Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Heal our Land: Praying and fasting through an old passage with new lenses

Today we are praying and fasting for 24-hours as a church, and joining with a number of other churches who partner with us in the Advance Movement Western Hub. I want to invite you to join with us today.  There will be two opportunities for gathered prayer, one at 9am on Southlands' Facebook live and one on a Zoom call at 5pm tonight. You can contact for the Zoom ID.

"Fast?" you may protest. "But, my whole life feels like a forced fast!" It's true. We have been forced to fast from community, freedom, restaurants, gym, from work and gathered worship these past five weeks. Why add to the pain?  In the words of C.S. Lewis, because, "Pain is God's megaphone. God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our pain."(The Problem of Pain)  Essentially, we are fasting because God has our attention. We know He is speaking to us and working among us through this trial. In the words of my friend, Carl Tuttle, we don't want to waste the pain.

Our theme for prayer will be the well-worn, oft-quoted verse from 2 Chronicles 7: 11 "If my people who are called by Name will humble themselves and pray and seek my faced turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 

A quick context of chapter 7 shows us that King Solomon had completed the temple and the palace, and was now dedicating the temple to the Lord. At the dedication, the fire of God’s presence filled the temple so that the priests were overwhelmed and fell on their faces, singing, “He is Good, His faithful love endures forever.” One night after the dedication of the temple, the Lord appeared to Solomon saying that if there was drought or plague and God’s people humbled themselves, turned from their sins and sought His grace, he would hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land. Then God warned Solomon that if he turned to worship other god’s, God would uproot His people and reject the temple. So, this passage carries a wonderful  promise, but it is given with a condition and a warning. Tragically, Solomon’s palace, which was even more grand than the temple, was the place in which Solomon amassed wealth and many wives and concubines, turning to worship the gods of his foreign wives. There was a tug-of-war between Solomon’s temple and his palace, between the glory of God’s name and the glory of Solomon’s name. Tragically, the palace won out. Solomon did not heed God’s warning about idolatry and so his kingdom was uprooted and the temple destroyed. We have this as a warning even as we trust God for better things for our lives. 

Here are some ways we can pray though the passage:

1. CONFIDENCE  "If my People who are called by my Name…seek my face....I will hear from heaven.” This passage, when read through a New Testament lens is for the Church, God’s people called and saved by Jesus’ name. His is the Name above all names, above sickness, above fear, above death, loneliness and lack. When we pray, we pray with confidence in His Name, knowing that the Father always hears his Son. God is attentive to our prayers, as this passage promises. He will hear from heaven. So let’s pray with confidence. 

2. LAMENT: God gives a vivid description of drought, famine and pestilence in the nation in verse 13. “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence.” We can easily sense the economic, social and spiritual famine in our state and nation at this time, with the enemy devouring faith, community, family and peace like a locust devours a crop. Think of how addiction is destroying people. Think of how a life of frenetic busyness is destroying community. Think of how political tribalism is destroying a sense of, ‘One Nation under God, Indivisible….” Think of how secularism and consumerism are destroying the priority of Sabbath worship and rest.  Something has to change! It is a healthy thing to lament that our nation has lost its way and is far from God and His presence.

 3. REPENTANCE : This prayer though, perhaps more than any in Scripture, calls God’s people to look inward, and say, “Something has to change in us!” If we humble ourselves and turn  from our wicked ways, God will hear from heaven, forgive our sins and heal our land. God wants to heal us so from idolatry and compromise  so the we can be a healing agent in the land. 

As Francis Schaeffer wrote in his prophetic book, “No Little People,” in 1972, “The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the threat of communism or rationalism [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or  consumerism or sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.” [1]

 In every one of our lives there is a tug-of-war between the temple and the palace, between building for God's glory and building for our glory God is using this crisis to expose idolatry in our lives, Very often, the good things that have become ultimate - idols like productivity, control, security and comfort. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and see if there is any wicked way in us and lead us to repentance.

 4. CONTENDING:  This passage comes with three powerful promises on condition of God’s people humbling themselves and turning from their wicked ways. God says He will  hear from heaven,  forgive our sin and heal our land. Let’s contend for healing from this virus across our land, for a vaccine, and for a wise return from isolation. Let’s also pray for a healing in our land of the family unit, a healing from addiction, consumerism, individualism, sexual brokenness, racism, and political tribalism.  

 Finally, the passage is also a reminder that God’s presence no longer dwells in the temple in Jerusalem but in God’s people. The Apostle Paul writes, “You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” God dwells in His people, The Church, by His Holy Spirit. The same glory that filled the temple in this passage, now dwells in each and every one of us! (1 Corinthians 6:19) We are a fulfillment of God’s promise to cover the earth with his glory as the water covers the sea.  Begin by contending that God would be glorified in His people; that His presence would be tangible as His people gather and scatter  and that they would recognize that they carry His presence wherever they go.

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