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If My People...

8th September 2017

I wrote about this passage in January of this year, and now I'd like to take another look at it:

2 Chronicles 7v11-16
When Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the Lord and in his own palace, the Lord appeared to him at night and said: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. "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, 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.

Solomon had completed the building of the first Old Testament temple in Jerusalem, and they'd had a dedication ceremony to consecrate it to God. We can read in verse 1 that fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. This is a picture for us of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the church in tongues of fire at Pentecost. The church is the New Testament temple of God. And every local church is a temple to God.

God says to every church, "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices." Of course, our sacrifices now are not animals and birds, slain on the altar, because Jesus has made sufficient sacrifice, once for all, by dying in our place on the cross. But we offer sacrifices of praise, and of prayer, and of obedience, and of service. And Romans 12v1-2 urges us, "in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship."

When we meet together, on Sunday morning or at any other time, we meet in the presence of God, before the throne of God. Our meetings are holy. Our gathering is the Holy Place. When we come together, it should be with a sense of awe at the holiness and majesty of God. It must be reverent. God is here, and God requires holiness, love and peace from us.

So our church is a temple to God, and our meetings are holy, and we need to cultivate a sense of reverence before Him.

Having assured us that he has chosen this place - your church and every church - for Himself, God then offers us a conditional promise. This promise comes in three parts: the circumstance, the condition, and the guarantee.

First: the circumstance:

2 Chronicles 7v13
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"

Notice that God says "when", not "if". God will send us problems. Whether the drought is the absence of physical rain, or there's a drought of salvation, or of spiritual gifts, or of joy, or peace, some sort of physical, emotional or spiritual drought will come from time to time to every church, and to every Christian. Expect it. It's normal.

Amos 8v11 says "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord, "when I will send a famine through the land — not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord."

Whether the plague is physical sickness, or whether it's a plague of apathy, or division, or negativity, or something else, the plague will come. Expect it. It's normal.

So that's the first part of the promise - the circumstance.

The second part is the condition:

2 Chronicles 7v14a
if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways"

Notice the word "if". If we want things to get better in our lives, or in our church, or in our country, then there are things God requires us to do.

The first thing God requires of us is to humble ourselves.

As Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 3v16, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's spirit lives in you?" God's Spirit dwells in us as individual Christians, but He also dwells in us corporately - as God's temple. As God's temple, we must keep ourselves holy, and we must kneel before God the King, humbly listening for His voice, obeying His Scriptures, submitting ourselves to His will. We must not doubt the words of the Bible, but obey them. We must listen for His prophetic voice, carefully weigh each prophecy and, if we believe it's genuine, obey it.

And we must maintain an attitude of reverence before our God. We must take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. We must pray "Not my will but yours be done", and mean it. We must give up all selfish ambition and all pride.

And we must maintain an attitude of humility towards each other. As Paul writes, again in Romans 12, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement" (verse 3) and "Love must be sincere. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Honour one another above yourselves." (verses 8-10)

The second thing God requires of us is that we pray.

Prayer changes things. I was suffering from depression earlier this year but a dear sister in Christ prayed for me recently, and the morning I woke up healed of depression. Prayer changes things. How many of us were born again because a Christian had been praying for us to be saved? Prayer changes things. Our nation needs prayer. Our neighbours need prayer. Our families need prayer.

Prayer changes things, and prayer changes us. C.S. Lewis said, "I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time - waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God - it changes me." When we pray, God touches our minds and our hearts. He changes how we think and how we feel. He changes what we want. He changes our attitude to other people. He grows the fruit of the Spirit in us. He helps us to forgive, to understand, to care, to give, to be patient, to endure, to love, to rejoice, to experience peace.

Again, As C.S. Lewis says, "God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing".

God calls us to pray so that things will change, and He calls us to pray so that we will change. He calls us to speak prayers out, and He calls us to sit or kneel silently in His presence, listening for His voice.

The third thing God requires is that we seek his face.

To seek God's face is to spend a lot of time praising him and sitting or kneeling silently in his presence, waiting on God. To seek God's face is more than asking Him to do things. It's not about wanting what God can do for us, or for others, it's about wanting God for Himself - deepening our relationship with Him. As Paul wrote:

Philippians 3v10-12
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

To seek God's face is to want to know Christ so much that I'm prepared to spend a lot of time, every week, just sitting with Him with the TV off, walking with Him with the phone off, driving with Him with the radio and the CD player off. To seek God's face is to choose silence and solitude, to refuse to be active, to stop doing God's work, and pay attention to God Himself.

As a friend of mine said recently, "Some people are so busy doing the work of the Lord that they're not listening to the Lord of the work". They're not seeking God's face.

God loves it when his people choose to just spend time with Him, sometimes in silence, sometimes in adoration, sometimes in intercession, sometimes in confession but, as it were, gazing into the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4v6 says that, "God made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." We need that.

And the fourth thing God requires is that we turn from our wicked ways.

The New Testament contains several lists of the sort of wickedness we Christians should repent of. Here's one:

Galatians 5v19-21:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

We are God's people, and God is holy, so we should be holy. I hope that's obvious. Wickedness is not just what we do, it's the attitudes inside us. Jesus said:

Matthew 5v21-22
"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Let us repent of all envy, all strife, all judgementalism, all pride, all desire to remove the speck of dust from our brother's eye when we have a plank in our own, or even when we don't. Let us repent of all inappropriate fleshly comforts, all ambition, all argument, all complaining, all bitterness, all laziness, all selfishness. Let us turn from our wicked ways.

We've looked at the circumstance of God's promise, and we've looked briefly at the condition. Finally, we'll look at the guarantee. When the circumstance comes - as it will - and we experience a dry time, or a thirsty time, or a time of sickness - physical, emotional or spiritual - and when the condition is fulfilled, and we've humbled ourselves, and prayed, and sought God's face, and turned from our wicked ways, then God makes us this guarantee:

verse 14b
then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

God promises, and His promise will never be broken, that when we experience difficult times, as we all will, both as an individual and as churches, then if we will humble ourselves, and pray, and seek God's face, and turn from our wicked ways, then God will hear us. God will forgive us - whatever sins we have committed - and will heal our land, our country, our inheritance.

You may feel like you have no sins to be forgiven for. I assure you you're mistaken. Until you truly seek God's face over a period of years, you won't even know the full extent of the sins you've committed. Probably, not even then.

You may feel like some of your sins are too dreadful to ever be forgiven. Again, I assure you that you're mistaken. Jesus Christ died to pay the full price for every sin you've committed. No matter how serious, no matter how long ago, no matter how guilty you feel, no matter how much you wish you could go back and act differently, God guarantees to forgive your sin, if you turn from your wicked ways.

And God guarantees He will heal our land. As God's meek people - if we are truly meek, and some of us aren't, yet - we will inherit the earth. All the land is ours, because it's part of our inheritance. And the island on which we live really, really needs healing. If you feel close to despair because of what you see on the news, or read in the papers, or see on the computer, then don't give up, don't rant about it, and don't get angry about it. Pray about it. And God will heal our land.