When you're in the midst of tribulation, what should you do?

Have you ever experienced a season that was so stressful, troubling, and upsetting that all you wanted to do was scream? When you really want to let out a good yell, where is the safest place to do that? Practically speaking, I think your car tends to be the best place to let out a roar when you need to. There have been several times in my life when I have definitely taken advantage of the solitude, and cried out to God in such a loud way that I'm grateful the windshield didn't crack.

During the era in which Joel was ministering, the people of Judah were going through one of their worst collective trials since they had been established as a kingdom. The locust plague had destroyed their once beautiful land, and this once prosperous people was now surrounded by death and devastation. This portion of Scripture also gives prophetic insight into a time of tribulation that will be experienced throughout the whole earth.

So, when we're in the midst of a season of tribulation, what should we do? And being that we know ahead of time that great tribulation is going to come upon this earth one day, how should we prepare for that now?

I. Sound the alarm

Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.
— Joel 2:1-2, ESV

When I was twelve-years-old, my grandparents bought me an alarm clock as a gift. It's ridiculously loud, and even though I have been using it every day for decades, it still works perfectly. I'll never forget one time when I was working at a camp during high school and I forgot that I hit "snooze" right before I got up for breakfast and walked up to the dining hall. Shortly after breakfast, I was walking a reasonable distance away from my cabin and I could clearly hear my alarm blaring in the distance. I ran back to turn it off.

This portion of Scripture from Joel is like a loud alarm clock. It's a portion of God's word that gives us a very helpful warning about what's on the horizon, but many people who have access to this warning will completely ignore it. Admittedly, even when I'm preaching, this isn't necessarily the kind of topic that I gravitate toward speaking about, but when we look at this passage, I think it's very clear that we shouldn't ignore important cautions like these, even if they make us shiver.

Joel encourages the people to sound an alarm. He tells them to blow a trumpet to get the attention of others because the day of the Lord is coming. The day of the Lord that Joel is prophetically referencing begins with gloom, but will ultimately end with glory. We see this day referenced elsewhere in Scripture as well. It's a period of time when this earth will undergo a season of tribulation, but once that season is complete, Jesus will return to reign upon this earth as king.

Look at some of the comments that are made elsewhere in Scripture about the tribulation that will be experienced on the earth during that time.

  • "At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book." (Daniel 12:1, ESV)

  • But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory." (Mark 13:24-26, ESV)

While we wait for that day to come, we're given the privilege as Christ's ambassadors to sound an alarm. Some will ignore the alarm. Some will attempt to "snooze" it, but those whom Christ is calling unto Himself will give heed to the warning and respond while there's still time.

II. We have to deal with what we can't escape

Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.

Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run. As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle.
— Joel 2:3-5, ESV

Living in the Northeast portion of the United States, there are two distinct times of year as far as vegetation is concerned. For more than half of the year, there are beautiful leaves on the trees. For the rest of the year, the trees are barren and the landscape seems to hide the full display of its beauty. Admittedly, I'm much fonder of the warm seasons when the vegetation is in full bloom than I am of the cold seasons when it isn't.

Joel describes the land of Judah as a beautiful place, resembling the garden of Eden in its splendor. But as the plague of locusts that was impacting them at the time swarmed through, they ate the vegetation and made the region look like a desolate wilderness. Joel describes the locusts like a group of war horses that devoured, destroyed, and consumed the beauty of the land.

For the people of Judah, there was no way to escape this plague. They would have to deal with the aftermath somehow because they couldn't avoid the damaging effects of these swarming insects. Likewise, the same is true for those who persist in their rejection of Christ. They will experience the full effects of the time of tribulation that the Lord brings upon this earth and the punishment that's reserved for those who have chosen to persist in their unbelief and rebellious sin.

In life, we have to deal with what we cannot escape. As much as we would like it to be the case, there are trials that come upon us all that we just can't run from. We have to deal with them because we certainly can't avoid them. But in regard to the time of future tribulation that will come upon this earth, we have one who has dealt with it for us, and in Him we can escape.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.  For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36, ESV)

Christ is our refuge. Christ is our escape. Those who find life in Him are not destined for wrath. Those who find life in Him will share in His glory forever.

III. Lacking faith will only produce greater anguish

Before them peoples are in anguish; all faces grow pale.  Like warriors they charge; like soldiers they scale the wall. They march each on his way; they do not swerve from their paths.  They do not jostle one another; each marches in his path; they burst through the weapons and are not halted.  They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls, they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief.
— Joel 2:6-9, ESV

It would probably sound controversial in some circles for me to make this assertion, but I don't truly believe those who consider themselves atheists are as atheistic as they may claim to be. I think we're all placing our faith in something, but if our faith is misplaced, we'll experience pain and sorrow that we didn't really need to endure.

The people of Judah had placed their faith in their riches and idols. Their allegiance to false gods was being judged in the midst of the plague described by Joel. As they observed this taking place, and realized they were helpless to do anything about it, their faces grew pale in fear. That is often the human response to trouble when we're living this life without an abiding trust in our sovereign Creator.

Have you ever witnessed a person lose all color from their face? Years ago, I volunteered to lead a struggling ministry that couldn't figure out where its finances were going and why they were being charged for big ticket items they had not ordered. In the midst of trying to figure out what was causing this, it became clear to me that one of the leaders was stealing from the ministry, so I went to their house, confronted them with the truth, and I literally saw almost all color drain from their face when they realized they were caught.

When we lack faith in Christ, we elect to go through life without His counsel and direction. We're also forced to face our trials without a deep awareness of His presence. The end result of that approach is anguish. But when we walk by faith in Christ, we can face the darkest and scariest moments of our lives with complete confidence that He is with us and will use even our darkest moments to bring blessing into our lives.

IV. Let the Lord speak into your situation

The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?
— Joel 2:10-11, ESV

Joel tells us that the Lord will utter His voice, and that which He decrees will be powerfully enacted. In this description, we're being shown a glimpse of Christ's future reign as king on this earth. He came the first time to serve us and suffer on our behalf. He's returning to rule and reign.

"Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:4, ESV)

Let Him who spoke creation into existence speak into your situation, no matter how bleak it presently looks. He is worthy of your trust, and He's the one who can turn your tribulation into a divinely orchestrated triumph that brings you blessing and gives Him glory.

© John Stange, 2019