It's been a lot, y'all. A lot of fear. A lot of anger. A lot of heartbreak. A lot. We are all desperate for change. For those of us who are Jesus-followers, we are desperate for God to move.
I think God is moving.
Oh, He's probably not moving the way we want Him to, but He's moving. His ways are higher, they look different. He is good, even though what we are going through doesn't feel good. We can't see Him moving (sometimes because we aren't really looking) but He is moving. Are we moving with Him? (Maybe don't ask yourself that question, ask Jesus.)
I recently heard this quote from Ed Stetzer,
"In America it appears that Christianity is collapsing when really Christianity is being clarified."
Read it again. Slowly. Think about it for a minute.
As American Christians we like the idea of saying we live in a Christian nation. Becoming a post-Christian nation scares us (and I get that, I do). We look around and see our beliefs being pushed to the side or buried under relativism and political correctness. We panic because we are more and more the religious minority and we don't like that.
But the early church was never the religious majority. They were okay with that (I mean the kind of okay which meant they kept believing and serving and gospelizing even under intense persecution). It was hard. It was scary. It was super uncomfortable. But they knew they weren't called to comfort and safety; they were called to full commitment to the Jesus they deeply loved - the Jesus who died for them while they were yet sinners.
Perhaps discomfort kept them consecrated because they had to wake up every day and carry their cross and couldn't just let it sit in a corner. They didn't have the luxury of comfort. They understood too much was at stake. (Have we forgotten what is at stake? Spoiler alert: It's not America. It's the Kingdom...it's souls. That doesn't mean we can't love and care about our country but let's keep it in perspective as Christians. Let's look through the Kingdom lens first and the Kingdom is bigger than us.)
Perhaps God is bringing us back to that place. He's bringing us back to what really matters. He's bringing us back to what it really means to follow Him. He's bringing us back to real relationship with Him -- the all-in kind of relationship. The kind of relationship that means sacrifice. The kind of relationship that is uncomfortable. The kind that forces us to truly (like for real) align our words and actions and beliefs with His Word. (Because maybe, just maybe, at least part of the reason we are becoming post-Christian is because we haven't done our jobs as Christians. Because we chose comfort over consecration.)
None of that feels good. I get that. So we hold on to things that offer us some morsel of consolation. I get that too. We pass around verses of encouragement and faith...as we should. (So don't stop doing that because His Word is life.)
I keep seeing this particular verse roam around social media. 2 Chronicles 7:14,
"...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
It's a nice verse. Thank you Jesus that you hear us. Thank you Jesus that you are the Healer. It's a comforting promise.
But...(you had to know it was coming) this is an if/then statement. That means we have a part to play. I know you know that. But knowing it and doing it are two different things. (James 1:22)
So what do we do?
The first thing is we look at this verse in context. (That's always the first thing when studying God's Word. That and prayer.) Take a minute and read all of 2 Chronicles chapter 7. King Solomon had finished the temple, a project his father, David, had begun. In chapter 6 (read it too cuz it's good) he offered a prayer to God, asking God to consecrate the temple. (We don't make anything holy and set apart, God does.) Then in Chapter 7 God answered with fire and it was glorious, and the people responded with praise and by offering sacrifices.
Question? If God showed up like that...fire and glory and real visceral power...how would we respond? Would we be scared (not awe fear but panic fear)? Would we question whether it was really God? Would we worship? (That's all just bonus material for you to consider.)
Long story short, Solomon and the people worshipped and feasted and sacrificed for days. It was a kind of worship and adoration that cost them something. And they offered it gladly. They hit pause on everything else in their lives for days worth of worship. Would we be willing to be inconvenienced like that? (Maybe we would, I'm just posing the question because sometimes they are just worth asking.)
After sending the people home, Solomon was alone, and the Lord appeared to him. God had first answered Solomon's prayer with fire (purifying, holy fire, because maybe presence needs to come first) and now He was answering with words. That brings us to verse 14.
If my people... who are His people? We are. Those called by His name. This conversation between Solomon and God is about Israel. Often in the Bible Israel represents us, Jesus-followers. (It's sometimes more complicated than that, but for this verse we can leave it at that.) I think it's important to note that Israel and "my people" does not equate to America. God doesn't have a covenant relationship with America. He has a covenant relationship with His people. So this promise isn't just about us in the good ole USA. (Again, I know you know that but the reminder might be nice because sometimes our rhetoric makes it seem like we forget. And since I'm American I'm only gonna speak to my peeps on this.) (Deuteronomy 7:6, 1 Peter 2:9)
Humble themselves...We, God's people, must start with humility. I don't think we give humility enough credit but it is foundational to community. Humility keeps the attention on Jesus. Humility reminds us that we are not the center of the universe (individually or corporately), He is the center. Humility can be so freeing because we realize that we are not as important as we think we are. Don't get me wrong, you are valuable to Jesus -- so very valuable. But don't mistake self-worth for self-importance. Humility keeps us listening. It keeps us empathetic. It keeps us coming back to JESUS for the answers. It never lets us forget how much WE (individually and corporately) NEED HIM. (Philippians 2:3-11, Matthew 23:10-12)
Pray...before you speak, before you post, before you respond...Pray. Ask Jesus what He thinks. Ask Jesus what He wants. Ask Jesus. (Oh, and listen for the answers, too.) (Philippians 4:4-7, 1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Seek My face...not His hands, but His face. Too often we go after what we want or need from God and never just more of God Himself in our lives. We want the benefits of God without God. We don't mean it. Often it's unintentional. But we do it nonetheless. When was the last time you prayed and didn't ask for anything? When was the last time you worshipped just to love on Jesus and not because you wanted a spiritual pick-me-up? (That last one was for me cuz I need a good kick in the butt sometimes too.) God cares about our needs. He really does, and we should not be afraid to ask Him to provide and heal and comfort. But let's not let it be all about the asking for things from Him until we have first asked for just more of Him. (A good place to start is diving into our Bibles on the regular and really seeking Truth. His truth. All of it. Even the parts we have to wrestle with. He is in all of it and revealed in all of it.) (Jeremiah 29:12-14, Psalm 27:8)
Turn from their wicked ways...We must have repentant hearts. First Individually. We have to start in our own hearts and deal with our own sin. All of the sin. (We will be works in progress but let's do the work.) We have to repent of pride. We have to repent for selfishness. We have to repent for the idolatry in our own lives. (This is a big one, because we don't always recognize it because it's not in the form of little golden statues.) Anything you bow to with your attitudes and actions, anything you derive security from outside of God...that thing is an idol. It could be your job. It could be a relationship. It could be politics. We must be very careful not to say our hope and identity is in Jesus when our emotions and words and actions say otherwise. (Yes, I said it and it convicts me too, and you may not like it or even agree with it, but I see too many brothers and sisters in Christ kneeling at the feet of things other than Jesus and looking to those things to save them/us without realizing that is what they are doing. So I stand by it. Please know it is typed with so much love. So much love...and tears.)
When was the last time you asked God to shine a light into the dark places of your heart and you really looked at what He showed you without justification or excuses? (I've been searching those dark places in myself for weeks recently. It hurts, friends. It hurts.) (1 John 1:5-10, Romans 2:4)
Then as God's people, as the Church, we must repent for the areas we (corporately) turned away from God. It's about us, not the country. It's about the Church. We have to change first. (The verse is speaking to us after all.) We have to stand up and be light. The kind of light that points people to THE LIGHT - Jesus. (I truly believe that has to be our primary mission and the burden of our hearts above all else. Love God first. Love your neighbor. Fulfill the Great Commission.)
THEN I will hear and I will heal...We do our part and God does His part. (If you finish chapter 7 you find out what happens if we don't do our part and that is certainly worth reading because, well, it takes away our excuses.) We can feel safe in this promise because God is good and He is trustworthy and He is faithful. If He says He will heal, then He will heal.
Healing may not look like we want. He might not heal the way you want Him to, the way you think it ought to be done. (It may not, meaning probably won't, come in the form of policies and Presidents.) God will heal. In His way and in His time and we either get to be part of it or not. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
C.S. Lewis said, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.”
There is so much going on in our world. We as Jesus-followers know that every issue (racism, abortion, human trafficking, domestic violence, addiction, etc) is ultimately a scheme of the enemy. But we can't just pound our fists at the air when a world doesn't know Jesus, because they won't understand the enemy either . We have to show them Jesus. In an emotional world, we have to help them feel Jesus. Maybe, when we more and more become His hands and feet and not just His mouthpiece, God will use us to bring healing. Because the Church has to go first. WE have to step up and roll our sleeves up in our homes and communities. (Refer back to that whole "be the light" part. I keep saying it because God uses His church more than government and we are that Church so we have to stop waiting for change to come from outside our hearts and walls.)
Look up and see God and seek Him and His heart; what matters to Him. Look in and let Him change your heart and mind. Look out and see what work you can do to bind wounds and bring peace. The war may not be against flesh and blood but that doesn't mean we don't have very physical work to do to combat the enemy. (And hey, your work doesn't have to look like my work. But the gospel requires work not just words.) (James 2:14-26)
Will you get on your knees? Will you posture your heart in humility and submission to God and His way? Will you roll up your sleeves to do the work of the Gospel?
God is moving. I believe it with every fiber of my being. Will we move with Him?
I've shared so much Scripture but I want to leave you with one more passage. Don't just read it. Let it read you, too. For God so loved the world...perhaps healing begins with love poured out.
"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
If my people...