Tribulation: How To Prepare and Respond
How should we prepare and respond to tribulation?
First we need to recognise that the battle we face is ultimately a spiritual one whose source is the devil, Satan and his fallen angels. He works against God’s purposes and against Christians through our flesh (the sinful nature), through the world system in which we live, those who belong to the world and within the church through false teaching and sowing discord. Because our battle is ultimately a spiritual battle we need to prepare in a spiritual way so we can stand and overcome – with the power and strength God supplies.
As we approach the end of this age Christians can also expect to suffer the effects of wars, natural disasters and epidemics (such as Covid-19). These should not be interpreted as particular judgement on Christians. Though we share these things with the rest of humanity, we can show strength and give reason for hope in the midst of despair.
The key to standing and overcoming is through faith in Jesus and obedience to His words. At the end of His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 to 7) Jesus tells us:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell-and great was its fall (Matthew 7:24-27).
The rain, floods and wind represent the trials and tribulation we face in this world. Only as we hear, believe and do what Jesus has asked of us with the power of His Spirit will we be able to stand and overcome. Therefore it is imperative we know and apply the words of Jesus as revealed in the gospels.
Here are what I believe are the key principles of preparation:
1. Fear God not man.
Living in this world we will inevitably have to choose at some time whether to obey man or God. We are told to be subject to secular authority (Romans 13:1-5) but clearly only as far as it depends upon us. Where a direction by secular authority contradicts what God has commanded us then we have no choice but to obey God rather than man – and endure the consequences. The example of Daniel and his companions (Daniel 3:16-18) and that of Peter and the other apostles (Acts 4:19 and 5:29) teach us this principle.
By fearing God we show that we love, honour and want to obey him, even at personal cost or loss. While it might seem contradictory that having received God’s grace and kindness we should need to fear Him. Yet I would suggest a healthy fear of God, shown in obeying him, actually complements faith. Jesus told us to fear God and not man:
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
Solomon with the wisdom of God said:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).
And David in the Psalms says:
In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:11)
The early church had a healthy fear of God for they were ‘going on in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit‘ (Acts 9:31). Note that with the fear of God there is comfort in the Holy Spirit. Therefore whatever man may do to us, it can only impact our body, not our soul and spirit.
2. Expect persecution as a disciple of Jesus
A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
3. Despite persecution we can rejoice and have peace
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt 5:10-12).
These are key words of Jesus which we ought to memorise, for they teach us the right attitude in times of persecution. First Jesus says we are blessed, that is we are favoured, though understandably difficult to appreciate when we are insulted, mistreated, misunderstood, falsely accused and persecuted simply because we bear the name of Christ.
False accusation is one of the chief means the devil uses (through other people) in an attempt to destroy our witness. We may be accused of sexual misconduct, financial wrong-doing, association with dubious organisations or individuals and crimes against society. When we are falsely accused we must stand our ground and not be pressured into making a false confession and so compromising the truth. God will ultimately vindicate us as we continue in good conscience to live and love as Jesus taught us.
Therefore we must take those words of Jesus to heart, by faith and rejoice, yes rejoice! Always keep eternity in view, our real home prepared for us in heaven.
4. Love your enemies
But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ’You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous ( Mt 5:39-45).
It is one thing to endure unjust suffering, but to love and pray for those who are responsible for the suffering, that, for many, is ridiculous. Yet that is what God expects of his children, because he is kind and merciful to the undeserving. It is the way of those called by Jesus to inherit the kingdom of God.
These words of Jesus teach us to act in ways which to most are counter intuitive: do good to those who hate and mistreat you, bless them and pray for them. The next instruction of Jesus: to offer our other cheek to be struck also is one, which to the natural mind, does not seem to make sense at all. It is one thing to endure hurt but is Jesus saying we should deliberately seek more hurt? No, I don’t believe this is what Jesus is saying here. What we learn here is that we do not respond in kind, we do not retaliate and do not take revenge. By offering our other cheek is to say ‘Strike me again, but I will not strike you’. It is an initiative by the power of God’s Spirit within us which is other-worldly and demonstrates the way of God’s kingdom here on earth. Many have been convicted and bought to faith in Christ through seeing a Christian endure unjust suffering, insult and mistreatment and responding, not with complaint, but with love and grace.
5. Endure suffering with patience
For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favour with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:20-23).
Are we prepared to bear the world’s ridicule and hate, the loss in this world of all we hold dear for the sake of Christ and the glory to come? Therefore, like Jesus, we need to patiently endure injustice, suffering and persecution without retaliation leaving judgement to God. But be assured; God loves and cares for us in times of testing:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
6. Keep eternity in view
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses (those who have suffered before) surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 4:17-5:1).
In times of trouble and darkness, even when it seems we are in the valley of the shadow of death; keep eternity in view, for this life is temporary. Our next life is eternal glory beyond all comparison.
7. Pray and Praise
If Jesus, as God’s Son needed to pray in His time of testing, then how much more do we? It has been said ‘As air is to our body so prayer is to our spirit’. Prayer shows our dependence as a child on our Father in heaven. It ascends as incense before the throne of God (Revelation 5:8). We are encouraged not to be anxious, but to give thanks and make our requests known to God:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
In Paul’s instruction to put on the armour of God we are urged to pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:10-18) – not just when we feel the need:
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).
In the same way it can be said we need to praise and give thanks to God. 100 times in the Psalms we are exhorted to praise God for what He has done and what He will do. Like David, praise should be the natural outflow of a heart of gratitude and love for God:
I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth (Psalm 34:1).
While prayer shows our dependence on God praise shows our gratitude. We should praise God as part of prayer and through song. Praise should be the natural response to His salvation:
The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will extol Him (Exodus 15:2).
We should note that Paul’s encouragement to be ‘filled with the Spirit’ is in the context of ‘singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord’ and ‘giving thanks always for all things to God’ (Ephesians 5:18-20). When we are at the end of our own strength God’s strength will sustain us.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26).
8. Fellowship with other Christians
Fellowship with other Christians is essential for our growth, edification and mutual encouragement. The scriptures teach us that the church, those who are Christ’s, are a body with Christ as the head. As a body we depend on others and others on us for growth and spiritual health. One of the devil’s tactics is to prevent or hinder Christians from meeting for this reason. If our fellowship and contact with other Christians is limited to meeting in a purpose built building we will be seriously hindered should restrictions be imposed on such gatherings (as is already happening in many parts of the world). The early church (of the first 200 years) had no buildings purposely built or used exclusively for meeting, but met in homes or public places as the opportunity arose. This was in the midst of severe persecution and the church grew phenomenally.
Therefore we need to be prepared to adapt to circumstances in times of restrictions on church buildings and meetings. The church in China has demonstrated this over the last 70 years. Most of the growth of the church has occurred in unregistered, underground or house-churches.
9. Read, know, memorise your Bible
To know God’s will we need to know what He is saying to us. Therefore if we have a Bible we need to read it. It is our indispensable, infallible guide and reference. As the Psalmist says:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
If reading the Bible seems difficult and dry, persist until it becomes a delight. It is a discipline which has great reward.
By God’s word we are able to discern truth and error. Through the Scriptures we are corrected and trained in righteousness so that we will be equipped and prepared to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Clearly the Bible has a very practical purpose and not for mere intellectual curiosity or gratification.
We also need to hear God’s word spoken through fellow Christians and like the Berean Christians (Acts 17:11) we need to check what we have heard from others against God’s word as revealed in the Bible to ensure that it is the truth.
So if we neglect to do these we are in danger of deception, unable to test and discern false teaching – from men or from the spirit realm. I believe the greatest danger in this day and those ahead is not from another religion such as Islam, but in a counterfeit Christianity, which has the form of but lacks the substance and power of the true faith. The proponents of such ‘Christianity’ may selectively quote Scripture (and so did Satan) to prove their case but inevitably fail to declare the whole counsel of God. It may sound good, logical and appealing but is a distortion of the truth, a half truth which is more dangerous than an outright lie. False ways find receptive ground in those who know something of God’s word, but not enough to discern error. This will be particularly true as the time of the end draws near when there is great tribulation for God’s people. The Psalmist says:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).
As the writer to Hebrews encourages us, we need to feed on the solid food of God’s word, the word of righteousness, not just the milk, if we are to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Shepherds of the flock have a particular responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God impartially and will be held to account by Jesus on the day of judgement. It is a serious neglect to not teach truthfully parts of scripture for fear of offending people.
Treasure and Memorise
For many Christians in the West having a Bible is an assumed right. But for many others it is a privilege and in many places a restricted, even unobtainable book. We therefore should not assume here in the West that the Bible will always be obtainable. The media and governments are becoming increasingly antagonistic towards traditional, authentic Christianity. Censorship in various forms are becoming a reality and we can expect that even on the Internet Christian content will be restricted or censored (as it already is in a number of countries around the world). I would suggest that we store Biblical and Christian information off-line (for example on a smart phone, a portable hard disc or solid state drive, a USB flash drive or SD card) in the event online sources are unobtainable. This is also why memorisation of scripture pays great dividends – now and in a possible future time when the Bible becomes a restricted book and even access to storage devices becomes difficult.
10. Love one another
Jesus forewarned us that in the end-time, because of the intensity of persecution, the love of many will grow cold and so betray one another, being misled by false teachers and prophets who pander to selfish interests (Matthew 24:9-12). Therefore it is paramount we maintain our love for one another, especially in times of tribulation when we will be tempted to seek our own welfare over our brother’s and sisters in Christ.
Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ shows the world that we are His disciples and that we have been saved and born again:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34,35).
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:22-23).
For this reason we need to foster meaningful relationships with other Christians while we have opportunity. We cannot be lone Christians disconnected from our brothers and sisters. We can’t claim to love the brethren if we don’t want to spend time in fellowship with them and care for those in need. This must mean more than just going to church on a Sunday and is why we are urged not to neglect meeting regularly with other Christians in church and home settings where we can learn, grow, encourage and be encouraged and care for one another. We should test our hearts here: who do we prefer to keep company with – other Christians or non-Christians? We can’t profess to love God while at the same time hating a brother or sister in the faith. It is hypocrisy:
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).
And hate is not just having negative thoughts but being indifferent to a known need of a brother or sister (1 John 3:17).
Nor should we fall into the error of thinking we only need to care for those in our particular church or who share our unique doctrinal position. We might ask here “Who is my brother?” Jesus tells us:
Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:35).
This is why love for our brothers and sisters who are suffering under persecution is of particular importance. We are told to remember those in prison, as if with them:
Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3).
What we do or don’t do for them is the same as we do or don’t do to Jesus (Matthew 25:35-45). We may not be able to physically visit them but we can support them practically, and most importantly, pray for them.
These words of Paul give us hope and strength in times of trouble for God himself gives us the strength to prepare and respond to tribulation through our faith in him:
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:11-14).
If we are prepared, if we have built our house on the rock – Christ – and doing what He has asked us to do we need have no fear of what is to come and will stand through the coming storm. Jesus promised us : “In Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.“