The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. (NASB)
My faith is wrapped up in the fact that the end of all things is near. Jesus said that my attitude should be that He could come back at any time. Matthew 24:36-42 is His part of his description of the way it will be before the end. The first thing He told us in these verses is that no one knows when the end will come. I vaguely remember that someone predicted the end to be some day in 1988. When I first heard it, my thought was that surely Jesus will not return on that day because this guy made the prediction. Currently, everyone is saying it will be the end in 2012 because the Mayan calendar runs out at that time. All this speculation is hogwash because Jesus made it clear that no one would know the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven. However that doesn’t mean the end isn’t near. Jesus said in these verses that things will appear quite normal before the end. People will be eating, drinking, marrying, and working in the fields. Business will be going on just as usual. No one will suspect that in a few minutes, the end will come.
Yes, many have believed that the end is near, ever since Jesus left. Peter said it, Paul said it, and the writer to the Hebrews said it. Each one of them tells me how to live in view of that day. The next few verses in 1st Peter are all related to how I should live in expectation that Jesus could appear in the next few minutes.
The first priority in this list is prayer. NIV says that I should be clear minded and self-controlled so that I can pray. The Greek is really fun: sophroneo (so-fron-eh'-o); to be of sound mind, i.e. sane, (figuratively) moderate. I need to be sane when it comes to thinking about the end of the world. This would definitely rules out standing on the street corner, dressed in a robe, sporting a long beard and hair, and holding a sign. Crazy people simply do not influence those that need to be warned that the end could come at any time.
The next Greek word is: nepho (nay'-fo); of uncertain affinity: to abstain from wine (keep sober), i.e. (figuratively) be discreet. I like that last definition. Be discreet. That means to be tactful, cautious, diplomatic, or judicious. I guess I can’t just run up to everyone on the street and tell they will go to hell if they don’t straighten up before Jesus comes back. While it may be true, it certainly isn’t very discreet and therefore probably not very effective.
I don’t want to lose the point of being clear minded and self-controlled. It is so that I can pray. Jesus also gave a big long list of things that would occur just before He comes back. That was listed in a couple of places but Matthew 24:4-35 is a good one. All sorts of terrible things will be happening. Among them will be increased persecution of Christians. This is something that is happening all around the world. Wickedness will increase. That is also happening but those who are involved don’t see it because they have this attitude: Rom 1:32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (NIV) When all this is happening, Peter warns me not to lose my head, but to know how to pray.
In the middle of Jesus’ description of pending events, He says: Matt 24:20-21 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. (NIV) So I believe that one thing I should do is pray for those who are persecuted. Pray for their escape and their needs. Prayer has a way of leading to action. That is one reason I’m involved with Serving Others Worldwide to help Christians in Pakistan. (www.ServingOthers.org/Pakistan.html) Christians are seeing persecution and are kept in economic slavery as well. They are in constant need of food, clothing, and Bibles. They need prayer to keep their faith in the midst of very trying times.
I can also pray for myself and those around me so that we will be able to stand strong should trials befall us. I would also pray as Paul asked: Col 4:3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. (NIV) Paul knew firsthand about trials, yet was always looking for a way to proclaim the Christian faith in the middle of them.