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When God fires a warning shot

Nolan Harkness
Rev. Nolan J. Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. |

Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Evangelist Billy Graham, came under great public scrutiny for a statement she made in 2016, referring to the terror attacks in New York City on September 11th, 2001 as “God sending us a shot across the bow.”

Lotz went on to describe multiple actions, what God’s Word describes as abominations, being permitted in the United States during that time. She simply stated her opinion that God, out of His love and mercy, had not caused but “allowed,” something in our country to wake us up spiritually.

Our English idiom “shot across the bow” derives from the naval practice of firing a cannon shot across the bows of an opponent's ship to show them that you are prepared to do battle if they do not identify themselves and their intentions. The use of warning shots has been common practice not only in naval operations between different countries for many years, but to warn incoming unidentified aircraft.  We have to ask ourselves the question, “Has God ever sent us a wakeup call?”

As I ponder the question, I am reminded that my dad, who is now in Heaven, often offered warnings to my brother and I when we were misbehaving. If my brother and I were arguing, for instance, about something at the dinner table, dad gave us “the look.” We well knew that we had better stop right then! Just like my dad, teachers and employers all have their ways of giving us warning when “enough is enough” or else there will be consequences. If we take just a minute to think about it, this concept of caring warnings is woven throughout our lives and throughout not only our society but the cultures of the whole world.

It seems the concept of God’s discipline is lost among many pulpits today. In Revelation 3:19, Jesus, speaking to the church of Laodecia, said, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten be zealous therefore and repent” (NKJV). 

Or, perhaps as a stronger example, we should consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:21-24:

Woe unto you Chorazin! Woe unto you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works, which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you. And thou Capernaum, who are exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to Hades; for it the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained unto this day. But I say unto you, that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you (NKJV). 

Jesus’ warnings were because they did not repent when they witnessed His works.  

Watching the world’s turmoils, I have to ask myself, “Is there a place in the Bible where an initial warning was followed by more warnings, warnings which gradually became more severe?” As I pondered the question, the first thought that came to my mind was the steady progression of the multiple plagues which God inflicted on Pharaoh and his nation after Moses had commanded him under God’s instruction to “Let my people go!”

In Exodus 7-11, we see that each plague became worse than the previous one as God continued to warn Pharaoh to free the children of Israel from their Egyptian slavery.  The final plague — the death of all the firstborn children in Egypt, which included, Pharaoh’s son — abruptly convinced Pharaoh to free God’s people.

We live in a world that does not comprehend the concept of sin or of the existence of God. In my prayer intercession for revival, I often plead for God’s mercy on a people who for at least three generations have not been properly taught about who God is or what it is He requires of His creation. They do not understand that there are consequences for disobeying God. They do not know that multiple times throughout Biblical history God sent different levels of judgment on different people groups, including His own chosen people, the Jews.

God understands the importance of prioritizing the things of Heaven and the consequences of not following the instruction of His law. It is only when we prioritize Heaven that we receive God’s free gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. God further understands that to reject His gift means that He, who is a God of justice, will condemn the sinner to eternal punishment in a place called Hell. In Hell, they will endure torture forever according to the teachings of Jesus. God’s great mercy is weighed, not by how much suffering He allows in this world, but in providing a way to escape the terrible eternal torture of Hell, by accepting His beautiful gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ!  

If, as the Bible teaches, these things are true, then yes I believe that as an act of His love He could have “allowed” this terrible pandemic of COVID 19.  God may have just fired another “warning shot across the bow” of our lives to bring us to a place where we realize we all need Him as our God. I pray that the citizens of the world receive what may very well be God’s loving warning. May we heed, and fully surrender our lives to Jesus Christ!   

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is

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