The other day, I was watching a few web clips of a team of storm chasers. This crew was made of mostly young people, all very excited about their job — part science, part road trip, mostly adrenaline rush. In this one particular clip, they were driving towards an enormous storm that all sensible people were fleeing from, and they were whooping and hollering like it was a football game. At one point, they stopped the van and stood outside, watching the swirling, green wall cloud that was all but ready to drop a twister. It was massive, brooding, and vicious, almost seeming to dare the young meteorologists, “Go on, make my day”. An awed silence fell over the group. One of the storm chasers began marveling over how beautiful it was — the colors, the rotation, and the lightning punctuating it all — and from my vantage point in the safety of my room, it was easy to see what he was talking about. You could tell that this was why he got into the job. He absolutely loved staring at big, raging thunderstorms.
In a subsequent clip, though, it was a different story. The storm team was frustrated and disappointed. While they had slept, a tornado had struck a few miles down the road. They had known the storm system was approaching, they knew it promised some sort of tornadic activity, and they could even pinpoint the town that would be in its path. However, the team leader (one of the older guys on the crew) made the call not to go chasing that particular storm. More than one person was miffed that, because of his decision, they missed what they termed “the tornado of the decade.”
They piled into their vehicle and drove to the affected town to catch some footage of the damage, so at least the tornado wouldn’t be a total loss. As they got nearer, signs of devastation were already becoming apparent. Power lines down. Trees shredded. Signs bent and ripped out of the ground.
The team grew quieter as they went on. When they entered the city limits, one lady was even in tears.
A young boy sat on the back of a pickup as his parents sorted through what had once been their house. Dead cows were strewn in a field where they had been tossed like rag dolls. Dozens of city blocks were leveled. Yesterday the town was there. Today it wasn’t. It had been struck by a massive F-5 tornado and didn’t stand the slightest chance of survival.
Between shots of the wreckage, the camera would cut to diferent storm chasers. The driver said soberly, “This breaks my heart.” The cameraman: “You know what? I don’t even wish we had gotten this one on film any more. This is just too devastating.” But the phrase that really struck me most was this: “I feel guilty for being so excited.”
Was the storm beautiful and terrifying? Yes, of course. Is there anything wrong with marveling at the beauty of the storm? Not at all. Was it bad to want to be one of the few who could say, “I saw the tornado of the decade”? No. Then what was the problem?
The problem was blissful disregard for the real human lives that hung in the balance. Realistically, this crew was full of people who studied weather for a living. It should not have been a big jump to get the equation: Tornado of the decade + small Midwestern town = tragic disaster. Yet it was only the team leader who had really foreseen the devastation. Most of the younger folks were simply thinking of great footage. And thus, the shock and guilt upon seeing the flattened town.
Here’s the thing: There is a much bigger storm on the horizon of this planet. It’s a storm that will radically alter the earth forever. It involves the breaking of seals, the sounding of trumpets, and the pouring out of bowls. It’s the judgment of God, coming upon the nations to shake everything that can be shaken. It’s beautiful and it’s terrifying. We know it’s coming and we know what is going to get hit. So how do we respond?
A while back, one of the leaders here at IHOP had a dream regarding the end of the age. I won’t go into details here (I probably couldn’t recount it accurately enough to do so anyway), but the main thrust of the dream was this: Don’t over-romanticize the end of the age.
The prophet Amos put it as bluntly as: “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! For what good is the day of the LORD to you? It will be darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18). To be clear, though, he was talking to those standing directly in the storm’s path — those whose hearts were not right with God. It would be as foolish as an inhabitant of that Kansas town cheering above the warning sirens, “Isn’t this awesome?? We’re about to get hit by an F-5!”
Please don’t mistake me: it’s profoundly right to rejoice in what God is doing. It’s good to plead for Him to release what is in His heart to do. It’s wonderful to desire to see Jesus come and set the wrong things right. We must embrace the Jesus who wears red (Isa 63). It is not only right, but necessary that this becomes a driving cry in our hearts, to see His return in our lifetime and to ask Him to judge the earth.
However, we do not want to become glib about what’s approaching. Even as we live to hasten the day, we need to be aware that there’s a reason He tarries — He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Pe 3:9). I believe that we should be reaching for that place of maturity where we join with the heart of God who wants to kindle fire on the earth, yet wants to save as many as possible from the flames. We, as believers, know better than anyone the nature of the coming storm. Seal #4 means a quarter of the earth’s population dies. Trumpet #6 takes down another third. It’s true justice, and the judgment of God is beautiful and good, but we must ask the question, how many can be saved? How many can be snatched from the fire before it’s too late?
Those who are most gripped to see the return of Christ must also be the ones most gripped to cry out for the saving of souls. If we are truly partnering with His heart, we must connect with not only His righteous indignation, but also (and I believe, firstly) with His deep compassion and desire for mercy. Even Amos, the same prophet who proclaimed the coming judgment, cried out on behalf of an undeserving people: “O Lord GOD, forgive, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, For he is small” (Am 7:2)! Judgment is never exacted apart from mercy. God never forgets about the real lives at stake. And as intercessors, as friends of the Bridegroom who is also a Judge, neither should we.
The storm of the ages is coming. Let’s get excited about it. Let’s long to see it. Let’s ask for Him to come. But let’s also remember that a real cost is involved, and the One we love wants to bring forth maximum salvation from it. Let’s do more than clap and grab our cameras. Let’s get on our knees and agree with the heart of God. Let’s cry out for mercy.