I was completely unprepared for Hurricane Harvey. Granted, we don’t live in the immediate danger zone, but being only a few hours from Houston, we knew we’d be getting heavy and persistent rains. The country roads in our area get washed out during heavy rain, and other roads flood, making them impassable. Kids basked in the novelty of having their first day of school canceled. Flash flood warnings popped up all over. Towns not too far from us had forced evacuations due to rivers flooding. In the face of such inclement weather, certain preparations are advised. Stock up on food in case you’re stranded for any length of time. Make sure you have plenty of potable water on hand should your water be contaminated by the fallout. Keep bags of ice handy in case the power goes out and you need to keep your refrigerated food from spoiling. All excellent advice. And I didn’t do any of it.
We live in a small enough town that I don’t do much grocery shopping here. We don’t have the selection, for one thing, and it’s fairly expensive. So I try to go to a bigger town every two weeks for a major shopping trip. With school scheduled to start this week, I was trying to hold out until the kids were in school before attempting another major shopping trip. But the trouble was that I was already pushing the end of a two-week period. I had next to nothing in the fruit bowl, three slices of bread left, little peanut butter, a nearly empty freezer, and an alarmingly low supply of coffee. I mean, bread I can make from scratch, but coffee? I had no bottled water stored up, so on the first day of the storms I found myself filtering water and storing it in empty milk jugs just in case. We have a gas stove, so I was fairly certain that if the electricity went out I’d still be able to cook, so that was a comfort, but the more immediate concern was what I would cook. Other than a package of chicken, I had no meat in the freezer. We’d planned to be away overnight at a nearby camp one day and at a fish fry another day. Both of those were canceled, so our food supply was more critical than I thought it would be, with the addition of two more meals on our already paltry supply of food. The sad fact is that I simply didn’t plan ahead. I was like the foolish bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable, the ones who didn’t have enough oil in their lamps.
Whether it’s a predicted blizzard in the north, a tornado warning, or a hurricane on a coast, people prepare for inclement weather much the same way––stock up on food and water and batteries for flashlights in case the power goes out. It’s not uncommon for grocery stores to run out of milk and bread because people raid the store and buy even more than they probably need for the few days of bad weather. Those who wait until the last minute (ahem) often find only empty shelves at the store. Why all the fuss? Because people like to be prepared. We like the peace of mind that comes with a good plan. And yet, many people fail to plan ahead for the most important event of all––the day they stand before God.
Going back to that parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), we see that Jesus wasn’t advising us to keep oil on hand. “The oil represents a faith continually sustained by the means of grace, thus able to endure until Christ’s return” (The Lutheran Study Bible note, p. 1638). You see, Jesus gives the faith, but those who continually neglect it will fall away by their own fault. Those who choose to distance themselves from the Church, who decide not to read the Bible, who put off nurturing their faith until they’re older, who value other things or activities more than their faith, are in grave danger of being unprepared when Jesus returns. It’s far more dangerous to be unprepared for Christ’s return than it is to be unprepared for a hurricane. And unlike Harvey, there will be no warning when Jesus comes. Meteorologists were able to warn people in advance about the approaching hurricane, so that many could evacuate and take proper precautions. But in speaking of His return, Jesus says, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
I don’t know when the rain will end. I don’t know when I’ll get to a well-stocked store again. We may lose power. I may run out of coffee. But we’ll survive. Eventually the sun will shine again, the waters will recede, and school will be in session. And in the meantime, I take comfort in the fact that even though I have no power over the weather, I know the One who controls the wind and the waves. And ultimately, that’s the only preparation I need.