My wife, Janet, sometimes gives me warnings. I do not always like to get them but I am blessed if I listen attentively. I remember the time I returned home late Sabbath afternoon exhausted after a long day of ministry. I was scheduled to lead a meeting at a local church where members had strong, conflicting views on an important subject. It would be difficult. In love and concern, Janet suggested I take a short nap or delay the meeting because I was so tired and my emotional reserves might not be strong enough for the hard meeting. I decided to ignore the warning and press forward in my own strength with little prayer.
However, after keeping my emotions in control, even with unfair attacks, I was less than Christlike with a couple of individuals in private conversations after the meeting. In short, the meeting did not end well. I should have listened to my wife.
Later that week, while praying and studying, I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit that I needed to call the entire group back together the next Sabbath to apologize, which I did. It was humbling, but I learned a good lesson.
The final crisis
The Lord is so good. He always gives us warnings. They come through conviction from the Holy Spirit, Scripture, prophets’ writings, friends, providences, and many other ways. All too often we hear them as harsh and threatening, but they are always an opportunity if we would but listen and respond appropriately.
We are in the last great crisis of this earth’s history. Will we listen to the warnings and appeals of our loving God and grasp the opportunity to be a part of the final breakthroughs before Jesus comes? He has sent us clear warnings and signs that His return is soon.
As we look at Matthew 24, we realize how clearly those signs are being fulfilled. Natural disasters, uncontrollable political and military upheavals, people’s hearts full of fear, false prophets and religions, moral decay, and sinfulness are rampant around this world.
The last two signs
I believe there are two signs just before Jesus comes that we are seeing fulfilled right now. Ellen White describes the first: “The very last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the testimony of the Spirit of God.”1
The Word of God is under attack. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of a very few Protestant churches that still believe in the literal seven-day Creation week. Of course, much of the rest of Scripture and its miracles are challenged by others as allegories and myths. The Bible certainly is not seen as the truthful, inspired writing of our Lord through His messengers.
All of the prophets have always been ridiculed and attacked, and Ellen White is no exception. This sign of making of “none effect” the testimonies also happens by simply ignoring or failing to read and follow the counsels and warnings the Lord has given us. This is the very last deception, and it is happening now.
We can read the second sign, found in Matthew 24:14: “ ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’ ” (NKJV).
It really is amazing what the Lord has done with this last-day movement since the disappointment of 1844 and the call He gave the new Sabbath keeping believers to take the three angels’ messages to the world. That small movement has grown into a worldwide church that has more than 18 million members speaking 926 languages and that preaches the last-day messages of Revelation 14 in more than 200 countries. Today, every 29 seconds a new person is baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist, about 3,000 people a day. And about every 4 hours a new church is organized.2
In October 2013, General Conference leaders called an Urban Evangelism Conference. First, the archives and statistics specialists brought in facts and reports of how the Lord has blessed the Global Mission initiatives started 25 years before. So many unentered territories back then now have Adventist work, and we rejoiced to see what the Lord has done.
Yet, more needs to be done. As of 2013, about half of the world’s population (about 3.5 billion) now lives in the major cities, a percentage that will continue to grow because people are constantly migrating from rural areas. At the same time, more than 500 cities have more than one million people; 236 of these are in the extremely difficultto-reach-evangelistically areas of the 10/40 Window (Northern Africa, Middle East, India, China, and Southeast Asia). Other statistics about these cities are just as sobering:
• There is an average of one Adventist congregation for every 89,000 people
• 100 cities have fewer than 1 Adventist for every 20,000 people
• 45 cities have fewer than 10 Adventist believers
• 43 cities are without even one Adventist congregation 3
• Some cities probably have never had an Adventist even set foot in them4
Work to be done
Jesus told us through His messenger Ellen White that He could have come soon after 1844.5 We must mourn the fact that we have not responded as we should have and are still in this world.
How long will it take until our mission is finished and Jesus comes? What is He waiting for? Even as we intensify our current efforts to use Christ’s method to reach the cities, the work before us remains daunting.
Several years ago I was speaking to a group of pastors and local church leaders in Africa. “We would never want this to happen,” I asked, “but if the president of the United States was suddenly killed, how long would it take for every villager in Africa and everyone in the whole world to know?”
One man answered, “Two days.” Others shook their heads and said, “One day.”
Most of the others were convinced it would take only a few days. Since then I have asked many groups all over the world, and all agree that a major event like that can certainly be known by everyone in the world in a short span of time.
So, if Jesus could have come back in the 1800s and certainly wants to now, He could do one or two major paradigm-shifting miracles or events, turning the attention of the whole world in a few days to the three angels’ messages. He then, in a very short time, could return.
Why does He not do it? What is He waiting for?
I believe that God has given us three extremely urgent appeals. He is still waiting in mercy for His people to intensely answer His three appeals. When that happens, the three angels’ messages will fly to every corner of the world, completing the mission.
What are the appeals? Major lay member involvement in the mission; a powerful movement of prayer—personal and united with others; and true repentance, confession of sin, and reconciliation for one accord among our Lord’s last-day people.
First appeal: A major lay movement to accomplish the mission. “The work in the cities is the essential work for this time. When the cities are worked as God would have them, the result will be the setting in operation of a mighty movement such as we have not yet witnessed.”6 This promise is for a movement greater than the Pentecost in Acts 2.
We know it will take more than just public proclamation. But Christ’s method alone, mingling with the people, sympathizing, ministering to their needs, winning their confidence, and calling them to follow Jesus, includes what it will take to finish the work. This work cannot depend on paid pastors and other gospel workers. We need a culture of lay involvement.
The promise is given, “Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, and the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.”7 When this happens, the power of the Holy Spirit will accomplish the final breakthroughs so the mission will be finished and Jesus will come!
Second appeal: A movement of prayer—personal and united prayer. Joel chapters 1 and 2 and the book of Acts make it clear that the final breakthroughs will come only in response to much prayer. In Joel 2:28, 29, leaders and people were called to consecrate a fast, call the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord, and cry out to Him. “ ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days’ ” (NIV).
In his book Partners in Prayer, John Maxwell recalls a quote from an evangelical pastor, “In Acts chapter two, they prayed for ten days. Peter preached for ten minutes and 3,000 were saved. Today, churches pray for ten minutes, preach for ten days and three get saved.”8
“A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work . . . . Our heavenly Father is more willing to give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, than are earthly parents to give good gifts to their children. But it is our work, by confession, humiliation, repentance, and earnest prayer, to fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to grant us His blessings. A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer.”9
Prayer is such a precious gift. Through this communion, we experience intimate relationship with Him, His presence, and what He can do when He unleashes His power.
Why do we resist? One reason many avoid more prayer is because often we are reminded of what is separating us from Him—our sins. We do not really want to surrender them, to be cleansed and allow His character to form in us. We do not want to be still and listen to Him in prayer.
Third appeal: True repentance, confession of sin, and reconciliation for one accord. It is the upper room experience, a time of heart searching, of confessing and putting aside all known sin. In Joel and in the days of Acts, God’s people were called to prayer that led to specific confession of all known sin. That led to a body of believers fully surrendered to their Lord and in one accord. Then the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost with power so His followers could take the gospel to the whole world.
Ellen White writes, “We have been asked why it is that there is so little power in the churches, why there is so little efficiency among our teachers. The answer is that it is because known sin in various forms is cherished among the professed followers of Christ, and the conscience becomes hardened by long violation. . . . As a result we see manifested in the church selfishness, covetousness, pride, strife, contention, hard-heartedness, licentiousness, and evil practices. Even among those who preach the sacred word of God, this state of evil is found.”10
Jesus wants His last-day people to follow Him and enter into the upper room experience. The Holy Spirit is waiting for us to be ready. Our Savior longs to pour down the latter rain and fill us with His power, to take the mission out of our weak hands and finish it in glory to Him!
Like the disciples gathered in that upper room waiting for the baptism of the Holy Spirit before they went out, we need much intense personal and united prayer, much heart searching with confessing and repenting of all known sin, reconciling all differences. Then we can go forward as a powerful movement involving every member to share the last-day message and mission. We have been warned, over and over again. The question remains: Will we listen and obey?
1 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 48.
2 “Seventh-day Adventist World Church Interesting Facts and Figures,” documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/Other /InterestingFacts2013.pdf.
3 “It’s Time: The Urgency of Urban Mission,” news.adventist.org /fi leadmin/news.adventist.org/files/news/2013/It_s_Time_ document.pdf. Information on the Mission to the Cities initiative can be found at missiontothecities.org.
4 Heard in verbal presentation by a leader in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) Union Mission.
5 See White, Selected Messages, v. 1:67–69.
6 Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1963), 304.
7 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 143, 144.
8 John Maxwell, Partners in Prayer (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 10.
9 White, Selected Messages, v. 1:121.
10 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1962), 162, 163.