by Bob Bakke

Unless you're living under a rock or in a monastic retreat, you can’t escape the storm clouds gathering on the horizon of history. Storms always loom somewhere, but particularly ill winds are blowing today—and we can hear alarms sounding from every direction. Tensions are rising in every society.

In the United States various ideologies are clashing like scores of bull moose in the springtime over who’s to blame for the present difficulties and the best direction for the future of America. Grave global dangers are threatening, too.

Economists say we are facing a fiscal financial cliff. We’re “sailing in unchartered waters,” writes another in the Wall Street Journal. The “good faith and credit” of cities and entire nations are unraveling. Twice in recent months the U.S. has been downgraded as a lending risk, unprecedented since the country was founded.

We’ve watched debt catastrophes in Greece and Spain, with Italy and France’s foundations also eroding. Could our economies collapse, too?

Anxious Americans are seeing gun sales soaring. Violent religious and philosophical hatreds play out on the evening news.

Chaos and the threat of war hang like a dust storm in the air over the Middle East and North Africa. Governments are overthrown. U.S. embassies are attacked and ransacked. Churches are bombed. Followers of Jesus are killed in Nigeria and Kenya, and forced from ancestral lands in the Middle East.

Persian mullahs boast they have no fear of any enemy and that they can withstand a nuclear attack. They point, confidently, to the imminent arrival of the Mahdi, the Islamic messiah, whose arrival will be preceded by war. Fifty thousand missiles are aimed at Israel from neighboring Lebanon—tens of thousands more from distant Iran.

Meanwhile, jihadist groups are scouring the world for weapons of mass destruction—chemical or nuclear—to employ against Western interests. Israel’s prime minister told the United Nations’ assembly that his country stands ready to strike Iran over its advancing nuclear weapons program, while secretly hiding his own.

At home, indicators within American Christianity point to problems. Kids who have grown up in our churches are abandoning their faith when they leave home. Pastors are abandoning their pulpits—or truth—or both. Americans, in general, are abandoning traditional religion. Local churches per capita are at historic lows.

Those who remain faithful to Christ feel as though their faith is under assault from entertainers, government officials, journalists, coworkers, classmates, teachers, neighbors, and family members. The blogosphere has become vile and slanderous. Powerful voices are labeling biblical Christianity as a hate crime. Freedom of speech is eroding.

Days to Be Watching
Today’s headlines echo the words of Jesus and the apostles when they spoke of the last days:

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matt. 24:4–8).

And these words from the Apostle Paul:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Tim. 3:1–5).

It’s safe to say that God expects Christians in every generation to watch carefully for the signs of Jesus’ return and to ask whether their generation will see the heavens open and Jesus descend. It is also safe to say that dynamics at play today align particularly well with the prophecies of Jesus’ coming. We’re watching these events carefully.

Last fall, I stood with friends on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Temple Mount, not far from where Jesus ascended to heaven. We recited the prophecies of Jesus’ return. Our hearts stirred deeply within us.

But, to be honest, the earth has witnessed periods like this before. Today, militant Islam and a reconstituted Israel capture our attention. Thirty years ago, nuclear-armed communism compelled us to think the end imminent.

Seventy years ago, the axis of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan threatened. And in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Roman Catholicism convinced Protestants that Jesus’ return was near, as Catholic nations commanded vast armies and navies–all controlled by the city on seven hills (see Rev. 17:9).

Even though we’ve been wrong about Jesus’ return in the past, God has still graciously answered our prayers for His greater glory. In each of the above periods God sent revivals, even though it wasn’t yet the new age to come. My friend David Bryant calls these revivals “approximations of the consummation.” In other words, as we are stirred to prayer because of the events of our day, God answers by giving us a taste of what the return of Jesus will be like.

Yet God Hears Our Prayers
Why does God answer our prayers if we are wrong about the timing of Christ’s return? Because as we pray, we humbly confess that when it comes to the mysteries of God and the foretelling of history, our eyesight isn’t very good: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a [poor first century] mirror,” Paul wrote. “Then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

But God also answers our prayers because both the Bible and history give explicit evidence that God stands ready to pour out His Spirit in troubled times if His people pursue Him in holiness. Whether Jesus comes in the next 24 hours or 24 months, or in the 24th century, one thing is crystal clear: What is happening today should compel us to be fully awake and carefully watching for signs of His coming.

In this there is no doubt. The Church and the nations of the earth need an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit that presages the Lordship of Christ over all things.

How Then Do We Pray?
With these things in mind, then, let me recommend how we should pray in light of the promise of His coming:

1. Pray Confidently.
God promises that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1Thess. 4:16, emphasis added). There is no doubt about the final outcome. We pray with confidence that other glorious “approximations” will come to us regularly between now and then.

2. Pray Expectantly.
Expectancy brings with it excitement or unusual awareness. I once read an account of a fishing village that waited expectantly each year for the migration of great schools of fish. When the alarm sounded, everyone dropped what they were doing and ran to the boats and the nets. The villagers knew the call would come and they lived expectantly. Daily, while in their gardens or kitchens, or while tending their sheep, their ears were listening for the alarm to ring.

Jesus said in Matthew 24:42–44, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

3. Pray Preparedly.
Make sure you are prepared to meet Christ. Don’t just pray about other people. Make sure that nothing stands between you and God. I know a lot of people who chatter away about the last days, but who, I suspect, are not ready to meet Him, nor are their family members or friends.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:37–42, are sobering:
“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. . . . Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

And in Matthew 25:1–13, through the parable of the ten virgins, Jesus continues His warning about the urgency of the day and the need to be prepared. Five foolish virgins didn’t prepare for the return of the bridegroom. But the other five kept oil ready to fill their lamps at a moment’s notice. The bridegroom invited those prepared into the wedding banquet; the foolish ones had the door slammed in their faces. No pleading could convince the bridegroom to recognize them and open the door. Jesus concluded this parable by saying, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

4. Pray Patiently.
As with revivals of the past—and the great missionary and church-planting movements that emerged from them—God may want to accomplish many great things before the coming of His Son. Even today we are witnessing great harvests of souls—the largest in the history of the Church. This age of the Holy Spirit is yielding remarkable fruit.

James, the brother of Jesus, offers perspective for us, too. Writing to messianic Jews frustrated over the delay of Jesus’ return, he said, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (5:7–8).

How much more near must it be now?

5. Pray Unitedly.
Find other believers and pray with them. In the 1740s, Jonathan Edwards preached a series of sermons on the millennial reign of Christ. Out of this series came not only an influential book, but the launch of The Concert of Prayer—a prayer movement that became the common denominator to hundreds of revivals, three international awakenings, and the explosion of international missions.

In one of the key passages, Edwards addresses Revelation 8, in which the Lamb of God takes the scroll from His Father and opens the seven seals—that is, when God inaugurates the consummation of history. Instead of an explosion of activity, however, we read the following: “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (v. 1). Everything in heaven stopped. In silence heaven waited.

But why did heaven wait? We soon learn this:
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake (vv. 3–5, emphasis added).

In other words, when it came to the end of all things and the return of Christ, heaven waited for “the prayers of all the saints.”

There is an unprecedented movement of united prayer across the earth. Upon the evidence of Revelation 8, Edwards was convinced the second coming of Christ would be preceded by a great and global movement of prayer. In private, he speculated that it would be sometime after the year 2000.

Could he be right about the date? We may think so. We’ll keep an eye on the eastern sky. Was he right about the power of united prayer with regard to the purposes of Christ? Absolutely.

May the certainty of Jesus’ return keep us on our knees. Our generation will thank us for it.

BOB BAKKE is the senior teaching pastor of Hillside Church, Bloomington, MN. He was the North America director for the Global Day of Prayer, and now serves on the executive leadership team for OneCry.