Lest We Be Found Sleeping
Lessons for a drowsy, end-time church
By Velda Nelson (as told by Preston Smith)
Where’s my wife?” carpenter John Banta heard as he picked up his loudly ringing telephone in the middle of the night. “Where’s my wife?” repeated young Pastor Preston Smith. “[My wife] Dena called from Bend saying that they were having such good luck with their fund-raising they had decided to finish the territory and would be home late. Didn’t they come home?”
“They came home all right,” replied John, “but you had her locked out. I think you’re in big trouble, Brother. She is at the Browns’ next door to you.”
Early in the morning Pastor Smith rang the Browns’ doorbell. Dena opened the door. “Good morning, dear,” she said. “Are you going to let me come home now?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Pastor Smith replied. “What happened? I have breakfast all ready. Come home and let’s get things straightened out.”
“How could I ever have imagined that I would be locked out of my own house with you inside?” began Dena as she spooned cereal into the breakfast bowls of Linda (age 5) and Dickie (3). “When I left right after lunch, the children had gone with you to the church, and only after I got to our door last night did I remember that the house key was on the same ring with the car keys. We’ll have to remedy that.”
“Why didn’t you ring the doorbell?” her husband asked.
“Oh, but I did,” continued Dena, “and I pounded on the door and tried every entrance to see if it was unlocked. Would you believe I even tossed pebbles against the window where you were sleeping! Eventually, I went to the Browns’ and called on the telephone. You were asleep. I spent the rest of the night on the couch at the Browns’. How embarrassing! I hope I can forgive a sleeping husband,” she said.
To sleep soundly is to be unconscious and unaware of what’s happening around you. Thus Jesus repeatedly warned His people about the danger of being spiritually asleep just before His glorious return.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven…. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is…. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping” (Mark 13:32, 33, 35, 36).
Paul also spoke of Jesus coming unexpectedly: “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief…. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thess. 5:2-4, 6).
Jesus spoke of His unexpected coming in Matthew 25:1-13, and said that the whole church will be asleep near the time of His return. Both the wise and foolish virgins “all slumbered and slept” (verse 5). Thus He warned us all in verse 13: “Watch… for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
The glorious appearing of Christ in the clouds of heaven with all His holy angels is one thing—and very important. But we need to keep in mind a critically significant event that precedes the Advent, namely the close of human probation, when the door of mercy will be forever shut, with every person having made their final choice concerning His loving salvation so freely offered to all.
Awakened by the wail of the ambulance, the pastor could only stand there with a shocked expression on his face, meeting the stretcher bearers as they came to the door.
Just as Noah and his family were shut safely into the ark seven days before the Flood actually came, so Jesus will safely keep all who choose to love and obey Him in His constant care at the close of human probation. Shortly before His second coming in the clouds of heaven, He will close His work as our High Priest and will issue a final decree confirming every person’s final choice: “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:11, 12).
Jesus wants all to be saved eternally. His gracious promise is “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27, 28).
In the book Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (p. 119), Ellen G. White makes this reassuring statement: “Live in contact with the living Christ, and He will hold you firmly by a hand that will never let go. Know and believe the love that God has to us, and you are secure; that love is a fortress impregnable to all the delusions and assaults of Satan.”
Pastor Smith Again
Sometimes it takes more than a single lesson to show us the need to keep awake and alert. And to make the point, I pick on Pastor Smith again.
About 20 years after the incident described at the beginning of this article, Pastor Smith was involved in another experience of being asleep when he should have been awake. The new church sanctuary in Novato, California, (U.S.A.) had just been completed. Last-minute details included the installation of a telephone in the pastor’s office. Pastor Smith had gone to let the workman in, and while waiting lay down on the soft new carpet for a little rest. (Some weeks earlier he had been hospitalized with a heart problem, and the doctor had encouraged him to rest often.)
Meanwhile, Donna, mother of two of the children in the nearby Adventist school, had come to pick them up. She was early and so decided to visit the pastor in his new office. To her dismay, she found him lying on the floor; and supposing he’d suffered a heart attack went for help, eventually calling 911. Awakened by the wail of the ambulance, the pastor could only stand there with a shocked expression on his face, meeting the stretcher bearers as they came to the door.
It all ended well. But it did serve as another (somewhat humorous) reminder of the need to keep awake.
Let us heed Jesus’ warning and stay awake spiritually by abiding in Him continually. “Silently unnoticed, as the midnight thief, will come the decisive hour which marks the fixing of every man’s destiny, the final withdrawal of mercy’s offer to guilty men” (The Great Controversy, p. 491).
Velda Nelson is a retired English teacher living in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.