As the world watches Japan suffer in the aftermath of their triple tragedy—earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency, most people are moved by sympathy. But some are simply curious, while others are insensitive—like the Aflac Duck insurance spokesman, Gilbert Gottfried, fired after posting Twitter tweets about the tragedy that Aflac denounced as inappropriate humor. Incredibly and inexcusably, some Christians are also insensitive—even as genuine believers around the world donate millions toward disaster response while also devoting themselves to prayer.
During the 2004 Asian tsunami, I was a pastor in suburban Sacramento, California. We hosted an evening prayer service to pray for the survivors. Hearing that many unchurched Californians were praying, we invited the community to join us. We rented an electric sign trailer and put it on our curb to publicize the event.
People did come from the community, joining our members in the dimly lit sanctuary as music softly played. The atmosphere was intentionally that of a funeral service. I began by asking attendees to share their sentiments about the suffering before we engaged in prayer. One church member on the front row waved his arm for attention. I asked him to share his thoughts, and he gladly complied. Jumping up with an open Bible, he faced the audience and declared excitedly: “What happened is an awesome fulfillment of Christ’s prediction that in the last days there will be earthquakes and other disasters.”
He proceeded to read from Matthew chapter 24, but I stopped him. “There is a time and place to study the signs of Christ’s coming—but not tonight. We’re here to grieve and pray. If you want to contribute anything, there is a box in the back for any offerings people might want to give. But that’s all we will be doing. There will be no prophecy study here tonight.
Despite his obvious disappointment, we proceeded as planned.
Some weeks later after the grief and shock wore off, we did have a community study about prophecies of Christ’s soon coming. And some who were there for the prayer service did come with Bibles open.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There is a time to mourn, a time to give, and a time to study.