In preparing for hard times, it has long been my belief that the first priority of Christian men and women must be preparing spiritually for the difficult road ahead. The church and culture of the United States have grown very soft, and, unlike our forefathers, most Christians in America today have little experience coping with hard times. We live in a culture that believes in having an insurance policy or material solution for any crisis that life brings our way. This applies down to the smallest personal tragedies, with only a handful of exceptions, and leaves us woefully underprepared to deal with physical tragedy in a way that is spiritually appropriate. In particular we have forgotten that, while relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ is the defining factor in walking with God, there is a set of skills and best practices that build us up in spiritual discipline and prepares us to deal with loss and hard times. These disciplines are not some sort of mystical practices or vague spiritual concepts, rather they are like physical exercise. They are practical, how to, type skills that can aide any believer in maintaining a living and active faith; one which is also prepared to face adversity in a righteous manner. What follows will be rooted deeply in the process that God has taken me through over the last several years in stepping out of our materialistic culture and returning to true pursuit of Christ. I don't claim to have everything figured out, but I certainly hope that my experiences will be helpful to other brothers and sisters who are faced with the knowledge that collapse will hit our nation.
Lest anyone misunderstand, let me clarify, I am not saying that physical preparedness should not be practiced as some have said. It is my belief that God's people can best be the Church in the times ahead by being prepared not only to fulfill the basic requirement to protect their own families, but also by being prepared to care for others particularly widows, orphans, foreigners, and others who have less immediately available means of protection. This mandate to provide for those weaker than ourselves appears throughout scripture, particularly in the Old Testament and I believe implies the need to be strong enough to protect the oppressed from the oppressor. It is also prudent to have the means set aside to protect your family, which is a basic mandate of scripture. What I am saying instead, is that all the physical preparation in the world won't do you a lick of good if you aren't spiritually prepared to face what lies ahead. Just like having a tool and not knowing how to use it won't help you, having everything you need laid away and not being in a proper place before God won't help you either. Just imagine the consequences of having a full blown emotional break down post collapse, or the consequences of gradually allowing your beliefs to erode until you become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Only through careful discipline now can you avert catastrophe later.
Before I begin to go through the various disciplines I have found to be helpful in making ready spiritually for the hard days that we are all most certainly going to face there are a few issues that I need to address. Bad doctrine in several vital areas has so infected the church that I feel the need to go ahead and address a couple of key areas that will definitely hold you back in spiritual preparedness. I suspect many preppers and survivalists are already unwound enough from our culture, but just in case I'll proceed.
1.Lay a firm foundation. It has become rather common in today's church to completely disregard the testimony of Scripture and of the Ancient Church. As an example, while I was taking upper level Bible classes in college, I had a professor ask the class whether or not denying the virgin birth was heretical. Now to be fair to the professor, he wasn't attacking the doctrine of the virgin birth and for the most part he was fairly good to protect the authority of scripture; but in a class room full of pre-ministry or pre-seminary students at one of the more conservative schools in the country, I was the only one who was willing to state that it was. You see, we have a truth problem in America today. No one is willing to stand up for the truth and call a lie a lie, even if they have to deny 3 of the 4 Gospels (you could argue all 4 gospels, but John is less explicit than the synoptics so I'll give them this one) and every Creed and teaching the Church Fathers ever gave us.
If you want to be prepared for hard times, then you have to be rooted firmly to a solid foundation. Your emotions and thoughts are very likely to be frayed and easily moved under the pressure and stress that a total collapse will put you under. Only the Word of God can maintain its consistency and authority during such times. I will talk more later on about disciplined study of the Word, but for now I'll keep my focus on accepting the truth about the Word. Make sure that bare minimum, you recognize that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God and that as such it is inerrant and a faithful witness of God's moral statutes and redemptive plan to save mankind. Furthermore I suggest reading through the Apostle's Creed and making sure that you are comfortable with the basic doctrines it contains. If you can't affirm both of these things you have 2 problems. First of all you are completely out of step with historical Christianity. Losing touch with the men and women who persevered at all costs during times far worse than any we will see, men and women who survived the rise and fall of many nations, will most certainly do you great harm at a time when you should be relating to them most. The even bigger problem though is that your faith will have no firm foundation. The post-modern Christian is blown back and forth by emotion and feel-good doctrine. Neither of these will survive the social upheaval caused by a full blown economic collapse.
2.Come unwrapped from the materialism of our culture. The Western Church has largely bought into the materialism that has permeated the Western culture for several decades now. Rather than Biblically taking a stand against the sinful focus on building physical wealth, we have instead begun to incorporate our desire for material wealth into our church teaching. The most blatant form of this is the so called "prosperity gospel", which has effectively turned the Creator of the universe into a Christianized Santa Claus who only ever wants to give "stuff" to people if they believe the right things, regardless of their actions or lifestyle. At the more subtle levels materialism has crept into the church through small compromises and changed priorities. The danger first of all is that we will so conform our beliefs about God to our own image that our church services will be about worshipping and glorifying ourselves and not the true God. The other danger though, in time of collapse, is 2 fold.
First of all, those who believe that God is looking out for all of their material needs no matter what (and the excesses of our modern culture make this easy to believe for a time) are less likely to feel the need to prepare. If you have friends or family who insistently refuse to prepare, it may be wise to question them further and see if this false teaching is affecting their mindset. The problem with this doctrine is that it ignores all Biblical references to suffering. "My God shall supply all your needs" -Philippians 4:19 sounds like it might support this belief system, but only if you ignore verses 10-13 where Paul talks about being content through suffering. This teaching pretty much follows this same pattern throughout scripture, cutting and pasting verses to fit in with its convenient belief system. It is particularly prone to ignore the more narrative stretches of the Old Testament where God's people often go through very hard times sometimes as a form of testing and growth, like Job; and sometimes as a consequence for their sin, such as the fall of both Samaria and Jerusalem. Scripture is clear that God does provide for His people, that He is a protector and a guide; but the Church does go through difficult and trying times, in fact Christ promised on multiple occasions that we would. The goal is not to be at ease in the world but to overcome the world through faith.
Secondly, those who have bought in to this teaching will be experience a major failure of their faith at the time when they need it most. By focusing on the material and not the spiritual, Christians are setting themselves up to be angry at God when their physical prosperity fails. I certainly believe that God provides for His people to glorify Himself, and I believe that the forewarning to prepare now is an excellent example of His provision. However, when we ignore God's allowance of His people to suffer as well, we erode our own ability to hold up under suffering. Recognizing that God is with us, even in suffering, is key to being able to hold up spiritually when you encounter a major set back.
Unwrapping from this belief system is not an easy process, for most of us we encountered it in some fashion from a very early age and have never lived in a time when tragedies beyond just the personal level were very common. To begin the unwrapping process refocus on God's person and not on His stuff. Learn to love God regardless of what He gives you, a good example to look to in this would be the church in the majority world. Believers in China, the Middle East, Africa, and a great many other places are suffering on a daily basis. Look to their example for a better perspective on suffering. Scripture and early church teaching will also give you a more clear worldview on suffering and hard times, which I will address when I talk in more detail about each.
Disciplined Study of the Word
The study of Scripture is simultaneously one of greatest sources of strength for a believer and one of the most neglected disciplines in the Western Church. Many in this country spend a great deal of time seeking the face of God for a still quiet answer to a question that is already spelled out clearly in the Word. If we are going to obey God, we must be familiar enough with His commands to obey them. For this reason, consistent time in the Word is the key.
An important starting point is to set aside a time and place to study each day. My personal experience has been that studying first thing in the morning has several benefits: 1. I am less likely to get caught up in other activities and forget to come back and study later. 2. I have found that I really need that quiet time in the Word each morning to properly prepare for my day. 3. I am more focused in the quiet hours of the morning that I am later in the day when there are more distractions. 4. I find it important to give God my attention first and foremost each morning. Now this doesn't mean that studying first thing in the morning is the only way, but it is for many people the best time to study, followed by an evening Bible study time with the family. In choosing a place to study I have only one helpful recommendation. Try to choose a place that will be quiet and unoccupied at the time of day you want to study, even if you have house guests. I have had my quiet times pretty easily interrupted in the past by failing to recognize that I was studying in a place that a visiting relative might need to sleep. Seeing as in a collapse situation you are likely to have many guests, think through a possible place where you can meet God alone even with guests in the house. I have found a decent little desk in the corner of a garage or barn to work well since they are both typically a bit crowded and dirty for guests. I suppose you could also choose some place that wasn't heated at night as no one wants to sleep in the cold. Finally, do not allow busyness or other pressing chores to interrupt your time of Bible study and prayer. The more important the things you have to do each day, the more important it is that you spend time with The Lord to ensure His presence with you as you go about them.
Personally I have found it best to study every day. There was a time when I didn't study on Sunday because I was going to church anyway. I found recently, however, that while you can maintain a habit that you don't practice everyday, it is much harder. Since this is such a vital area I don't want to risk even one day throwing my routine off. Your experience may be quite different, I am just pointing to what has worked for me personally.
There are numerous wonderful Bible reading plans out there, just make sure you are reading the whole Bible at least once per year. The Old Testament is very frequently neglected, much to the loss of the Church. First of all, God's plan for revealing to Himself to mankind didn't change from the Old Testament to the New Testament, it was just in different stages. As a result, only some of the commands given in the Old Testament are reiterated in the New Testament, what's more the New Testament assumes an Old Testament understanding of God's faithful dealings with His people and judgment for sin. When the Old Testament doesn't get read we miss out these things, of particular importance in hard times we miss out on the stories of God's repeated faithfulness towards those who followed after Him. I have found these stories to be deeply helpful each and every time I faced difficult times. While there is lots of suffering and hardship in the New Testament as well, the narratives tend to move much quicker and so we miss out on the deeply personal stories of the men and women of faith who have overcome hard times before us. No Christian who has read the OT consistently and honestly will be easy prey for the false doctrines of prosperity present in our nation today. We as a Church need to be able to relate to the giants on whose shoulders we stand if we want to persevere through the kind of things they persevered through. In maintaining this discipline I have been using the following reading plan and enjoying it more than any I have done before: I read 2 chapters from the OT, 1 Psalm or Proverb, 1 Chapter in the 4 Gospels, and 2 Chapters in the NT. In this way you will approximately read the whole OT in 1 year, Psalms and Proverbs twice each year, and the Gospels and NT 4 times per year or once every 90 days. I have found this helpful particularly because I find Psalms and Proverbs help me meditate more clearly on my other readings. I also think it is critical to keep the Gospel constantly before me if I intend to share it anytime that occasion arises and also in that reading about the life of Christ makes it easier to diligently seek to live like Christ. This reading plan also keeps me from getting bored when my OT readings are taking me through a book like Leviticus, which is a bit difficult to chew for Gentile readers. As I said there a numerous other reading plans out there that don't involve as much reading, but I have found I can get through this in about 20-30 minutes a day which I found to be about the right amount of time if I plan to devote and hour to Bible study and prayer each day.
One fortunate advantage we have today is in the area of Bible study resources. Thanks to the internet, many powerful tools are available absolutely free for use today. Particularly, there is lots of access to classical Christian teaching and commentary. Some examples of available resources are: Matthew Henry's Commentary, John Wesley's Commentary, Luther and Calvin's Commentary, Strong's Exhaustive Greek and Hebrew Concordances, Augustine and Chrystom's Commentaries, Eusebius's History of the Christian Church, the writings of Jonathan Edwards and many of the Puritan writers, and many more. One of the really nice things are applications like E-Sword (there is one called pocket-sword of iOs users as well) that are available free and can allow you to switch rather seamlessly from your reading to looking up a Greek word or consulting a decent commentary. I recommend not being totally dependent on electronic study tools, but these do represent a great free resource for the time being. It is also necessary to be careful not to substitute good teaching for Scripture, so don't get to carried away. These resources are best used to clarify difficult passages or to use as an additional study resource when you need advice from the Early Church Fathers, they aren't a replacement for the Word.
In your study of the Word a change in mindset from the Western church will be needed in order to truly grow in Christ. We have tended over the last several decades to tie maturity with knowledge, unfortunately without disciplined practice knowledge is dead. In the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20, emphasis mine) Jesus commands His disciples to go out and make disciples teaching them to obey everything He has commanded. A disciple is obedient to the Word not just familiar with it. The process of careful study of the Word should involve very careful reflection to continue growing in obedience to the Word as you learn more of it. This process never really reaches a point of full completion since the Holy Spirit's transforming work in our lives is ongoing, but nevertheless it should be our goal to come into obedience to each new command we encounter. This should also involve pre-applying commands to situations you are likely to face both in good times and in bad. It will save you a great deal of pain and heartrending if you pre-determine the Biblical response to many "ethical dilemmas" you may face if we suffer socioeconomic collapse. There is nothing more comforting than having a clear command of Scripture stored up in your heart such that you can react quickly and confidently under distress. One good example of this is use of force. Depending on your walk in life you may have to weigh through the currently common doctrine of pacifism to determine if you would ever use lethal force against someone else; I personally think Scripture and Early Church teaching are clear on the right to defend oneself, and others; but you have to make up your own mind ahead of time. I have no intention of being the Holy Spirit for you. Even if pacifism isn't an issue for you, you need to carefully study through at which points using lethal force is justified and at which it isn't. Otherwise you could either endanger your family or others by acting to late, or damage your conscious by shedding innocent blood.This is just one example, there are numerous situations that the obedient Christian should be careful to apply Scripture to in advance.
The final important part of the Bible study process, and just to keep it real I'm mostly preaching to myself here, is regular family worship times (assuming of course you have a family). For a man and wife this may simply be continual Christ-centered conversations rooted in their own study of the word, but for those with children a nightly, or at least several nights a week, time of family devotions is key to maintaining the spiritual health of your family. In a time when you could be snatched away from your children by death at any moment, it is all the more important that you spiritually prepare them to seek Christ on their own. The older your children get the more your study with them will resemble your personal Bible study time, but in the meantime I strongly suggest Bible storying as it will help both you and your children. The goal, is to be able to recite important OT stories, Gospel parables, key teachings of Jesus and the apostles, as well as events from the Acts from memory in your own words. Line by line memorization should still be an important part of your personal Bible study time, but generally committing a particular version to memory in bulk is discouraging for most adults and children. Learning to recite stories is much easier and can just as easily be applied to obedience based solutions. Remember this is the primary way that Jesus taught people when He was on the earth. He used parables to convey important Spiritual truths. We can do the same so long as we are careful to teach age appropriate obedience steps at the end of each story. If your children are old enough to read then have them read along after you have recited the story together before you discuss it further, this will help them recognize the authoritative source of each story. You should also have them try to apply the story before you teach them an application so that they will learn obedience based discipleship. The benefit of storying like this is that the further you get with it, the more key Biblical events and lessons you and your children will have access to even if a Bible is not readily available. Spiritually providing in this way for both yourself and your children is critical in spiritually preparing for hard times. I will also add that these kinds of study and story times can also be included in your retreat groups time together as a way of mutually maintaining each other's faith. Also by worshipping together several nights a week, the person on watch duty will never miss more than one days worship gathering at a time (as opposed to missing the 1 Sunday worship time this week).
A Constant Life of Prayer
Another deep lack in most Western Christians is the lack of any kind of regular prayer life. We may pray over the occasional meal or when something goes badly wrong and we need help but in general we are a rather prayerless people. We have spent a good deal of time worrying about restoring prayer in our public schools (not by any means a bad goal) all the while failing to recognize that the greater danger is the lack of prayer in our homes. It is vital for the life of Faith to stay in constant communication and communion with God throughout your daily routine, and as this is a practice and requires time and experience it is key to your spiritual survival that you begin now rather than after the collapse begins. Let me talk first about the benefits of a deep prayer life.
1.Prayer helps us maintain a position of dependency on God. One of the first things we ought to do in prayer is confess our total dependence on God for our survival and well being. This represents an act of rebellion against our culture of material comfort and self reliance and a turn towards God for aid. I have found that while God is always willing to aid and shelter His people, He often responds quicker to those who already knew they needed Him before things went wrong. Once more, those who are not aware of their constant need for God will often miss His answers to their prayers. As I said before God is not some sort of Santa Clause whose sole desire is to go around granting wishes and giving out presents. Often He desires some sort of more meaningful development in our life spiritually rather than an immediate release from the dark circumstances around us. Only through disciplined regular prayer can we hear God's voice and sense His presence as He suffers alongside us rather than simply taking us out of the situation. This presence should be our greatest comfort in hard times, but it is easy to miss if you don't realize your dependence on God until after you are in trouble.
2.A solid prayer life will keep you focused on the big picture. God's goal throughout scripture is for His name to be glorified throughout the earth. After the fall of man God established His covenant with Abram (Gen 12:11-12) that "all families of the earth" would be blessed through Him. Throughout Genesis, Israel's history, and the prophets God continually reminded His people that they were to spread His glory and reputation to other nations. When Jesus came and brought salvation to mankind he reiterated this constant theme of scripture in His "Great Commission". Our focus in prayer ought to be on God's glory. This encompass both prayer for His church to overcome the world and for His Kingdom to expand to all "peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations". In constantly praying for God's Kingdom to come and for other peoples around the world it becomes easier to take our eyes off of our immediate situation and realize that God in His sovereignty is advancing His Kingdom no matter what appears to be happening around us. Many falls and rises of nations have in fact resulted in the growth of God's kingdom on earth. When Rome began falling to the then pagan "barbarian" peoples in other parts of Europe, Christian Romans became prisoners to the conquering peoples. There prisoners shared their Faith with their captors and gradually through a series of exchanges like this Europe became a vibrant Christian continent. One great personal example of this is that of St. Patrick who as young boy was kidnapped from his home in England and carried off to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped, but after truly turning to Christ; he felt called to go back to Ireland with the Gospel. The result was the incredible growth of the Irish church, which some have even gone so far as to say saved the Faith at that time. Having a Kingdom focus like this is of great encouragement when things around us are going badly because we don't know what God will do with the situation, but we do know that He is sovereign and will use all earthly events for His own glory.
3.Only in daily prayer can we maintain a position of repentance before God. In the struggle for Christian purity only a continual life of prayer helps us to maintain a repentant heart before God. We must daily confess our sins and failings to God and ask for His strength and purity in Christ Jesus if we want to overcome sin. When we fail to confess our need for God's forgiveness regularly we can quickly become calloused towards our sinful condition; sometimes to the point that we no longer recognize the need for repentance. This slow slide towards depravity is always dangerous to the Christian, but in difficult times it poses all the more danger. Maintaining purity and moral integrity while making important decisions about protecting and providing for your family and others is crucial to remaining part of the solution rather than becoming part of the family. Even a small root of dishonesty could easily lead to theft (an the possibility of someone shooting you for it) if the Holy Spirit is not allowed to deal with it in our lives. Even the slightest bit of sin in our lives grows over time, but without the additional check of legal ramifications and with more pressure on our shoulders to survive, this process can be accelerated to critical levels much more quickly. Only in striving for holiness day in and day out through prayer and faithful obedience to the Word of God can we avoid this slide.
4.The most important aspect of regular prayer life is the presence and voice of the Holy Spirit. As I said earlier, God often gives us Himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, when we are in deep need. This fellowship with and leading of the Holy Spirit will help the Christian man or woman to pull through even the most difficult times without feeling abandoned or scorned by God. The life of prayer allows the Christian to remain in constant contact with the Holy Spirit and to be disciplined in recognizing His presence and hearing His voice. One word of warning here though, the Holy Spirit is easily grieved. If you are intentionally ignoring His conviction of your heart or a clear command of Scripture He is unlikely to have fellowship with you. As you seek to commune with Him, be sure to ask Him to point out any areas of sin or unbelief in your life; and when you repent pray like David "take not your Holy Spirit from me".
How then should we pray? Personally, I have found praying through the Lord's Prayer to be the best way to organize my daily prayer life. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray I don't believe He was giving them some sort of magic password or formula prayer, rather he outlined the way in which a believer ought to pray:
Our Father, in heaven is a simultaneous confession of our familial relationship with God through the blood of Jesus and a confession of His sovereign kingship (the Children of Israel consistently used the term 'our father' in reference to the king). We are to begin our prayers this way in order to confess that God is sovereign over all things and to establish our ability to come before His throne through the blood of Jesus Christ.This confession puts our hearts in the right attitude before the King of the Universe.
Sanctify your name. I translated this sanctify here because it is a better translation than the more recent "Holy is your name" the KJV got this one right with "Hallowed be" but many people don't recognize the difference between the two. Christ is praying, and teaching us to pray, that God would Himself maintain the holiness of His name. This should be seen as distinct from a simple confession that God's name is Holy. We are to ask God that He set His name apart and cause it to be glorified to the ends of the earth. This aligns our heart and focus on God's heart and focus, namely His own glory and reputation in the earth. The prayer that God would sanctify His name is a prayer that He would purify His church, the representatives of His name on earth, both in us and the body around the world; and that He would expand His church. During this time I tend to focus heavily on the desire for purity in myself and the Church as in our day in age the church bears the most responsibility for slanderous accusations brought against God's name.
Your Kingdom come then follows logically as we continue to pray for the advance of God's Kingdom. This is the point at which your prayer life should be focused Mission around the world. Incorporate prayer for missionaries you support and for specific unreached people's each day during this time. In doing so we are aligning ourselves with God's global purpose and becoming more removed from our own immediate situation and needs. Most importantly though, as the advance of God's Kingdom to every tribe, tongue, and nation is central to God's heart, we are learning to love the things our Father loves and to walk in obedience to His plans and will. We cannot really know God unless we begin to care about the things He cares about.
In praying Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven we are again aligning ourselves with God's will both as we seek to live in obedience to His Word and as we seek His will for the situations that are most immediately impacting our lives. This is a good point to focus on making sure that we know the will of God for us. A time of quiet reflection on Biblical truths as well as silent listening for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit is appropriate at this point. It doesn't have to be at this point, but our prayer time should always allow some quiet time for God to speak, rather than being filled only with our own words.
Give us this day our daily bread is a confession of God's provision for us, an admission that He is our provider no matter what it is that we think we have done for ourselves. In addition it is at this point that we should begin to ask God to assist us with material needs. Only after we have meticulously prayed for God's glory and Kingdom to advance our we ready to ask for our material needs to be met without being self-centered and materialistic.It is important that we go through the process of deliberately focusing on higher things before returning to our own material needs.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one should lead us into a time of meditational repentance. Obviously we should never begin our prayer time without confessing hidden sin first, but at this point we should carefully meditate through our actions to seek out any area of unrepentance in our hearts. We have to daily let the Holy Spirit search out our hearts for any sins which even we ourselves may have not fully thought through. Be especially careful of strongholds in the mind which are often more subtle and easily forgotten. Even when I don't feel the need to repent of any particular sin I repent daily anyway, confessing that I am a sinful broken man and have only become who I am because of the grace of God through Christ Jesus. At this time also weigh through any offenses you have received and meticulously forgive anyone who has wronged you. A root of unforgiveness can be destructive and toxic in all of your relationships, but particularly if someone under your own roof (your spouse, parent, retreat group member etc.) has wounded you, unforgiveness can deeply grieve everyone around you. Even worse, unforgiveness can blind you to other sin in your life and keep you from hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, neither of which should the Christian ever desire and both of which are even more destructive in very difficult times. Finally, we need to be diligently praying for deliverance from temptation. Be it areas of habitual sin that we are struggling against all to often or situations that arise that test are character, we need God's grace to go before us and give us the strength to walk in holiness. I can't emphasize this area of holiness enough, only if God's people begin to keep His commandments, both in walking holy and upright lives and in dedicating themselves to the advance of His Kingdom, will we ever see God begin to restore this nation and its people.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Finally we close with another confession of God's greatness and glory. At this point I also think it is important to confess your dependence on God for the whole day and to invite the Holy Spirit to go with you when you leave your place of prayer and spend the day with you. This presence of God in our lives on a daily basis cannot be substituted for anything else in our lives.
Some final notes on maintaining a prayer life. I have found it to be very helpful to pray out loud instead of quietly to myself. This doesn't mean don't pray quietly to yourself, but praying out loud helps me to focus on God and on my communication and communion with Him rather than getting distracted with my own thoughts. I would add to my list of criteria for a good place of prayer and study that somewhere you can pray out loud without waking others is very helpful. I would also add that when you are seeking to hear God's voice two things can be very helpful. First, I find that some worship music playing in the back ground or else starting off my time of prayer by singing and old hymn (the old hymns are much easier to memorize and sing by yourself than most modern worship music) can be very helpful in focusing on God and hearing His voice. Secondly, make sure you are leaving plenty of quiet times in your day when God can speak. If every quiet moment you have is crammed full of music or activity it can be much easier to miss the voice of the Holy Spirit because of all the noise.
Find a Church
Another often neglected need in the life of the Christian is that of a church body. In this day and age of church shopping and hopping, and at a time when many Christians simply don't attend church or tune in to various well no preacher personalities online or on television, the whole concept of Church has been very much distorted. This issue is further complicated by the fact that many of our modern American churches are incapable of fulfilling many of the most basic responsibilities of the Church as ordained by Jesus Christ. Let me begin by making the case for Christians to be a integral part of a church.
For me, Hebrews 10:24-25 (NKJV) settles this issue pretty clearly "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching". Particularly so, since assembling together is mentioned explicitly as is stirring one another on towards love and good works, neither of which can be accomplished out of fellowship. Even more clear though are the metaphors used in Scripture to describe the Church. 1 Corinthians 12 for example describes the Church as the "body of Christ" and refers to each member as a part of the body. It doesn't take much thought to realize that an eye or a heart or even a brain cannot survive if it is separated from the rest of the body for very long. 1 Peter 2:5 uses the term "living stones" and "spiritual house" another reference that occurs frequently. In this case it should be clear that a stone apart from other stones cannot be a "spiritual house". I don't really intend to treat this issue in great detail, as others have done so before me, but I did feel like I needed to summarize the Biblical case for being in fellowship. We need to be very cautious to remain in close fellowship with other believers, this is particularly true in difficult times as we will need the Church to function as it ought to in our lives.
The other complicating factor in this part of our discussion is that many American churches today fail to fulfill the basic scriptural definition of a scripture. I am not necessarily saying that if you are part of one of these bodies that you have to pull out, but you do need to recognize that you have unmet Biblical needs that you will have to meet though a body more similar to a New Testament Church. The problem begins with the fact that we have defined a church as a building where people meet together, when in fact the church is an assembly of God's people meeting together for mutual support. An assembly such as this can meet in a home, under a tree, in a multi-million dollar building, or anywhere else that God's children choose to assemble. We should instead begin identifying churches based on their fulfillment of the Biblically prescribed Church.
Functions of a Biblical Church:
Spiritual authority over the life of the believer. Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV) "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" The Biblical church is in a position of authority in the life of the believer. This authority is for protection and accountability. Church pastors are consistently described throughout the NT and early Church history using a shepherding metaphor. This refers to their responsibility to both provide daily care such as food and water to their "sheep" as well as to protect the sheep from the attacks of wolves and other predators. As such a good church must not only be in a position to give you instruction in sound doctrine but you should also know and be known well enough by your church leadership that they can correct you from errors of sin or bad doctrine. To be honest folks, this is pretty hard to accomplish in a large church. That doesn't mean it can't be, but it will have to be done differently. If you are attending a church to large for this function to be met then you will need to be part of smaller group within that body, specifically organized for this purpose. Such accountability and protection will be vital for you as are forced to make extremely difficult choices on a day to day basis in a post-collapse situation. Having a solid body of believers and spiritual authority over you will make these decisions much easier to handle. This issue of authority is the real key in determining whether a body is just a "small group" or a church. Any group of believers is able to form a home fellowship together, so long as they are willing to take on the spiritual responsibility for one another.
A true church does ministry together. Heb 10:25 (as quoted above) describes the process of "stirring on another on towards love and good deeds", a theme often repeated in various forms throughout the NT. For His part, Jesus always did ministry in concert with a group of 12, or in cases of even deeper teaching 3 men. This meant that there were always those who were watching His actions carefully to learn from them and emulate them. Each member of the body of Christ has unique abilities and experiences, but, unfortunately, when we primarily practice ministry by ourselves (or not at all) we fail to learn from each other. A Church should be doing life together in such a way that ministry flows naturally though each member in concert with the others. A true Church cannot simply not do ministry, the call to every disciple of Jesus Christ is to "make disciples of all nations". This cannot be accomplished by being silent and attending church every Sunday. Rather it must be perpetually acted upon by believers working together in their community and around the world. The true church is always missional, if it is not then it is in error. Part of being part of a church then means being part of a missional community intentionally doing life and ministry together locally and globally.
As you can see, both of these key responsibilities of the Church are very serious matters.You should be very careful whose authority you place yourself under. Pray very carefully about choosing a local body to be a part of, but once you have chosen one you need to commit fully. These responsibilities will not be met in your life if you are simply a church attender.
The Church in hard times
I have reason to believe, based upon study of the Church around the world today, that there are only 2 types of churches that will really survive in hard times, these are the community church and the home church.
When I talk about the community church I want to be careful because the word gets tossed around too much to be clear. What I am referring to is a relatively small, probably rural body of believers who meet in a traditional church structure that is placed reasonably close within their community. While there is certainly nothing wrong with making the drive to a good church in normal times, in very difficult times (even a grid up depression, in all likelihood) this will simply not be possible. A community church is attended primarily by people who already know one another very well in their local community and are generally friends and neighbors. These churches, much like the colonial American church, will be the anchors of their communities in hard times and as the closest public structure will likely double for use for any major public functions such as town meetings, militia assembly points, etc. The reasons I think community churches will survive when others probably won't are these: 1. As I mentioned before only churches whose attendees have easy access (on foot even) to their church will likely be able to continue to attend in difficult times. 2. Local community will be more crucial than ever in the times ahead, the community church is a part of that community rather than foreign to it. Its sphere of influence is extremely local rather than attempting to influence the entirety of the metropolitan area it occupies. 3. The ability of small community churches to meet the basic requirements of a church, as mentioned above, will be come much more clear in hard times when believers desperately need one another. 4. As a collection of friends and neighbors community church bodies are interacting with one another on a day to day basis regardless of the day of the week or meeting together in a church building, this will allow these churches to maintain accountability and fellowship regardless of how bad things get. 5. It is unlikely that even 1 full time minister will be able to be supported during difficult times, the pastor of a local congregation is more likely to find another way to support his livelihood while continuing to serve his community that the large staff of a large urban body. Even more critically his responsibility to a small congregation whom he knows well is more likely to motivate him to do so rather than to leave the ministry and look after his own. A more faceless large church made up of of commuters is less likely to provide such incentive for its staff members. Since community churches are still relatively easy to find I won't make any suggestions on how to start one, particularly since that would be a difficult prospect in difficult times. If you cannot find a satisfactory community church within close proximity to you, then a home church would be much easier to start.
Here in the United States we have very little concept for the oldest and most common type of Church on earth today, the home church. All over the world today, particularly in nations where the Church faces strong persecution from either the government or the culture at large, churches are meeting in homes, in store-fronts, under trees, and in all kinds of other common local locations that don't require a special structure. While this structure has numerous significant advantages even in good times, such as its rapid ability to multiply and ability to channel funds straight to ministry since it has little or no overhead cost, it is even more advantageous in difficult times when access to traditional structures may be difficult and dangerous. A quick read through the New Testament, I believe, gives us cause to recognize both of the these forms of churches as Biblical. We see in some cases believers meeting within the existing synagogue structures, but in many cases they met in the homes of believers, such as Aquila and Priscilla (1 Cor 16:19).
The reasons for my belief in the strength of home churches in troubled times are as follows: 1. Reduced need for professional clergy, as I will address in the next section a home church can be organized with out a professional minister. This reduces the possibility of a home church being closed due to the death of its shepherd as well as decreasing the need for one individual to remain relatively unentangled with day to day work in order to better shepherd the church. 2. Because they can be subdivided easily if they grow to large, a home church can be easily located within walking distance of all of its attendees. Depending on the size of your retreat group, you may form your own home church within your community alone. The decreased travel for all the members of the church protects them from dangers along the road as well as decreasing the likelihood that some sort of difficulty (such as bad weather will keep them from attending. 3. The small size of a home church makes it very intimate within its community, the members of a home body are likely to have constant interaction with one another each and every day, fulfilling their role to be the church each and every day. Perhaps you can think of even more reasons than these for the home church or community church to persevere in difficult times, but I think I have adequately summarized the principle benefits of each.
Before I move on I would like to address the structure of the home church. The 2 biggest differences in a home church are, fairly obviously, the lack of a formal structure to meet in and the lack of professional clergy. This leads to some fairly significant differences in the way a home church functions as opposed to a community church, which typically has a formally educated, salaried full time pastor. For one thing, as I mentioned above it is easier to subdivide a a home church into 2 separate bodies once it has grown beyond easily maintainable bounds. What is less obvious is that this is often necessary sooner in the case of a home church. The order of service in a home church is typically set by the members themselves, but the time in the Word is most frequently an obedience based, participative Bible study as opposed to a sermon with one individual preaching. Typically one member will be responsible to prepare for and guide the discussion, sometimes this rotates on a weekly basis or sometimes there is a lay pastor who maintains general responsibility for the direction of the times of teaching. When the church gathers together each member contributes heavily to the discussion times with a particular focus on practical obedience to the Word of God. This means that all of the members will discuss each week their success in being obedient to the Word of God revealed the week before, as well as a thorough discussion of the passage being discussed on that particular day. This places a rather natural limitation on the size of the body, while the maximum size of each home church is likely to vary based on its members it will not be able to grow past the point at which this kind of discussion can take place. In a time of collapse this limitation will be even more distinct since travel will be limited as well; once the church has grown beyond easy accessibility for its most distant members it will be time to begin the process of creating a second church. Potential leaders of home churches should not be intimidated by their own lack of education or formal training, rather use the resources you have and emphasize simple obedience to the Word of God. As your church grows in obedience together, the depth of teaching will naturally grow with it.
Some Miscellaneous Disciplines
1. Focus on the Kingdom of God. As I mentioned on the section on prayer, focusing on the advance of God's Kingdom, frequently called mission, is one of the key aspects necessary in the life of the prepared Christian. As a church, we in the West have largely lost focus on why we were called together in the first place. The church's primary function is the advance of the Kingdom of God to every tribe, tongue, and nation (if your struggling with this one you can do more research on the Biblical basis of mission or read "Unveiled at Last" by Bob Sjogren). When we lose sight of this it becomes easier to slip into a relationship with God that is primarily focused on what we can get from God, and even worse it causes us to enter into disobedience to many of the commands of scripture. All Christians are called to Mission, the issue is simply a matter of what role we are to play. Some are called to remain home and support those who have been sent to the nations, some are called to work with unreached peoples in there home countries (the U.S. for example has millions of members of completely unreached people groups at its universities and in its immigrant communities, in addition to a number of unreached American Indian tribes), still others are called to build up others to go; there are many, many roles for the people of God as they seek to obey His command to carry the Gospel to the nations. The key is to find the role God has prepared for you. One role I would like to suggest for the Christ following prepper is the role of protecting those who have given up life in their home nation to take the Gospel to the world. My experience in the mission community has lead me to believe that many mission agencies will recall their people at the onset of an economic collapse or other similar disaster. Many missionary families will return home with only a few suitcases, possibly only what they were allowed to carry on the plane, into a rapidly deteriorating situation. In addition to ongoing support, one area a prepper might seek to serve in this area would be able to plan logistics out in connection with these returning families to provide a safe retreat for them to return to and a way to reach it. Find your role in the Great Commission, total collapse won't stop the sovereign God from advancing His Kingdom, don't let it stop you from advancing His Kingdom either.
2. Feed your heart and mind appropriately. In addition to a consistent routine of daily Scripture reading and prayer, I would suggest implementing a plan to replace much of your television watching (if you still have one) with reading. Books, particularly good books, are often much more nurturing to your spirit and encouraging than movies. All societies are built around myths and legends, for the simple reason that these stories connect people to important human sentiments and underlying beliefs. Find high quality works, fictitious or not that will encourage and uplift you in difficult times. The genre you choose will likely reflect your personality but I like the science fiction and fantasy works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen R. Lawhead, and Ted Dekker as well as the non-fiction Christian works of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer among others. Classic literature and Christian teaching are also very encouraging and will help you to maintain focus during the most difficult times, I have a daily routine that involves listening to audio recordings of sermons by men like John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards as well. Incorporating all of this reading into my routine has helped me to bring in truth through various avenues and keep me from losing heart or focus when life seemed over whelming.
3. Walk a more ancient path. The modern church has largely lost touch with its own historical roots. We think somehow that we have become to modern and sophisticated for the witness handed down since the time of the apostles. In order to regain the more ancient path, we must do 2 things: 1. Relearn to engage life from a more mystical point of view. The ancient church was much more concerned with truth than with scientific fact, they didn't feel the need to have an explanation for every single item they believed. We, as Christians, need to relearn how to have faith in things we don't understand. The God of the universe is much larger and more awesome than anything we can possibly imagine, even creation is often more complex and vast than we can really get our heads around. It will be better for us going into the future to simply embrace the mystery and show proper awe and respect to our maker. Those with experience farming are probably most aware of this, while we have tried to scientifically explain every single factor in the growth of plants and animals, everyday those explanations get defied by some new factor that had not yet been accounted for. In order to be truly sustainable our only choice is to accept that certain rules must be followed, even if we don't know why they exist. This same type of embrace is necessary in all of life, we need to recognize that each new sunrise is a miraculous event opening the door to still more miraculous events. I'm not suggesting we abandon science and reason or cease all logical inquiry, but what we should do is recognize that they have their limitations and that there is a great deal of mystery they will never explain. 2. Spend time with ancient fathers. Perhaps the largest reason we are out of touch with historical Christianity is because we have ceased historical inquiry. With so many of the oldest resources now available for free download from sites like Project Gutenberg, there is really no excuses for this. I suggest a comprehensive study going back to the very beginning and working forward through the time of the reformation, followed by a study of the Puritan fathers who largely lead to the founding of this nation. The best starter resource, in my opinion, is Eusebius's "History of the Christian Church" (often called by other titles as well such as "Church History" or "Ecclesiastical History") as it is the oldest known compilation of Ancient Church history and makes reference to the names and works of many of the oldest Christian documents. After that the list is goes on and on but at bear minimum it is good to have read some of: Augustine, Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, Jeremy Taylor, and Jonathan Edwards. Not that this is by any means an exhaustive list, view it as more of a starting point. I also recommend finding decent biographies of William Carey, J. Hudson Taylor, and as many other high quality missionary biographies as you can find. Spending time with all of these sources will begin to reconnect you to the ancient beliefs and practices of the Christian church, perhaps there are some areas that we really are serving the modern world in a new and more relevant way, but it will be awfully hard to tell if we don't know our own history well enough to know progress when we see it.
4. Become a bard. What I mean by this is that we need to have prepared ourselves to minister to the needs of those around us with limited access to written resources. The role of the bard in society is to maintain the important stories that have made a culture what it is. This means learning first and foremost to Bible story as I described in my section on Bible study. Be prepared to teach scripture without having it immediately available to read aloud, in a way that even those who cannot read or write will understand and be able to pass on. In addition to this I believe the people of God have the responsibility to preserve history as much as possible. So in your study of the Ancient Church be prepared to share those teachings and events that will help either clarify sound teaching or serve as sources of strength and encouragement in hard times. I also believe that we should do this with American history; like ancient Church history this areas is severely under studied despite ease of access to source documents. Study well in particular the inspiring examples of the founding fathers and the meaning of the government that they handed down to us. Only in regaining this since of history will the American people finally be able to recognize how we got where we are today and how to get back to where we should be. Be prepared to put this history into a shareable story format. Practice by becoming a teacher of history to your family and friends around you.
Spiritual discipline for hard times takes hard work and consistent practice just like any other activity oriented towards preparedness such as marksmanship or physical fitness. Much like physical fitness it is an area where, if we fail to be prepared properly, much of our other preparation will be of now value. In hard times the Christian must be able to take a stand against the evil going on around him without giving into it. In order to take a stand against oppression and to hold out the truth of the Gospel to those around him, the Christian must spend disciplined time carefully studying the Word of God, in prayer, and in the fellowship of other believers. In addition to these things he must not lose his focus on God's sovereign advancement of His Kingdom, he must feed his heart well and not be distracted by unwholesome or useless entertainment, regain his connection to the fathers of our faith, and learn to share all of these things in a relevant way with his friends and neighbors. Only through practice and preparation can the Christian become the sort of man that his community will most certainly need him to be in times of great turmoil. These disciplines require faithful practice and cannot simply be brought out after things grow difficult, as such they should be practiced daily. In short, real faith is practical and gritty. It should be practiced and walked out in a disciplined way so as to overcome all obstacles and hardships.