Friday, May 05, 2006

Reflections for the National Day of Prayer

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, I've been bombarded, as I'm sure many of you have been, with pronouncements telling us that God flattened the World Trade Center towers because the US tolerates hedonism, homosexuality, and abortion.

Now, I'm as fed up as the next believer (be it Christian, Orthodox Jew, or Muslim) with the decadence and breakdown of Western society. But if anybody was being chastized, it was the Church. We've forgotten God's instructions for dealing with a decadent, amoral, irrelegious society. He gave them to us clearly in II 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.

Let's look at this line by line, shall we?
"If my people who are called by my name ..."

Notice that God doesn't have instructions for the heathen or the unbeliever. The "if...then" proposition calls for His people to do something. So listen up, believers. These instructions are for you and me, not for scoffers or unbelievers.

That said, let's get to the instructions:
"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves..."

Notice that it says, "humble themselves." Not
"humble the unbelievers." We're supposed to awaken our own sense of where we fall short, not go around pointing out to other folks where they fall short.

And I don't see any loopholes allowing believers to go around trying to humble others on the grounds that the others are somehow more in need of humbling. The others, in fact, aren't being dealt with at all in this passage. God doesn't seem to take much of an interest in what the guy down the street is doing, or what some Hollywood hotshot is doing, or what the local NARAL chapter is doing. He's smacking His people upside the head. Pointing at the shortcomings of unbelievers and whining is the spiritual equivalent of "But Billy started it!"
"If my people who are called by my name ... pray ..."

Notice that it says, "pray." Not "lecture." Not "preach." "Pray." Elsewhere in the Bible we're instructed how often to pray. To paraphrase, I believe it says, "at all times." Not on Sunday mornings only. Not just before meals. Not at special rallies or at football games or in school. At all times. Any activity we undertake, we're supposed to do it prayerfully.
"If my people who are called by my name my face..."

Notice that it says, "seek my face." We spend so much time
turning over rocks looking for Satan we forget that the instruction is
to seek God. And I'm as guilty of this as the next guy, I admit. Turning
over rocks is fun. But it's not in the instructions.
"If my people who are called by my name ... turn from their
wicked ways..."

This one's a bitter pill to swallow. We, God's people, the believers,
are supposed to turn from our wicked ways. I believe it's called "removing the beam from your own eye." But in a way, it's a great relief. We aren't responsible for what the unbelievers do. We aren't responsible for making abortionists stop their wicked ways. We aren't responsible for porn peddlers or pimps or even that guy at work who is padding his expense account. We're responsible for ourselves, for each of us turning away from our own wicked ways. There's not another person alive whose behavior we're supposed to change.

Oooh, but it's a hard one, too. If you take a gander at the Ten Commandments, I'll bet you've broken a few already today. I know I have. My personal habitual sin is coveting. I'm forever catching myself coveting my neighbor's house, car, land, stereo, laptop, DVD, satellite system, boat, vacation home, et cetera. That's breaking a Commandment.

And there's something we tend to forget about the Ten Commandment: They aren't ranked as some being more important than others. I can't point fingers at somebody breaking "You shall not kill," when I'm coveting everything in sight all day long. God doesn't have our perspective; to Him, a Commandment is a Commandment. When I drive down the road and notice that somebody in the neighborhood is building a nice new house, and I start being resentful that I live in such a shabby little place -- most of the time I don't even notice that I'm doing it. And coveting is just my habitual sin. There's enough taking the Lord's name in vain, breaking the sabbath, and failing to honor my father and mother to keep me too busy repenting my own sins all week long.

So far, it's not pleasant, is it? It's like tattling on your little
brother for raiding the cookie jar and finding out Mom knows you've been
running up $400 in calls to the Party Hotline.

So we have our instructions. We are to humble ourselves, pray, seek
God's face, and turn from our wicked ways. Now comes the good part:
"... then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin
and heal their land."

We don't have to fix it! That's God's job. But notice, too, whose sin
God promises to forgive: ours. Not the unbelievers' sin. Ours. Things aren't a mess because of what "they" are doing. It's because of what we are doing. And God's instructions are pretty clear: shape up, people.

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