Phil Ryken tells the story of Austrian mountaineer Hermann Buhl. While scaling Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, his team encountered one of the worst blizzards they had seen. The team decided to abandon the climb and return to camp. Buhl opted to continue alone. He returned to camp 41 hours later, having successfully reached the summit.
Buhl’s biographer explains his incredible fortitude in the face of overwhelming odds: “Buhl had long decided to be ready when the call came; the whole of his climbing life was, in fact, dedicated to that end. He was ready and able to meet it when it sounded.” Because he had decided, and worked hard, to be prepared for his greatest challenge, he was able to face it when it came.
Jesus knew that his disciples would face incredible challenges after he ascended to heaven. He knew that they would be forced to persevere—that turning back in the storm would not be an option. In Luke 21, he promised them that many of them would reach the summit when Jerusalem, and with it the Jewish persecution, was destroyed, but he also warned them that it would not be an easy climb. He gave his last Lukan parable to urge them to be prepared for their greatest challenge.
The parable is simple enough. Trees bud as summer approaches. When the trees begin budding, anyone paying attention knows that summer is around the corner and will begin preparing for it. Jesus had told his disciples to be prepared to flee Jerusalem when the Roman armies surrounded the city (Luke 21:20) and offered them signs to look out for as harbingers of this event. As the signs started coming to pass, they should prepare to flee. At least two lessons should be drawn from this.
First, the disciples should not flee at the first sign of trouble. The time to flee would come. Deliverance was promised. But, until the time came, they needed to be prepared to face trouble. They had a job to do, which would invite persecution, but they must be faithful in their task.
Second, the disciples could be assured that deliverance was coming—if they were properly prepared. They had to look out for the appropriate signs but, if they did so, deliverance was promised.
Here is the big lesson from this parable: Be prepared. Like Jesus’ disciples, we should be prepared for ultimate deliverance, but we should also be prepared to live in a world of affliction until then. How, then, can we prepare to live in this world, knowing that, if we are faithful to Christ, we will surely face affliction? Here are some suggestions.
First, immerse yourself in Scripture. Read it. Meditate on it. Memorise it. The ability to call to mind Scripture in affliction and temptation has been a source of strength and comfort for generations of Christians. It will be for you, too.
Second, pray. Pray for God to demolish the idol of comfort and safety in your life. Pray for God to give you the wisdom, courage, and ability to persevere in affliction. Pray that he will help you realise and embrace the hope of the gospel.
Third, familiarise yourself with stories of faithful saints who have persevered in affliction. Reading about those who have suffered well often helps us to suffer well when the time comes. It will help you to read historic biographies of faithful believers. It will help you to learn about the persecuted church in our own day. More than anything, it will help you to learn from Christ who left us an example of suffering well (1 Peter 2:21–25).
Fourth, rest in Christ’s promise of ultimate victory. Jesus assured his disciples in the first century that he would come back in judgement to vindicate them. He has promised us the same. One day, he will return in ultimate victory and his faithful servants will be ultimately vindicated. Allow that promise to spur your faithfulness.
It is crucial for us, as it was for Jesus’ disciples the first century, to prepare while things are going will to face the trials when they come. Long decided to be ready when the call comes. Allow the parable of the fig tree to teach you this.