? Sometimes these trials can catch us completely off guard and we get a glimpse into how we might react to an awful crisis of the worst kind, the kind coming soon.
Habitually practicing and learning God's way will create godliness, virtue, righteous character and faith that will see us through future trials. I take these two scriptures very seriously: Rev. 6:17: "For the great day of His wrath has come, who shall be able to stand?" and Luke 18:7-8: "And shall not God avenge His own elect who cry day and night to Him, though He has been long-suffering over them? I say to you that He will avenge them speedily. Yet when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" There's a lot of hesitation in those two passages. If we aren't trying to overcome day and night, we may very well stumble in the time leading up to the Day of Wrath if we revert to our carnal nature, at least to the amount we still have.
I learned through my recent experiences that fear and trembling can truly expose my true character and heart. Obviously, the same can be said through the humble and respectful awe we have towards our God when we fear and tremble at His Word.