How to Pray For a Nation

2 Chronicles 6:14-7:14

July 2, 2000 | Brian Bill

Happy Independence Day!  You are part of the faithful remnant that has remained behind this holiday weekend.  As we focus on our nation this morning, it’s good to be an American, isn’t it?

  • Only in America…do banks leave both doors open and then chain the pens to the counters.
  • Only in America…do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and leave boxes filled with junk in the garage.
  • Only in America…do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.
  • Only in America…do we use answering machines to screen calls and then have call waiting so we won’t miss a call from someone we didn’t want to talk to in the first place.

A couple weeks ago in a community quiz, we were given a quiz about the Declaration of Independence.  We were asked to name just four of the guys who originally signed the document.  The only name I could think of was John Hancock!

That reminds me of a teacher who was quizzing her students about American history.  “Johnny, who signed the Declaration of Independence?”  After thinking for a while, Johnny replied, “Lady, I don’t know and I don’t care.”  The teacher was a little put off by his attitude so she told him to go home and bring his father with him when he came back.

The next day, the father came with his son, and sat in the back of the classroom.  The teacher started with the quiz again and said, “OK, Johnny, I’ll ask you one more time.  Who signed the Declaration of Independence?”  To which spunky Johnny said, “I told you I didn’t know.”

The father then jumped up, pointed a stern finger at his son, and said, “Johnny, if you signed that paper, just get it over with and tell the teacher!”

Thanks to the Internet, I now know that there are 56 signatures on the bottom of the Declaration of Independence.  Here are some highlights from that amazing document, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…we therefore …solemnly publish and declare that these United colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states…and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

224 Years Later

As we celebrate our independence and think about our country’s amazing heritage, we can’t help but be thankful for the courage and vision of our founding fathers.  At the same time, as we look at how our country is doing right now, we can’t help but wonder what went wrong.  Proverbs 14:34 says: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  

I don’t want to spend much time going over all the problems we’re faced with as a nation because you see and hear about them every day.  Ruth Graham probably sums it up best with some pretty strong words, “If God doesn’t bring judgment on America soon, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”  

That’s a provocative statement, isn’t it?  Is God upset with America?  Is judgment coming soon, or has it already started?  That leads to another series of questions.  What can we as believers do to stem the rushing tide of secularism, relativism and hedonism in our post-Christian society?  How do we pray for our nation and make an impact in our culture today?

Setting the Context

Let me give you my proposition right at the beginning: “God’s people following God’s plan receive God’s promises.”  When we do what God says we will enjoy His promises.  We are blessed when we do things God’s way.  

Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Chronicles 7:14.  This verse is often quoted in reference to the need for revival in America.  Without a doubt it is the best known and most loved verse in all of Chronicles – it may be the only verse we know from this book!  As we study it this morning, let’s keep the context in mind so that we interpret it and apply it accurately.  The second book of Chronicles records the construction of the temple under the direction of King Solomon.  In chapter 6, Solomon knelt down before God’s people, spread his hands out toward heaven, and broke out into an amazing prayer of dedication.

2 Chronicles 7:1-3 says, “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.  The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it.  When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘He is good; His love endures forever.’”  

That had to be some kind of prayer!  Can you imagine what that must have been like to have fire come down from heaven and the glory of the Lord filling the temple?  Oh, that we would learn to pray like this!  I love how the priests couldn’t even get in the temple because God’s glory filled it up – they were out of a job because God showed up in a mighty way.

After offering a huge sacrifice, Solomon and all the people dedicated the temple to God.  Everyone stood up, the priests took their positions, and the Levites gathered their instruments and played from their heart.  After celebrating and praising God for over two weeks, 2 Chronicles 7:10 says that the people went back to their homes joyful and glad in heart.

Later that night, after everyone had left, the Lord appeared to Solomon to tell him that his prayers had been heard.  That’s the immediate context for 7:14, our passage for today, “If my people, who are called by my name, will 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.” By the way in many of our nation’s presidential inaugurations, the Bible that is used during the swearing-in ceremony is open to this very passage.

God’s People

The first word of this verse introduces a conditional clause: “If”.  God is saying that if we follow His plan, then we will receive His promises.  The next phrase identifies whom He is addressing: “my people, who are called by my name.”  As we’ve already established, this passage is addressed to the nation of Israel.  God wants to make sure that they will act like His people, even after they get settled into their routine.  The temple is important, but God is concerned that His people live out what they know to be true.

Contrary to how we may view ourselves as Americans, we are not God’s chosen nation.  Only ancient Israel is.  Even though this verse is addressed to Israel, God says that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are now, “my people, who are called by my name.”   1 Peter 2:9 refers to God’s people this way: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We belong to God and should therefore start living like those who use His name.  The God of heaven lays the responsibility for revival at our feet because we are His people who are called by His name.

We need revival on a regular basis or we will lose our joy and spiritual intensit

Revival is a biblical concept.  God knows that His people can lose their first love, that we can get soft in our spirituality, and that we can even get numb toward what we know is important.  The psalmist, in Psalm 85:6 makes a request for revival: “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”  We need revival on a regular basis or we will lose our joy and spiritual intensity.  Isaiah 57:15 teaches us that it is God’s desire “to revive the heart of the contrite.”  And in Habakkuk 3:2, the prophet prays, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.  Renew them in our day, in our time make them known…”  

Some of us have grown a bit cold in our walk with God.  We have some history with Him, but our present relationship with Him may not be very close.  Many of us need renewal or revival so that we can once again stand in awe of God’s deeds, and rejoice in Him.

Who is revival for?  According to 2 Chronicles 7:14, it’s for those who belong to God through conversion and for those who bear His name through commitment.  Alexander the Great once found out that one of his soldiers that carried the name of Alexander had proven to be a coward.  He called the man to appear before him and told him to either live up to the name or change it.  Fellow Christian, let’s live up to our name!

Revival is not something to schedule in a church, and it’s not really for lost people.  Biblical revival happens to God’s people who determine to follow God’s plan so that they can receive God’s promises.  God says, “I’ll be responsible and do certain things, if you will be responsible and do certain things.”  Once we are revived and awakened, the overflow will spill into the lives of others.

What are those things that we are responsible to do?  How do we follow God’s plan?  This verse gives us 4 conditions to follow.  

Following God’s Plan

1. Humility. 

The first condition is to humble ourselves. We aren’t to wait for someone else to give us humility, God says that we are to attack pride and force ourselves to be humble.  God wants you to see yourself as He does – no more and no less.  I’ve been helped by something I have heard my friend Pastor Ray say many times: “He is God and we are not.”   He is in charge, not me.  

Let’s face it.  It’s not easy for the average American to be humble because we are a proud people.  James Hunter has said: “We Americans generally want to think of ourselves as good people.  That, in many respects, is where the trouble begins.”  To really humble ourselves, we must admit that there is nothing good within us and that we can do nothing without Him.  As we learned last week, when we ask God to meet our needs for daily bread, we are in essence trusting in His provision and not in our own.

This is the right place to start because we know that God does not hear the prayers of the proud.  James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Next week we’re going to focus on the need for humility in our prayers as we camp in Daniel 9.  

Humility is the opposite of pride.  Friends, we need to really take a look at our hearts on this one because pride exalts self and excludes God.  If we think we’re better than we are then we have no need for a Savior.  Someone has said that we overestimate our goodness and underestimate the pervasiveness of sin in our lives.  I think that’s true.  If the truth were known, many of us think our sins don’t smell as bad as other people’s.

2. Prayer. 

After humbling ourselves, we are commanded to pray.  This seems a little easier than the first one because we all know how to ask God for things.  This verse reminds us to pray as Jesus taught His disciples to pray: Begin with the greatness of God and then focus on our needs.  Solomon followed this model in chapter 6.  He started out with praise in verse 14“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth” and then moved into petition in verse 17: “…Let your word that you promised your servant David come true.”  This is desperate prayer where we go to throne room of God boldly and passionately.

Brothers and sisters, if we want revival then we must humble ourselves and pray.  If we want to receive God’s promises then we need to follow God’s plan.

3. Seek God’s face. 

The third condition is to “seek God’s face.” The idea of seeking implies a desire for something of great value.  It’s like the woman who searched for her lost coin or the shepherd with 100 sheep who, having lost one, left the 99 and went searching for the one who had wandered off.  It’s like the man seeking a pearl of great price, who having found it gives all that he has in order to purchase it.  When you seek something of value, you rearrange your schedule and priorities until you find it.  When we seek something, we are persistent.

Matthew 7:7 promises that when we seek we will find.  Jeremiah 29:13 says that when we seek God with our whole heart, we will find Him.

Now, how do we seek “God’s face”?  This is what a baby does when they reach out to touch your face.  They just want to feel your skin – that’s how they get to know you.  It’s when we say, “Lord, I want to touch you deeply, I want to get to know you in all your awesome splendor.” 

In the Bible, this phrase is used of someone desiring an audience with a prince or with God Himself.  This is how it is used in Psalm 27:8: “My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek.”  The idea is that we desire to align ourselves with His will and His kingdom purposes – much like what we learned last week in the Lord’s Prayer.  It means simply to get our will in line with His.

Friend, are you actively seeking an audience with God so that you can do His will?  Are you rearranging your priorities so that you can come into His presence?  The good news is that we don’t have to look hard to find Him, do we?   Ephesians 2:13 says “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”

And so, as God’s people we are to follow God’s plan by humbling ourselves, by praying, and by seeking God’s face.  There’s one more condition – we are to turn from our wicked ways.

4. Turn from our wicked ways. 

This is the true test of biblical repentance.  Are we willing to turn away from sin and turn toward God?  This is where our “wills” must engage and take action.  The order here is significant.  As we humble ourselves and pray and seek God with all that we have, our hunger will be satisfied by the sight of God’s face and we will no longer want to hold on to those things that grieve our “Holy Abba Father.”  

How can we know when we are coming close to praying and seeking God’s face enough?   When we are willing to put the way we live on the line, to do whatever it costs us to obey God’s will.  

Just as God’s people in the Old Testament often turned their backs on God, so too we have that same tendency.  They were prone to follow idols and so are we.  We need to recognize that anything in our lives which keeps us from being all that God desires for us is a “wicked way” in God’s sight.  Stephen Olford refers to this aspect as “holiness in prayer.”  He goes on to say “to have defilement in our hands, to have dissension in our spirits, and to have doubting in our hearts is to cancel out all effectiveness in prayer.”

Recently, Pastor Joe Wright of Kansas was asked to lead the Kansas State Senate in prayer.  The senators were expecting to hear the usual kind of formal prayer but they got a big surprise.  This pastor used this opportunity to call sin by its real name, and to ask God to give these leaders the will to repent of their wicked ways.  As he prayed this prayer, some of the senators got up and walked out.  Paul Harvey read this prayer on his program and received more requests for copies than any other he has ever done.

Here’s what Rev. Wright prayed: “Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance.  We know your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that’s exactly what we have done.  We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.  We confess that:

We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it pluralism.

We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery…

We have killed our unborn and called it a choice…

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy.

We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.

We have polluted the airwaves with profanity and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.  Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by you, to govern this great state.  Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of your will.  Amen.”

There’s really no way to soften the command to turn from our wicked ways.  God accepts only one response to sin, not rationalizing, not excusing, and not comparing ourselves to others.  He demands that WE TURN FROM IT!  Do you want God’s best?  Then deal with the “wicked ways” that are holding you back from the very answers you’re seeking.  God is calling each of us right now to turn from our wicked ways.  

We do that by:

  • Admitting our sin
  • Abandoning our sin

God says that as long as we’re hanging onto that sinful practice or attitude, He can’t open up heaven and bless us.  Have you been playing around with sin?  Recognize it and repent right now.  Have you been doing some stuff that you know is wrong?  Turn from it today.  Have you been withholding forgiveness from someone?  Stop acting as their judge and free them from ever paying you back.  Do you have some dark secrets that you’ve been trying to hide from God and your loved ones?  Bring them into the light.  Have you been running your own life and not humbly and prayerfully seeking God’s face?  Surrender to Him right now.

Receive God’s Promises

When God’s people follow God’s plan they will receive God’s promises.  Let’s look briefly at the three promises God gives in this verse.  These promises come after the word, “then.”  If my people do these 4 things, then I will do these three things.

1. God will hear. 

When we pray the way God directs us to pray, He promises that He will hear our prayers.  We don’t have to worry about getting God’s attention.  He is on line 24/7 and delights in hearing the prayers of His children.  Psalm 121:4 says, “Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

2. God will forgive. 

The second promise is that God will forgive our sins.  To forgive means to “send away” or “to let go.” Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”  God is the only one who can forgive our sins and make us clean again.  As 1 John 1:9 states, when we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

There are at least two kinds of forgiveness taught in Scripture.  Our initial forgiveness happens at conversion.  I call this redemption forgiveness.  The other forgiveness has to do with a daily cleansing when we confess our sins to God.  I call this restoration forgiveness.

3. God will heal. 

The last promise has to do with national blessing for the nation of Israel.  When God’s people committed to God’s plan, God sent healing to their land.  During the reign of King Ahab the land experienced a bad famine, and only in response to the prayers of Elijah did the rains come.  The word, “heal” means “to repair” or “to restore.”

I know this particular promise is to the nation of Israel, but I see an application for us today.  Many of us are in need of repair and restoration.  We long for healing of our emotions, our spirits, and our bodies.  Our country is certainly in need of healing.

Let me explain how I view our role in God sending revival.  Here’s how it works.  While we are commanded to pray for our nation, we can’t just complain and bemoan how bad things are in our country.  You see, WE are the problem.  America’s problem is not so much in our system but in us. God always intends for revival to start with His people.  It goes from the Christian to the Church to the Community to the County to the Country and then to the Continents.  Are you willing for it to start with you?

A Big Jolt

Something radical has to be done to restart a heart for God

When someone has a heart attack, sometimes doctors will use a defibrillator in order to restart the heart.  They do it all the time on ER.  Someone yells, “clear” and then they put the paddles on the chest.  A jolt of electric current flows through the paddles in the hopes of getting the heart to start beating again.

I wonder if God wants to do the same thing with your heart this morning.  A once strong spiritual life can start slowing down or even stop beating.  Something radical has to be done to restart a heart for God.  That’s where God brings out His paddles.

We see this in 7:13, the verse immediately preceding our passage for today.  God says, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people…if my people who are called by my name…” God had to send a wake-up call to His people and so He sent the drought, the locusts, and the plague.  Not because he doesn’t care but because He does.  He knows it’s what it will take to bring the patient back to life.

Maybe this explains some of the jolts you’ve been getting hit with lately.  Maybe you’ve hit bottom because God has been trying to get your attention.  You’ve been asking “why” and God is answering, “Because I want to restart your failing heart.”  Maybe you haven’t responded to gentler therapies so now He has sent these jolts to bring you back.

Maybe you have some pain right now…but please get the point.  God loves you just the way you are but He doesn’t want you to stay the way you are.  He wants you to return to your first love for Jesus.  He wants you to re-establish your daily Jesus-time as the center of your life.  He desires for you to be a pure child of God who has zero tolerance for sin.  And, in order to reach you, He has allowed some situations – like drought, locusts, and plagues – that are totally beyond your power to fix. He wants you to surrender to Him by following His plan so that you can receive His promises.

If you’ve been feeling some jolts lately, consider the possibility that God has sent them to bring you back to life.

A Declaration of Dependence

When I think about the individuals who signed the declaration of independence 224 years ago, I’m impressed with their courage.  They had come to the point of declaration.  They were tired of the ways things were and wanted them to be different.  They signed it knowing full well the penalty would be death if they were captured.

I’m wondering if some of you are ready to make a public pronouncement this morning.  Instead of declaring your independence, I want to challenge you to declare your dependence upon God.  I’m going to ask you right now to come up front and sign this declaration of dependence.  By signing you are indicating that you are ready to follow God’s plan so that you can receive God’s promises.

Anyone ready to respond to the jolts God has been giving you?  My guess is that He’s prodding some of you right now to come up and sign this document.  Will you do it?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?