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“If My People” – The Practice and the Promise

Editorial
March/April, 2018
Volume 53, Number 2

 

Throughout the history of the people of God, there have been times of great blessing and favor, as well as times of great languor and loss. And a casual glance at history would lead us to believe that the low seasons outnumber the high ones. It seems as though the people of God frequently find themselves looking back longingly at some high point in their history, seeking for a way to recapture what they once had.

At such low points in Israel’s history, God would seek again and again to draw His people back to Himself. At times He would use difficulties or painful situations to help His people realize that there was a problem. During the return of the exiles, the prophet Haggai tried to help God’s people realize that their efforts were unproductive. He said, “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” (Haggai 1:5-6) Sometimes, God uses difficulties to get our attention.

After King Solomon had dedicated the temple to the Lord, the Lord appeared to him at night. And he reassured him that He had chosen this place for Himself, and His eyes and heart would always be there (at/toward the temple). But he also warned Solomon that there would come a time when the heavens would be shut so that there would be no rain, and the locusts would devour the land and a plague would be sent among the people. These difficulties would occur because the people had forsaken the Lord. And during those times of difficulty and loss, the people were to humble themselves and pray and seek His face.

Today we seem to find ourselves in a similar place. Although the Lord is still blessing us with rain, and locusts haven’t devoured our land, we nevertheless are languishing in an unproductive state. Please read this article on 2 Chronicles 7:14 which unpacks God’s remedy for a return to blessing and favor.
— Eric Brubaker



 IF MY PEOPLE:
  The Practice and The Promise
by Craig Alan Myers

One touchstone of revival of God’s people in the Word of God since the time of the Kingdom of Israel is 2 Chronicles 7:14. It says, “If My people, which 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.” Let’s then, look at this promise in all its precious glory.

The Promise is to God’s People

It is acknowledged that God’s promise here was to national Israel of the Old Testament. This promise is not given to American Christians exclusively. The original audience was to Israel—the Jews. They lived in a particular time and place. However, it practically can be applied to the Christian Church of any era in any place. God’s promise of hearing, forgiving, and healing His people is still valid today.

When we look at the larger view of God’s people everywhere, it is clear that the promise is to those who belong to God. It could not be taken as a promise to all mankind (though common grace through Christ is extended in varying degrees to all humanity). “My people” in the New Testament sense, are those who are called out of the world and incorporated into the Body of Christ. They are ones who are called, as the New Testament does in several places, “Christians.”

When the Scripture speaks of those “called by My name,” it is referring to those who are set apart from the world, and to God’s service. These people are ones who have trusted in Christ. They know Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord. They are involved with the Church. They reflect Jesus in some way—in membership, in participation, and in leadership of the Church.

The Promise is to God’s People Who Worship God as He is

The promise is made to those who “humble themselves…and seek My face.” In a word, this is worship. Worship is acknowledging and confessing God as God. Worship ascribes worth to the One being honored. It says that God is worthy of praise and adoration.

“Worship,” said A.W. Tozer, “is the missing jewel of the evangelical church.” While our doctrine may be faithful, our practice may be accurate, and our internal commitment to God unassailable, it still may be said that our worship is defective. Observers notice that current worship in many evangelical and conservative-oriented congregations reflects a consumer-oriented, emotion-based approach. This approach emphasizes what the worshipper can get out of a service, rather than what he may contribute to the corporate work of the Church. It concentrates on what “feels good,” rather than on thinking and doing right according to God’s Word.

Some worship has become Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This understanding holds that religion is to be:

 Moralistic – God wants people to behave and treat others well.
Therapeutic – God wants people to be happy.
Deism – There is a God, but He made the world and then left it alone.

In essence, this understanding says that God wants people to be happy and nice, and He is not involved in the world. It predominates in the Word-Faith or prosperity Gospel teaching, and in certain teachings that say there are “non-optional principles” that, when closely adhered to, bring order, joy, and success. At its worst, it becomes the worship of self. It asks, “What will make me happy?” and “How can I have better relationships with my wife, my family, my boss, and others?”

The Bible teaches that there is a God, who is intimately involved in the lives of His people, and Who is actively directing humanity’s affairs, for His own purpose and glory. His will goes beyond mere moralism, and also incorporates and redeems human pain as a genuine good aspect of life. We are to be “looking to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

“[People] need to know that they are sinners. They need to know that they are far from God, but that in His love and grace, God took on human flesh to rescue them. Teach them that Jesus Christ lived the perfect, sinless life they could never live on their own. Tell them how Jesus took the punishment their sins deserve by dying on the cross in their place. Assure them that Jesus rose from the dead, defeating sin and death forever. Help [them] discover that they are part of a kingdom far greater than the world they can see” (Karen Jones, “What is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?” at http://www.lifeway.com/kidsministry/ 2014/12/18/what-is-moralistic-therapeutic-deism/. Retrieved January 10, 2018).

Our worship is not to make God like us, or as we conceive Him to be. J.B. Phillips alerted Christians to this error years ago, when he wrote, Your God is Too Small. God is beyond us, greater than all we can imagine, and not merely a Divine Butler. He is God, and is worthy of our deepest and greatest ability to worship. He calls for our praise, and He deserves it.

As Harold Martin pointed out some years ago, “Humility is the first requirement for revival on God’s terms. If we want to experience revival in our hearts, we must learn to lay aside our pride, and come to recognize that we are poor sinners saved by the grace of a merciful God” (“Experiencing Revival on God’s Terms,” BRF Witness, Volume 36, Number 3, May/June 2001).

The Promise is to God’s People Who Pray in Fullness

“Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 98). When Christians come before the Lord in prayer, 2 Chronicles 7:14 indicates that our prayerful attitude should be one that involves all aspects of prayer.

1. Praying in fullness involves heartfelt communication. That is, we approach God with a humble desire to seek Him and His will over anything we may presume. As King David prayed, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17). We come before Him understanding that we deserve nothing from Him, and all good things that He gives us are by grace alone. Augustus Toplady put it, “In my hands no price I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling.” Our challenge in these times is that many approach God as one to be bargained with as a, near equal. Yet He is almighty and sovereign, and not a man to be cajoled. So we approach our awesome God with reverence, with humble hearts ready to receive what He may graciously give.

2. Praying in fullness calls for confession of sin. Even in our best state, humans are sinful and in need of continual cleansing through the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah acknowledged their own sins and the sins of their people. Sin has an individual component (“For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me” Psalm 51:3), and a corporate aspect, as even the godly Daniel confessed saying, “We have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments” (Daniel 9:5). Daniel spoke for Israel before the Lord, and acknowledged that he was a part of the greater body. He was not isolated from the people of Israel and its sins, even though he was a devout man personally.

3. Praying in fullness brings forth adoration of God. Prayer is an essential part of worship, and worship is a key element of prayer. So in our prayers we give God the praise due Him. His glorious attributes of power, grace, mercy, love, justice—even His “God-ness”—are to be exalted. His mighty works are to be remembered. The miracle of our salvation in Christ is to amaze us in our interactions with Him.

We wrestle with the extreme familiarity with God that marks our age. Yet He is holy—quite different in degree and in kind from fallen human beings. The whole point of prayer is to know that we are in a subservient and—to humanity’s chagrin— humiliating condition before Almighty God.

Yet, we adore Him for loving us so much to send His Son to save us, that we might be in intimate relationship with Him—He is “our Father.” On the one hand He is the sovereign God with all the universe in His direction. We call upon Him as Jehoshaphat did when facing an impossible strategic military situation. “O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in Heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?”

On the other hand, we approach Him as the One who calls us His beloved children and people. We are in awe of Him; and we run to Him as little ones run to their father’s knee to receive good things, and as heirs of all that Christ has received for us. The Bible says, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:6).

4. Praying in fullness causes us to give thanks. All the good things we have are gifts of God. All the blessings we receive are from Him. All that has been accomplished in the Kingdom is due to His power, mercy, and love. When we pray as we should, we are expressive of our gratitude for all of God’s rich gifts, and thankful for what He has done in days past. We tell Him our thanks for mercies rendered that kept us from worse situations, and for blessings received that have enabled us to do as well as we do.

The Promise is for Those Who Repent

God calls for His people to “turn from their wicked ways.” This turning is called repentance. It means that one adopts a hatred for sin and a deep love for God. It says that the one repenting is turning away from those things that God hates, and adopting those attitudes and behaviors that God loves.

We may readily agree that those outside of Christ need to repent of their ways as evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work of conversion in their lives. Yet the Scriptures—including our verse in 2 Chronicles 7:14, speak of God’s people turning from their wickedness! That is, Christians may drift into a wickedness that may be different in degree from that of the world, yet it is still wicked!

Back in 1976, Brother Linford Rotenberger (one of the organizers of the BRF) pointed out,

“The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). God is calling the church to repentance. This is not a popular subject but it is a very necessary one. The trend today is to seek a religion in which we can do as we please, and then expect God to put His stamp of approval upon us. But Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). And the Lord Jesus says that unless we repent and do the first works, He “will come quickly and remove our lampstand (“the church”) from its place” (Revelation 2:5)” (“A Call to Repentance and Revival,” BRF Witness, September/October 1976, Volume 11, Number 5).

Further, Bro. James F. Myer editorialized then, “We need a revival that will restore in the hearts of our people a reverential fear of God. We need revival that will restore the love for chastity and purity and that will establish a moral conscience about personal righteousness and sin. We need revival that will restore our dead formal churches into zealous well-balanced combinations of soul saving stations and Good Samaritan inns. The Church of the Brethren needs revival. Let’s not rationalize. Let’s repent.” (BRF Witness, September/October 1976, Volume 11, Number 5).

These words, put to paper over forty years ago, are more necessary now for the Church than they were then. We have seen the toleration, acceptance, and even promotion of sins in the Church that were barely named in the world back then! The judgment is not the destruction of the church in a cataclysmic manner, but the slow dying of the light as the Lord is removing the lampstand from its place. Repentance is needed—now!

The Promise is that God will Graciously Respond

Now, once we have humbly worshiped, prayed in fullness, and repented of our sin–what does God promise His people, according to 2 Chronicles 7:14?

He will hear! God is at work in the world today, bringing souls to Him and redeeming and transforming them. Yet He longs to hear from His people who have penitent hearts, transformed minds, and enthusiastic attitudes. If we worship, and pray, and repent, He will respond! He will give attention to those who attend to Him and His Word. He will provide refreshing to those who find their hope and joy in Him and in His Church. He will respond giving blessing to those who bless His name with the people of God.

He will forgive! The Lord is always wanting to forgive repentant souls. What He says here in 2 Chronicles is evident in how Christ received humble sinners who came to Him in their need. Whether it be Zaccheus, who used his official position as a license to steal; or Bartimaeus, whose blindness didn’t keep him from wanting to see Jesus; or the thief on the cross who in repentance whispered to the Lord, “Remember me when You come into your Kingdom;” or the brethren who cried out at Pentecost, “What shall we do to be saved?” God responded to each one with joyful and open arms, rejoicing that these were reconciled to Him for His glory.

He will heal! Again, the immediate context of the verse is to Israel. The national home of the Jews will be restored and healed. This happened repeatedly in the history of Israel. When Israel rebelled against God, and fell into sin, it received due chastisement from God. When that chastisement (oppression from surrounding pagan peoples, and ultimately the captivity by Assyria and Babylon) was complete, God heard the prayers of Israel and restored the Jews to their homes and lands in liberty.

Today if we worship, and pray, and repent, God may certainly choose to heal His church! The promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is renewed in Revelation 3:19-21: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

This is a promise to the Church of today! Jesus is knocking at the Church’s door. He awaits for the Church to open that door in faith and repentance, and once again enjoy the warm intimacy of the supper table, and the awesome glory of His throne.

The Big “IF”

We haven’t considered the first word of 2 Chronicles 7:14—“If.” The blessing of hearing, forgiving, and healing promised by God to those who come to Him in humble faith and renewed obedience, is conditioned on “if.” These will come provided that God’s people—today, the Church—come in its need to Him.

Some may say that it is TOO LATE! They tell us to get out while we can. They say for the last one to “turn out the lights and shut the door.” Yet the commands of the Word of God to seek Him out, to worship, to pray, and to repent—of lovelessness, of compromise, of apathy, of complacency—are to every Christian and every congregation.

That is our question today. If the Church responds to God’s call to worship, prayer, and revival, He will grant help, hope, and joy. He will grant revival on His terms. Will the Church respond? Will the Church worship? Will the Church pray? Will the Church repent? Will the Church receive the healing of its “land”?

Let’s do as the Lord says, and see what He may well do in our time. May we pray, “Lord, send a revival—and let it begin in me. Lord, send a revival—and let it begin in us!