The other morning, I was sitting outside on the back patio at my house, having my devotional time, when I noticed a commotion overhead. Eventually, I located the source of the disturbance. A squirrel was busily—and noisily—adding fresh leaves and new sticks to its nest in the tree above me. Up the trunk, down the branch, across from one bough to another, this little squirrel scurried around, snapping twigs and gathering up what it needed to winterize its home before the weather turns too cold—which, at some point, it will.
Watching the diligent squirrel at work, I thought: “This is what we do in the fall. We prepare. We get ready. It’s just that time of year.”
Jesus has a lot to say about getting ready. In Matthew 24:36-25:13, he tells three different parables, one after the other, about servants who are, with varying degrees of success, watching and waiting and preparing for the return of their Master. Jesus also tells of the consequences of failure when the Master comes back to find his servants unready for his arrival. All three parables illustrate the same basic point: Followers of Jesus need to live obediently, and in accordance with his teachings, so that they will be found faithful when he returns. “Keep awake, therefore,” Jesus says at the end of one of these parables, “for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
And that’s the thing about preparation: Most of the time, we don’t know the exact day, or the precise hour, when the time for getting ready will suddenly come to an end. Insurance policies, retirement accounts, fire drills, CPR training, and so forth: We’re used to preparing for events that may happen at unexpected times—or may never happen at all. That squirrel, though, is doing its prep work now, while there are still plenty of leaves on the tree to work with. Soon enough, the time will come to stop building that cozy nest and, instead, begin living in it.
There’s a book on my shelf called Building a Life With God. I don’t think I’m simplifying things too much to say that it’s a book about spiritual preparation: Building a life, a relationship, an intimacy with God. Building a way of listening to, relying on, and placing trust in God. Building habits that will sustain us when—on an unexpected day, or at an unforeseen hour—we suddenly find ourselves needing what only God can provide. When you’re falling out of an airplane, it’s a little late to start learning how to pack a parachute properly.
So, this fall—this season of the year when nature tells us to get ready—I encourage you to set aside some time to reflect upon this question: How are you building a life with God right now? How’s your spiritual prep going? Are you worshipping regularly? Praying faithfully? Sharing generously? Serving obediently? Listening intently to the Holy Spirit’s whisper in your heart? Without these spiritual practices, we are much more liable to lapse into what Lauren Winner calls “spiritual narcissism,” a chronic condition in which we replace God at the center of our universe.
In a sense, we spend our entire lives getting ready for what comes next. There is, obviously, an abundance—a cornucopia, to use a good November word—of ways we can spend our precious prep time. There are always plenty of things that will demand our attention, distract us, and promise to entertain, amuse, or excite us. Not all of these things, however, are worthy of our time and energy. The wise person—like the wise squirrel—gets ready for what truly matters.
May the peace of Christ be with you!