Intercession and Repentance

Our nation’s continuing moral and economic decline, and the growing malaise of our increasingly dysfunctional churches, has caused a renewed focus on intercessory prayer.

Heavy Lifting

Intercession without Repentance Is Not Effective

But intercession without transformational repentance – which Biblically involves changing the way we act by changing the way we think – is seldom effective.

While desperately seeking to touch the heart of God through intercession, few seem willing to do the concurrent hard work of understanding the mind of God. The challenges facing our nation, and our churches, require both.

We need intercession, but we also need God’s understanding – followed by a corresponding change in what we believe and how we act.

Biblical Precepts and Patience

Unless we understand the problems that have contributed to the challenges facing our churches and nation – and the Biblical principles needed to address them – our prayers and intercessions will be ineffective.

I fervently believe God is calling us to prayer and Biblical precepts so that we can be, once again, salt and light.

Only intercession, with understanding, will bring health to our churches and nation. Even so, health will not come quickly. After all, it has taken decades of bad belief, disengagement, irresponsible conduct and predatory leadership to produce our present ecclesiastical and national malaise.

God is sovereign, and He can heal our land, but it is unrealistic to expect things to turn on a dime.

Yet He is calling us out of our funk and our angst, and to seek His healing for our land.

Prayer with Repentance

Calls to pray for our churches and our nation often cite 2 Chronicles 7:14, where God 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.”

I hear lots these days about fervently praying, with intense intercessory meetings and the like, but not much about humbling ourselves (i.e., setting aside our own thoughts and desires based on what we think, in our fear and anxiety, God should do).

I also hear lots about steadfastly seeking God’s face, but very little about repenting (i.e., turning from our wicked ways by changing the way we think as we commit to God’s ways).

The challenges now facing our churches and nation require that we accept the full approach – rather than some partial approach – set forth in 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Some “get it”, but not many.

Rather than focusing on God saving us by making everyone else repent, mature prayer seeks to bring us to a place of our own repentance – both individually and collectively.

Only if we first turn from the hubris and wicked ways that we, as Christians, have embraced, can we then address the sin that has gripped our land.

God or Baal?

What passes for intercession these days often resembles the prophets of Baal avoiding Elijah’s call to repentance (1 Kings 18). Rather than deal with the real issues of sin and disobedience, they focused on their own angst by crying out with loud voices and pleading for the affirmation of signs and wonders.

Those prophets wanted fire from on high…

They wanted a manifestation of divine affirmation…

They earnestly cried out with great fervor and sincerity…

But there was no repentance.

Crying out for God to save us, without repentance, is just like them crying out to an idol created with their own hands.

Like them, our cries and pleas too often are rooted in our own needs, fears and self-directed solutions rather than learning about and doing things God’s way. Such idolatry invokes great emotion and passion, but little substantive change – either in ourselves or especially in our churches and the nation as a whole.

My heart grieves because we are missing, at the very time when we need transforming prayer and intercession, true and effective repentance.

For example, I know of a church with great intercessors who often gather to plead with God for revival. But they are so consumed with wanting to feel the heart of God that they have totally ignored the mind of God – and so they turn a blind eye and refuse to address predatory, abusive leadership within their church.

They want the emotion, passion and affirmation of revival, but not truth or change that repentance demands.

As a result, they have neither.

Looking at the larger picture, I don’t doubt the sincerity those calling for intercessory prayer to heal our churches and nation. But I believe there is gross disregard of God’s principles and precepts within the Christian community – as they apply to our own lives, and also to our churches, nation, society, economy and culture.

As a result, there is no true confession, and in turn no true repentance.

If I’m right about this, then God’s healing will not follow.

Spiritual Masturbation?

When Israel, as a nation, had fallen away from God, they didn’t simply seek God’s face and say “we’re sorry, we’re so, so sincerely, truly, totally sorry – now please bail us out of this mess.”

Such a prayer is self-centered, because it is asking God to protect us from the consequences of our own sins without taking the time to learn His ways and then repenting from the specific areas where we have deviated from His principles and precepts.

It also ignores the follow-up need to change our ways and adopt God’s ways (i.e., humility), as set forth in Scripture for the blessing of God’s people and whole nations.

But how can we do this unless we understand the principles and precepts of God that go beyond our personal walk with Him? And how can we understand, unless we are taught?

Instead of only crying out in prayer during times of national malaise, the leaders of Israel called the people to an assembly. There are several instances of this in the Old Testament. At that assembly, the leaders laid out their collective sins and then taught the people God’s precepts – usually by reading and explaining Scripture to them.

As the people learned what was right and pleasing to the Lord regarding the nation, they responded by collectively renewing their covenant with God and repenting of their specific contravening sins, then pledging before God to change their ways.

This is what we are lacking and what God is waiting to see within our churches, in our nation, and in the hearts and actions of His people.

He is weary of our sincere but hollow, and emotional but insubstantial, pleas for intervention. Those pleas, like the prophets of Baal, are often rooted in our own needs, fears and desires and are divorced of true, meaningful and informed repentance. They amount to little more than spiritual masturbation.

Where Are Our Leaders?

In general, I have this fault with many of the leaders in our churches: You have not taught God’s people His precepts – as they relate to us as individuals, as churches, as a nation, as a society, as an economy and as a culture.

So when people gather to pray for the future of their church and nation, they do so with sincerity but in ignorance of how we have violated God’s principles.

How can we repent of wicked ways unless we know God’s ways?

And how can we turn to God’s ways for our lives, churches, nation, society, economy and culture unless we first learn them?

Repentance must first start with the household of God, and within His household, it must begin with our leaders.

We must repent of the easy-believism of “me and Jesus” existentialism, and our settled complacency, and start searching Scripture for God’s precepts for all spheres of life – including the principles He has established to bless our church, nation, society, economy and culture.

For example, there are more passages in Scripture about money and economic principles then there are about prayer. But you’d never know it sitting in church Sunday after Sunday (except for the self-serving emphasis on giving to the church and the Old Testament practice of tithing).

When was the last time we taught God’s people about sound economic principles and policies, such as the dangers of false weights (i.e., inflating our currency), or the dangers of borrowing (i.e., deficit spending), or the dangers of the State violating the domain of individual self-government and personal responsibility (i.e., expecting the State to meet our personal economic needs); or the danger of using centralized state power to solve our problems (which God warns in I Samuel 8 will result in oppression as the State runs and controls all aspects of our lives)?

Only if we expand our faith and understanding to encompass all spheres of human activity can we have solemn convocations and intercessory assemblies that result in God healing our churches and our land.

Focused Prayer with Understanding

Rather than spending hours and hours crying out to God in vain repetition, how about setting aside some time for a mature, gifted teacher to explain one of the wicked ways (i.e., a problem) that has contributed to our church or nation facing the brink of calamity, followed by an explanation of God’s alternative way (i.e., the answer)?

Then have everyone respond in that same meeting by humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face, repenting and pledging to submit to God’s way on that specific point.

Once there is a sense of breakthrough on that issue, move on to the next issue, with teaching followed again by fervent prayer and repentance. Methodically work through issue after issue for however long, and however many meetings, it takes.

As we are taught God’s specific ways at those gatherings, we then are able to respond, just as with Israel of old, by seeking His face and crying out to God in specific repentance for how we (not others) have violated His specific precepts.

The problem we need to confront is that we, as God’s people, have forsaken His ways (in fact, we haven’t even cared enough to learn or teach His ways), and thus have relegated our churches and nation to others who took them in the wrong direction.

We have forgotten that God is sovereign – for our blessing – over all spheres of human endeavor, and not just the personal, “spiritual” aspects of our individual faith.

True Repentance

Let’s not cry out so much for deliverance from others – we have caused this mess in our churches and nation, and God is looking for us to acknowledge the sin of ignorance regarding His ways.

He then is looking to see if we are humble enough to commit to Him, not only subjectively in our personal lives, but also to His objective principles and precepts as they relate to the problems our churches and nation are facing.

Only as we once again seek and learn God’s ways can we repent of our wicked ways.

Only as we understand His ways can we turn again to Him and once more see God’s blessing and providence poured out on our churches and nation.

God is calling forth His intercessors, but where are our leaders who will hear and heed God’s call to begin teaching His ways? God help us if no leaders arise to search Scripture and then teach God’s precepts for all spheres of life.

Consistent with 2 Chronicles 7:14, it is never too late to begin “humbling” ourselves by acknowledging that our ways are not His ways…

To begin “praying” with understanding as we are taught His ways…

To begin “seeking” His face rather than seeking our own affirmation or agenda…

And then begin to “turn” from our wicked ways as we once again start to understand what it means to be God’s preserving salt and illuminating light to a desperate world.

~ Jim Wright

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18 responses

    • Andre, I am not willing to take such an extreme position as to deny the general underlying principles we can see in the Old Testament from how God dealt with Israel. I agree this passage was specifically to Israel, but so what? Does that destroy it’s underlying principles?

      Do we shut off the entire Old Testament, or does it still have things to teach us? For example, I see throughout scripture that God deals with nations, and this passage is relevant in understanding that dynamic.

      I read that blog you link to, and if you follow it’s logic, we really should just take a cleaver to our Bible and chop off the first two thirds of it. Is that what “grace” now demands? I reject such an extreme view.

      I am not under or part of the Old Covenant, but that covenant came from God Himself and thus reflects something of His eternal nature and His way of interacting with His creation. The specific requirements of the Old Covenant are not binding on us today, but the underlying principles are still of general applicability – especially to the extent they reveal something of God’s eternal nature.

      I suggest that 2 Chronicles 7:14 shows more of God’s nature, like His mercy and loving kindness, and our need for humility and repentance, than nearly any other passage from the Old Testament. We would do well to heed it’s lessons.

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    • hi Andre. Good point, in that Christians r held to a higher judgment because to whom much is given, much is required. The warning of Chronicles is far less fearful than the judgment to NT believers that God will spit us out of His mouth for the same disregard as OT saints. Maybe you could add that to your defense of scriptural context, as a back up to Jims call to return to the Lord? It’s costly to be prophetic but a few good men have turned nations away from hell in the past.

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    • Andre. I have to agree with your post done long before this discussion. It has bothered me that preachers 1. seem to ignore the context of a passage and 2. fail to distinguish between the covenants when taking Old Testament details to be rules for Christians.

      Jim, having followed your blog for quite a while, and knowing how your background leads you to see shortcomings of politics and civil law, and reading your efforts to bring a broader perspective to organic-church-type folks, and knowing what you have shared of your health issues, I can understand the spirit behind your post.

      I get nervous when folks call for national or corporate repentance, having been at a meeting that had that as the purpose, and being told we collectively repented for things I had never even thought of…in that case I had to look up ‘replacement theology’ in order to know what the (alleged) evil was from which we had to repent.

      It reminded me of the ‘closing prayer’ times in some of my churches where the pastor was supposedly talking to God but was actually giving a summary of the sermon…which presumably God knew because, unlike some of us, He had probably been listening closely.

      So, as another commenter asked, what exactly are we to be repenting for? By the same token, what exactly are we to be interceding for? Is this a USA thing relating to the coming election? Are persecuted believers in third-world countries included in this? If any group ought to plead for God’s intervention, it would be them. We need some clarification.

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      • Tom, thanks for the comments.

        Be careful about letting a bad experiences limit what God may want to do. I have been to horrible “intercessory” prayer meetings that were little more than folks with compuslive-addictive personalities feeding their need for emotional intensity under the guise of “prayer”. Yet I believe there is a place, and need, and a call today by God, for effective intercession and true repentance. I won’t reject the legitimate just because I’ve seen abuses.

        I’m not sure how we exclude the legitimate need for intercession and repentance regarding our churches and nation based on any Old Covenant/New Covenant distinction. Again, there is much we can learn from God’s dealings with Israel in the Old Testament without coming under the Old Covenant.

        Regarding specific issues and repentance, why do you need that? What God may lay on my heart based on my own acts or omissions surely will differ from you. The problems facing the nation which God lays on my heart likely will differ from you also. I feel no need to tell you your business regarding repentance. I have enough to deal with for myself!

        Regarding my motives, I think you read too much into my “health issues” – which you’ve mentioned in other comments. I actually wrote this particular post four years ago, but updated it with some very minor edits. I re-posted it because I felt the Lord challenging me and our fellowships along these lines.

        The upcoming elections have heightened the sense of anxiety that I am trying to counter in this post, but the post is concerned with much, much more than any election. Thus, I also re-posted this because I felt it was still timely without it having anything to do with my present health and certainly not because I was trying to indirectly influence anyone’s vote.

        Left or right, there is a need to seek God, confess and repent for our churches and our nation. And frankly, although I will vote in November, I have never been less enthusiastic about our choices (both for President and for U.S. Senate here in Virginia) – which I think is evidence of the need to intercede and repent so that we can be blessed with an environment where candidates will emerge in the future who have firm convictions and moral courage rooted in eternal precepts.

        God is sovereign over the affairs of man, and over history. But He works through His people. Let’s heed the call, and be His salt and light once again to the nations.

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  1. A great blog that I hope will find its way to the America For Jesus National Solemn Assenbly that begins tomorrow in Philadelphia. We all need to hear this!

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  2. Jim, I am relatively new to your blog, so please forgive me if you have addressed the issues in earlier posts. Could you please elaborate on one or two problem issues that you see where the church has committed itself to “wicked ways”? I am thinking in the context of this paragraph:

    “Rather than spending hours and hours crying out to God in vain repetition, how about setting aside some time for a mature, gifted teacher to explain one of the wicked ways (i.e., a problem) that has contributed to our church or nation facing the brink of calamity, followed by an explanation of God’s alternative way (i.e., the answer)?”

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    • As I say in my response to Tom above, I think what we need to confess and repent of will vary depending on what God has laid on each of our own hearts.

      Some churches may need to confess indifference. Others maybe the opposite of making civic engagement their de-facto God. I don’t know. That will depend on each church. There may be crippling sin within the congregation, an undue focus on the Sunday meeting over community, a passivity among the congregation, a disregard for the needy among them. Who knows? It will vary by local church. But if we look at the “church” in general in the U.S., I think it would be hard to deny the general need for intercession, confession and repentance.

      Regarding the nation, some may feel God’s conviction on issues like abortion and the sanctity of human life, others fiscal policies, yet others on the needs of the poor. Is there nothing that stirs your own heart regarding the issues facing our nation? I suspect so. That is a good place to start.

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  3. I humbly propose to you that there is a vast difference in the way God treated Israel under the Old Covenant and the way He deals with us today. It almost like trying to play football according to the 1920 rules of the game – it just doesn’t work. The Old Testament is a wonderful tool, I’m not disputing this. But ALL of it pointed to Christ, like a road sign. And it’s not very helpful to set up camp next to a road sign, is it?

    It’s not our repentence or intercession that will make God move – God has ALREADY moved in the person of Christ. He has done everything and given us all we need to BE salt and light to the world. Actually, God is waiting for US to move.

    Heb 10:12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.

    Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, waiting for the sons of God to take up their rightful place in this earth. God cave MAN the responsibility to rule over His creation, and now we are trying to hand this responsibility back to God.

    If you haven’t done so already – read that article I posted in my first comment.

    Grace and peace to you all my brothers.

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    • Andre, you set up a straw man to then knock down. Of course Christ’s work was finished on the cross and He now has all authority.

      As you then say, He is now “waiting for [us] to take … responsibility.”

      Forgive me for being dense, but isn’t that the whole point of my blog? Or is there now no need for intercession, confession and repentance – and understanding His precepts – as part of the ways we take responsibility?

      It seems to me that sometimes folks trip over their own pet doctrines and miss the obvious.

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  4. Apologies if that is the way my comment came across Jim, that was certainly not my intention. And no offense taken about the “pet doctrines” comment…

    I think we are missing each other in the “details” here.

    I think where we are missing each other is in regards to what the responsibilities of a believer are. You say it is to:

    1) Repent – yes I agree, but as long as this repentance involves repenting TO the finished work off the cross, which means acknowledging that Christ has given his children the authority to rule and reign on earth. This is somewhat of a paradigm shift from just repenting FROM certain things…

    2) Confession – when we realize who we are in Christ and how radically the cross changed the way God relates to us, it will change WHAT we confess. New Covenant confession no longer involves confession of sin, but a confession of our righteousness, and by this I am not denying the fact that we do make mistakes from time to time.

    3) Intercession – what exactly is it that we need to intercede for? That God would spare a country from His wrath because of their sins? Anything along these lines makes us appear more loving than God, who is the personification of love Himself.

    Thanks for the discussion.

    In Grace
    Andre

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    • Andre, I unequivocally part with you to the extent you have identified yourself with the emerging “grace” movement.

      Although your initial couple of comments did not make it clear that you filter everything though what I think is a defective concept of “grace”, I think your last comment does.

      When folks elevate any one truth to the exclusion of other truth, they do in fact “trip over their own pet doctrines and miss the obvious.”

      The “grace” movement does this when it accurately says that we stand blameless before God because of the finished work of the cross, but sink into grave error when they then conclude that we no longer sin or need to heed the clear mandates of scripture to confess our sin, deal with the consequences of sin, and seek forgiveness – even as Christians.

      “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Jame 5:16

      “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-10

      These passages are written to BELIEVERS, but are of general applicability.

      I could have substituted those passages for my OT citation, but from the extreme “grace” perspective, it would not have made any difference, I suspect.

      Again, I enjoy lots of what you post, but I do cringe at elevating “grace” to the exclusion of other truths. And on that, we fundamentally disagree.

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  5. I am in full agreement with this post and your follow up comments Jim . NT repentance that John the Baptist and Jesus preached were with works following that demonstrate a life of unselfishness instead of self gain in areas of personal materialism, comfort, reputation, wordly power and such. These precepts can be applied to every motive and action in every sphere of relationships and work.
    Each person must check their heart and seek to be living in sacrificial personal growth that God leads them in to serve others.
    God says put away your idols in both NT &OT.
    1Tim2-9 directive to pray for civil leaders includes doing so without a motive for financial gain, prosperous living, and status; which produce resentment, wrath and pride.
    These things make for ineffectual intercessions.
    Who can not see in their own daily lives a constant need to keep your heart right in these areas for the sake of serving others with love whether you are rich or poor?
    As James asks us, are we asking God with with the wrong purposes of only wanting what will give ‘you’ pleasure?
    Are the calls to intercession in recognition that we need Gods friendship and that he is jealous for it? Is our lack of friendship with God evidenced not only in the turmoils of the civil nation we live in, but also the lack of ability to make more disciples?
    I plead we will not pray with an eye on comfort, but with a heart and strength to suffer as needed in living against our own evil longings.

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    • Lol, I’m not exactly sure I’d call the gospel that Paul the Apostle preached, namely righteousness through faith, “the Grace movement”…

      Nevertheless, I’m not the type to force my beliefs onto others.

      I do wish you the best with your journey, may the Lord take you from strength to strength Jim.

      Peace out.

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      • Andre, you are always welcome to comment here and disagree with me, as long as you don’t mind me disagreeing back! I will not go so far as to elevate grace – and what some think it means under the New Covenant – to the exclusion of other Biblical truths.

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  6. Pingback: Prayer and Thanksgiving « Crossroad Junction

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