The eleven o’clock news was on television as Pam and Al sipped their tea and nibbled their snacks cozily watching the dilemma of people in Santa Cruz as they fled their flooded homes in the midst of the storm. “Isn’t it awful, dear?” Pam asked as she slid into a more comfortable position in her deep armchair, secure in the dry stability of her own lovely home farther down the same California coast. The rain was drumming on the tile roof, but it had been a welcome sound for a week now after the drought, and the fact that it was harder than ever didn’t penetrate the emotions of either husband or wife, nor sound any alarm in their minds. “I’ll take the cups out to rinse them,” said Pam, as she disappeared into the kitchen. A shriek followed that ealm remark, “Come quick.… oh.…” and Al bounded out to see what was happening. Water was pouring in under the doors and when the front door was opened to see what was going on, a foot deep river of water swooshed into the living room, down the stairway to the next floor.… The next minutes were spent in moving furniture, pulling up rugs, trying to get everything out of the path of the rushing torrent, as well as lugging a door that was conveniently off its hinges to use as a barrier to divert the flow. Minutes became hours as the work continued, and days were involved in trying to repair the damages and dry out the musty odor that penetrated the house.

How many people have recently had a vivid demonstration of what it means to be totally secure, warm, dry, able to choose what they want to be doing with their time and energy—and a moment later have been plunged into danger from floods of water, snow, land slides, or waves of the sea beating their homes apart? The deluge, whatever it is, does not stop at bringing destruction and fear, discomfort, and even injury, but suddenly the use of time and energy is no longer a thing of choice. There are things to be done which are a necessity, and people throw themselves into hard work without counting the hours, or announcing that it is bedtime. The thing of making a choice is suddenly thrown away as the flood sweeps in. There is a reality that strips life of any of the “taken-for-granted” freedoms of choice and lays bare the naked basic necessities of survival and salvage.

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; and the one shall be taken, and the other left.… Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.… Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing” (Matt. 24:36–40, 42, 46).

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Is there anything to do in preparation for a flood? It depends on the situation but in some places sandbags, or a wall built deeper, higher, and stronger, or a ditch to divert the water to one side and another, would be helpful, if made “in time.” The choice to use time this way exists before the flood starts to pour through the house, not while it is taking place. “Watch therefore” is not a meaningless phrase to sing lustily, or to listen to as some soloist sings. Choices of the use of time ahead of time are involved. When we are tempted to feel the agony of “how long oh Lord, how long?” with a desperation of feeling that he will never return to fulfill his promises to us we need to turn back to Psalm 90 and reread, “LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood: they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth” (Ps. 90:1–6). A thousand years is as a day to him, as well as a day being at times like a thousand years. Suddenly the number of years of waiting for the return of Jesus will be at an end. The warning that he will come is strong and vivid, and related to sudden floods which we all know about not only in reading in Genesis of the flood but in experiencing the suddenness of spilling a glass of grape juice over a fresh tablecloth, or a flood of snow or water pouring into our houses.

The whole point of the constant warnings, the constant pointing back to Noah’s time, the constant admonitions to “watch” is that we are to make choices in the use of our time and energies in the now while we can make choices, to do that which the word watch defines. We are to be expectant of the Lord’s return, and are to be aware of the fact that when he does come it will be a sudden thing.

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“But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.… But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love …” (1 Thess. 5:4–6, 8a). The watching is not a sitting in a chair comfortably waiting for a shock to take place at some distant far-off unimaginable time, but it is a thing of getting the wall built, the sandbags ready, the ditch dug, ahead of time.

How? By actively living in some very real measure in accord with Ephesians 6:11–19, which ends with “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (v. 17 and 18). This passage gives active things to be persevering in doing, as active as building a wall or digging a ditch. What kind of “watching” is ours in today’s available wakeful hours?

We can sit in an armchair and theorize about our theological position on the second coming all we want, but that is not what the Lord means by watch. With the literal following of the definition of watching will come a literal difference of not being taken unawares when the sudden flood of prophetic promises becomes a then present reality.

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