The warm, polished pews of the youth chapel glowed with more than the usual Friday evening sheen. There was a closeness, some would say a Presence, of which each teenager was sensible.
The earnest theology student presenting the message was closing his appeal. The whispering at the back was stilled, and even the tough guys trading jokes out on the cold front porch grew quiet.
“How many of you believe Jesus will come within one year?” the preacher asked, nodding solemnly as half a dozen hands went up.
“And how many think Jesus will return within the next five years?” he queried, searching faces, seeking affirmation. Most of the hands in the chapel went slowly toward the ceiling, some unsure, and not so eager. Mine was not one of them.
“How many of you think Jesus will come between five and 10 years from now?” he asked with sad finality, as though a longer wait had never crossed his mind. I slid my hand up, realizing in that tremulous moment I was in a distinct minority, and somehow less than faithful.
As I walked home along the frozen creek, staring at the belt of great Orion stretched across a diamond-studded night, I berated myself for the weakness of my witness. Would I really be in college when Jesus came to my old Adventist town? Might there be a bride on my arm? Would I ever get to “serve the Lord”—or would I spend eternity listening to those who had given Him their 40—50—years?
I should have raised my hand with the majority, I concluded. That was the position of faith—to be certain; to not equivocate; to live with such single-mindedness that Jesus would come, must come. The words of the evening’s quartet floated out across the starlit snowfields: “Would your heart be right, if He came tonight?” “Yes,” I said with all the warmth I could muster. I would try harder; I would be more diligent; I would be a better witness. I would make myself right with Jesus.
If you’ve been an Adventist for a year or more, you likely know this story. When baptistry waters close over our heads, we rise with an intense and linear focus: Be ready when Jesus comes. It’s both the ache of every Adventist heart and the pledge of everyone serious about faith. All other realities must give way: this is the grand passion of our new-washed lives.
And as the days subside to weeks, and weeks to years, the love for Jesus—the certainty of His embrace—that once was all our grace and joy too often erodes into grim determination: I will try harder; I will be more diligent; I will be a better witness. We catalogue the sins that everyone knows—and the ones that no one knows. We castigate ourselves for settling down, for buying cars, for raising kids; for taking two weeks’ vacation when there’s a world to be warned. We grow evasive when speaking of the Second Coming, and never raise a hand when someone dares to ask the question about “when.”
Deficient in our grasp of grace and focused only on our personal salvation, we forget the declaration made by Paul, who likewise wrestled with the “when” of Jesus’ coming: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). If we believed this truth—if we spoke more of the faithfulness of God than our unfaithfulness, and more about the tenacity of His love than the weakness of our affection for Him—our faith would find a resting place. All who are, in fact, “in Christ” are ready when He comes.
Then our “waiting” for Jesus will be that of longing for a cherished Friend, and not a gathering internal storm of faithless dread and insecurity. With Isaiah we will sing, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us” (Isa. 25:9).