It's no surprise that we are witnessing the rapid deterioration of a nation right before our eyes. As a result, many are struggling with fear and anxiety and uncertainty, yet, God offers hope ... tremendous hope.
I recently had the privilege of speaking to our church audience from 2 Chronicles 7:14. Both messages can be heard here and here. The sacred text says, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Note that it does not say, “If Hollywood or Washington or the media turns to God,” but “if My people” turn.
I can already picture the emails coming in: “Second Chronicles 7:14 doesn’t apply to us. It was for Israel.” As a lover of theology with a contextual underpinning, I can appreciate these statements. Many Scriptures, taken out of context, have done great damage to the church and our witness. The context of 2 Chronicles is that when God brings judgment on His people as a result of their sins, He would heal their land (think rain and a bountiful harvest). God said if they humble themselves, pray, seek Him, and turn from their sin that He would re-establish His blessings.
I have a question for those who don’t like using this verse in modern America: “Is it a bad thing if America humbles herself, prays, seeks God, and repents? Is it possible that blessings could follow such an outpour of repentance and spiritual renewal? Although the context may not apply to us, the principle of seeking God always applies. Should we minimize the importance of Zechariah 1:3 because it wasn’t written to us?—“Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you ...”. Should we discard Micah 6:8 as well?—“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” God forbid! Like 2 Chronicles, there are very important principles in these Scriptures ... principles that lead to national restoration in the midst of catastrophes. Let’s take a quick look at each principle:
1. If my people humble themselves
The process of revival and hope must begin with humility. “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you” (Andrew Murray). The amount of pride in the church is astonishing. We've created an American Idol mentality with many wanting center stage attention. We often look more like Hollywood than the character of Christ.
If we are to see a genuine move of God (which is the only hope for our nation) then we must humble ourselves and confess our pride. Our blessings have become a curse; our abundance has taken us away from God. Pride is so powerful that many people reading this will get upset rather than humble themselves and seek God afresh. I have not mastered this area. I'm a prideful person working on humility on a daily basis. But we must recognize pride, repent of it, and return to God with a broken and teachable attitude.
2. If my people pray
2 Chronicles says, “If My people pray,” not preach or teach. I enjoy preaching and listening to sermons, but Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Prayer is the life source of our faith; it is the building block of our soul. We need people of extraordinary prayer, brokenness, and humility. Men and women filled and clothed with power from on high. Those who do the most for God are always people of prayer.
When Martin Luther prayed the church was reformed. When John Knox prayed Scotland was revived. When John Wesley prayed America was restored. When George Whitefield prayed nations were changed. When D.L. Moody prayed America fell to her knees. When Amy Carmichael prayed India received the gospel. And on and on it goes...when you pray you move the hand of God. The dry, dead lethargic condition of the church simply reflects an impotent prayer life.
God is not too busy; He’s not on vacation; He’s not sleeping ... He is an ever-present help in times of need. You can call on Him at 2 am or in the midst of the storm. He hears the prayers of His children, but we must once again cultivate a life of prayer. 5-minute devotionals aren’t going to cut it in these dire times. We need powerful times of prayer.
Prayerlessness in the pulpit leads to apostasy and dead sermons. Prayerlessness in the pew leads to shattered lives and depression. Prayerlessness in men leads to the breakdown of the family. Prayerlessness in Washington leads to the breakdown of society. “When faith ceases to pray, it ceases to live” (E.M. Bounds).
3. If my people seek
We have a seeking problem and a form of microwave Christianity. Churches drop service times to an hour to relate to the culture. “People are bored,” they say, not realizing that church is boring because the power of God has vanished. Like Samson, “they know not that the Spirit of the Lord has departed.” But there is hope. We can once again position ourselves to seek God - “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). To seek in this context means to “find what is missing.” The Hebrew word for seek, baqash, has a very strong meaning. Imagine losing your child in a crowded mall. How would you spend your time? Where would your energy be concentrated? Now parallel this with seeking God.
4. If my people turn from wickedness
The Benson Commentary is spot on, “They must humble themselves under his hand, must pray for the removal of the judgment, must seek his face and favour: and yet, all this will not be sufficient, unless they turn from their wicked ways, and return to him from whom they have revolted.”
Facebook is filled with jealousy and envy. Self-indulgence is rampant in the church. Sexual sin has reached an epidemic and some churches are allowing porn stars to speak from the platform in an attempt to reach the culture. Granted, we are called to reach out to others but not at the expense of compromising the gospel.
I’ve witnessed soft porn images on Christian websites, questionable movie clips during PowerPoint sermons, and youth pastors talk about their favorite sexually charged TV show or movie with the youth, all under the guise of “relating” to the culture. And we wonder why the American church is powerless?
Isaiah 59:1-2 reminds us, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
We are running the risk of “perverting the words of the living God” (Jeremiah 23:36) by not warning and challenging people to turn from their sin. Pastors, as the church falls deeper into self-reliance and further from reliance on God, our need for bold leadership has never been greater. Change will only occur when there is a strong conviction of sin, genuine faith, humility, and sincere repentance—may God grant us the wisdom and strength to proclaim these truths. We must stop confusing God’s patience with His approval and preach with conviction from the pulpits again. Repentance is our only hope.
Photo courtesy: Olivia Snow/Unsplash
Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Southern California and the WCF Radio Network. More can be found at ShaneIdleman.com, including free downloads of his eBooks. Visit him on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to his new podcast, Idleman Unplugged.