Heal Our Land

Name a problem in our country that you are concerned about.  There are plenty from which to choose:  Terrorism, both domestic and foreign; the rise of ISIS in the Middle East; the national debt; massive income inequality; the scandal of legalized abortion; racism and racial division; the radical redefinition of marriage and gender; the threat of losing religious freedom; and of course, the lack of enthusiasm many of us feel for either of the presidential candidates this year.  When we think of problems in our nation, Christians often turn to one specific verse of Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:14.  That verse has been referenced in countless sermons and political speeches.  It has been emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers, and has been the theme verse of untold thousands of special prayer services.  When I hear people talk about this verse, I get the distinct impression they believe that it means that if “those people,” the ones outside our Christian circle, would only “come back to God,” God would bless America.  When I say “bless America,” I mean bring back the good ol’ days, but better than the old days ever were.  I mean an America where the person in the oval office is an evangelical Christian, or at least someone we always agree with; where the unemployment rate goes to zero, and we have fantastic infrastructure without paying any taxes; where everything on TV is family-friendly, crime is non-existent, and even the French start liking us again.  There’s a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage, and those cars run clean on gas that costs a dollar a gallon.  But are we really using that verse correctly?  What is God promising in that verse, and who is He promising it to?

2 Chronicles 7 is the record of God appearing to Solomon, King of Israel.  If you know the Bible well, you know this is the second time God has appeared to Solomon.  The first time was just after Solomon became king, after his father David had died.  On that occasion, God had asked Solomon what he most wanted, and the young king asked for wisdom to lead God’s people.  God answered that prayer.  Solomon went on to build the temple in Jerusalem.  For the first time in history, God’s people would have a building in which to worship; they had been worshipping in a tent since the days of Moses.  It took 7 years and the work of hundreds of men, including highly skilled artists.  When it was done, Solomon invited the entire nation to consecrate this amazing building, the house of God.  Chapter 6 is the King’s long prayer of dedication.  It is absolutely worth reading, but let me sum it up for you this way: The King says, “God, we can’t make it without you.  Please live here among us and never leave us. And when we sin against you—because we will—and in the midst of the consequences of our sin we turn back to you, please forgive us and restore us.”  Chapter 7 begins by telling us that at the end of Solomon’s prayer, a fire fell from heaven and consumed the offerings that the people had brought to place on the sacred altar, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple so spectacularly, the priests couldn’t even go in.  The people rejoiced and celebrated for a solid week, then they celebrated for seven more days.

Then Solomon built a palace for himself.  This took 13 years.  At the end of that time, according to v. 11, that’s when God chose to give Solomon a direct answer to his prayer.  Why did God wait that long?  We don’t know.  Perhaps since Solomon had spent nearly twice as long building his own house as he had building the house of God, the Lord knew the King’s heart was starting to turn away.  Maybe God needed to remind him what was most important.  At any rate, God’s answer was essentially: “I will do what you asked.  When your people turn away from me, there will be consequences.  They will experience droughts and plagues and military defeats.  They will even lose this land that I promised their forefathers.  But if they turn back to me, I will forgive it all and bring them back home.”

That’s what v. 14 is actually about.  If you know your Old Testament, you know God was setting the tone for the next several centuries of Israel’s history.  A pattern would repeat itself over and over again: The people would forget about God, their worship would become shallow and superficial, the rich would start oppressing and abusing the poor, and God would punish them.  The people would repent and call on God, and He would send them a revival; often, a great King like Hezekiah or Josiah would arise and put God’s people on the right path again.   Eventually, the unthinkable happened: Jerusalem was conquered, the temple was burned to the ground, and God’s people were carried away to the distant country of Babylon.  That should have been the end of them.  The Jews should have vanished from history like so many other peoples of those times, and today would be known only to historians and archaeologists.  But God wasn’t through with them, and His promise was still in effect.  Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and heroes like Esther and Daniel kept the faith alive, and eventually God’s people returned to the Promised Land and rebuilt the temple.  The fact that there is still an ethnic group known as the Jews is one of the great proofs that God is real.  Against all the odds, He kept the promise He made to His people in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

So there is good news and bad news for us regarding this verse.  The bad news is that we cannot directly apply this verse to the United States of America without using the Bible very irresponsibly.  God wasn’t talking to America when He spoke these words; He was talking to Israel.  God had a covenant with Israel of that era; He has no covenant with any other nation.  Some might disagree with me, but I say that since Jesus brought a new covenant into effect, this promise doesn’t even apply to modern-day Israel.  The Old Testament Jews were the only people in history who God had promised would inherit their land.  So if we are claiming 2 Chronicles 7:14 and thinking that God will magically fix everything that’s wrong with America, we’re trying to cash a check that’s written to someone else.  The good news is that this verse still contains a powerful, wonderful promise.  Who is this promise made to?  “My people, who are called by my name.”  In Solomon’s time, that was Israel, but who is it today?  Anyone of any race or nationality who makes Jesus King of their lives…Whether you are white, black, brown or yellow; Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or non-denominational, you are part of God’s people, called by His name.  And His promise is that He will heal us, His Church.

Do you feel like the Church needs healing?  In this country, 80-85% of churches aren’t growing; most are actually losing membership.  This year, 8-10,000 churches will close their doors for the last time.  One out of five Americans claim no religious affiliation at all; among young adults, it’s two out of five.  Most of them aren’t atheists; they just don’t really think about God at all.  Christianity has rapidly lost influence in our culture.  Today, simply agreeing with a biblical teaching on a controversial social issue is enough to make us the subject of protests.   So yes, I think the promise of verse 14 is very, very good news.  It has come true before.  If you study the history of God’s people in this country, you see a series of awakenings, somewhat similar to Old Testament Israel.  The first Great Awakening here took place before this was even a nation, in the early 1700s.  Stiff Anglican clergymen like Jonathon Edwards would read their sermons from a prepared text in a monotone voice, and as many as ten thousand people would come to listen, straining to hear his voice in the days before amplification.  By the tens of thousands, they were saved.  Schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton were started to train ministers to keep this great movement of God alive.  Ideas like religious liberty, the separation of church and state, and that all humans are created equal before God, ideas that made their way into our founding documents, came from that awakening.

But two generations later, churches were declining again.  Jonathon Edwards’ grandson Timothy Dwight described America during the Revolutionary War: “…Profaneness of language, drunkenness, gambling, and lewdness, were exceedingly increased; and…(there was) a light, vain method of thinking concerning sacred things, a cold, contemptuous indifference toward every moral and religious subject.”  To make matters worse, after the Revolution families began flooding westward into the frontier, where there were no churches at all.  Christians began to fear that America would become an entirely non-Christian nation.  Then God sent a Second Great Awakening. This one lasted for over forty years and saw hundreds of thousands of lives changed.  The great international missions movement began during that revival. So did the movement that eventually abolished slavery.  A Third Awakening started in the mid-1850s when a businessman in New York City started a weekly prayer meeting at lunch on a workday.  Soon, it became a daily meeting, and eventually, thousands were attending.  There was no preaching, just prayer.  The movement began to spread to other cities.  Some estimate that over a million souls were saved.  About a hundred years ago, another awakening broke out on Azusa Street in Los Angeles.  We know it today as the beginning of the modern charismatic movement.  My grandparents’ generation of Baptists was terrified of “holy rollers,” and I disagree with charismatic believers on some important points, but some of the best Christians I know are part of that branch of the church, and they are reaching more people for Christ today than any other group.  The last awakening I know of in this country was in the 1970s, when thousands of hippies began coming to Christ.  They were known in the counterculture as “Jesus People.”  Most churches didn’t want them, sad to say, so they started their own churches.

There are awakenings going on around the world today. Just talk to Larry Daigle about how many people he sees come to Christ every time he goes to Africa.  This year alone, his organization (International Commission) has seen 168,000 conversions.  Or read about the amazing things happening in China, which will someday soon have more Christians than any other nation…in a country where the government has been actively working to oppose Christianity for over half a century.  Or read stories of the thousands of Muslims in countries closed to the Gospel who are seeing dreams and visions of Jesus, and giving their lives to Him, even if it means their death.  It has happened here before, and it can happen here again.

What would an awakening in our time look like?  Imagine if in every city, there were churches full of people who weren’t just there to manipulate God into blessing their dreams and fulfilling their wishes; they were there to serve Him and be His hands and feet.  In those cities, the churches would identify the key problems and work together to find solutions: Racial divisions would be reconciled.  Poor people would be mentored and taught life skills so that generational patterns of poverty would be broken.  Addictions would be broken, schools and neighborhoods would be transformed, and broken families healed.  Couples in the churches would be such models of true marital love, the world would begin to see the contrast between their definition of marriage and God’s.  People would give generously and our members would commit their lives to mission work, so problems around the globe would be addressed.  Abortion rates would go down because there would be fewer unwanted children and crime rates would go down because we would address the root causes of most crimes.  Soon state and federal governments would begin looking to the Church to help solve problems, rather than taxpayers.  Every problem wouldn’t be solved, but our nation would be unquestionably healthier, and God would get the glory.  Most of all, untold thousands of people who are today destined for an eternity apart from God would have their current lives and their future existence changed forever for good.  Does that sound good to you?

The truth is, God brings these awakenings about.  We can’t force His hand.  But His promise in this verse still stands.  So what are we to do?  I think we find the answer in v. 14.

Humble ourselves: When the Israelites humbled themselves before God, it meant they stopped making excuses and became honest about their own sin.  They didn’t blame their enemies for conquering them.  They said, “We lost our nation because we turned away from God.”  If we humble ourselves, it’ll mean we stop blaming others for the problems in our nation and take responsibility.  We’re the people of God.  We have failed to be salt and light.  It’s our fault, and it’s our responsibility to make the difference.  If Jesus were here in the flesh, He wouldn’t be on social media railing against homosexuals, atheists and Muslims.  Those are the people He died for, His lost children, and He’d be trying to reach them.  But He’d have harsh words for us His people, like, “Wake up.  You can afford cable TV, internet, two cars and a house big enough for three families your size in a country where you’re free to worship me without persecution, and you complain because you don’t have enough?  You don’t contribute anything to my work, you pray entirely for yourself and your own needs, you never shed a tear for the thousands of your neighbors who are destined for Hell, and you call yourself my people?”  God will judge every living soul, and so far, He hasn’t asked for our help in that task. But He has commanded us to love them.  Let’s humble ourselves and admit we haven’t been doing our jobs.

Pray and seek His face.  I would be willing to bet that most of us pray daily, or even multiple times a day.  But how often do we simply sit in His presence and desire to know Him better?  It’s not that God hates it when we ask Him for things; He has told us to do that.  But what would it be like to be in a relationship with someone who only spoke to you when they wanted something from you?  “Hey, can you give me a couple thousand bucks?”  “Hey, I don’ feel so good.  Can you do something about that?”  “Hey, I asked you to fix my car last week.  I hate to keep asking, but that thing still isn’t fixed.”  “Hey, that guy Roger at my office is a real dirtbag. Feel free to give him a stomach virus or afflict him with head lice the size of schnauzers for me.”  You’d get the impression that person didn’t really care about you, wouldn’t you?  And I know some of you are thinking, “I just can’t sit and ponder how great God is.  I’m not that spiritual.”  Guess what?  I’m not either, by nature.  But God can create that kind of heart in you and me.  So ask for it.  Pray, “Lord, teach me to hunger and thirst for your presence.”  Open His Word.  Sing songs of praise to Him.  When the people of God stop trying to use God to get what they want, and start hungering for more of Him, we’re well on our way to revival.

Turn from our wicked ways.  This is called repentance.  Repentance isn’t feeling sorry for your sin, it’s turning away from it, taking steps not to go there anymore.  It’s the first step to reconciliation.  Think about it this way: Imagine a husband cheats on his wife, and she finds out.  Now, even if, against all the odds and what everyone of her friends is telling her, she decides she wants to forgive him and save their marriage, that can’t happen unless he’s willing to totally cut off the adulterous relationship.  He can’t say, “Honey, I’m so sorry for what I’ve done to you.  I hope we can fix things,” but still keep seeing the other woman on the side.  There’s a reason why, all through Scripture, idolatry is compared to adultery.  Adultery is giving to someone else what only your spouse deserves; idolatry is giving to something else what only God deserves: Your hope, your identity, your full devotion.  One reason I believe awakening hasn’t happened in our day is because we as American Christians are still hanging on to our idols.  We want God to bless us, but we give our souls to the pursuit of money and possessions.  Or our true identity and hope is in our political ideology. Or our main enthusiasm is getting our kid onto the right select baseball team or into the right college.

So what should we do with 2 Chronicles 7:14?  Follow those instructions in our own lives: Humble yourself by practicing daily confession, taking responsibility for your own sin.  Pray for God to make you hungry for more of Him.  Practice true repentance, taking steps to turn away from the idols in your life.  And pray that that those three practices would spread to all the people of God, called by His name.  Here’s the good news: Jesus isn’t the kind of King who passes impossible decrees and then waits for us to obey.  He came to us, knowing we could never obey His commands, and died in our place so we could be forgiven. Then He sent His Holy Spirit to live in us, to give us the power to change.  A King like that, who would give His own life for us, will respond if we call upon Him for revival and awakening.  He will heal our land.  Here at our nation’s 240th birthday, the most patriotic thing you can possibly do is to devote yourself daily to seeking that healing.  Let’s start right now.

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