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.
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.
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.
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