April Fool’s Day has seldom seemed less appropriate than in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But in the spirit of the day, let’s begin with the story of a woman in New Jersey who violated her state’s stay-at-home order when she allegedly tossed a Molotov cocktail at a boyfriend’s residence.
She has been charged with a disorderly persons offense for violating the governor’s order. As you might expect, she also faces arson and weapons charges. Fortunately, as the Attorney General’s office noted, her weapon “did not detonate.”
An asteroid the width of Manhattan Island
For some more good news on this April 1: a giant, “potentially hazardous” asteroid will miss us this month. NASA has named the asteroid 1998 OR2. It is about the width of Manhattan Island and could wreak havoc if it crashed into Earth.
However, at its closest it will be 3.9 million miles from us (more than sixteen times the average distance between us and the moon). We won’t see it again until May 18, 2031. It will return again in 2048, 2062, and 2079, when it will only be 1.1 million miles away.
When I read about 1998 OR2, here was my thought: How do NASA’s experts know how far it will be from us? Or when it will return?
I had a similar question while walking early yesterday morning. Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter were all visible in the predawn sky. Or so a website told me. I would have otherwise been unable to name them or to know that they are planets in our solar system.
As I continued walking, I realized that I don’t know how to make anything that I saw. I don’t know how to make bricks, much less a brick house. I don’t know how to make a car’s fender, much less the entire car. I couldn’t make the concrete on which I was walking or the clothes I was wearing.
Nearly everything we take for granted is something some group of people didn’t take for granted. Rather, they pooled their experience and expertise to do what none of them could have done alone.
“The main business of their lives”
I am taking us down this road to make a point that relates directly to our spiritual awakening series this week.
President Trump told Americans yesterday to brace for “a very painful two weeks” as public health officials warn that the coronavirus pandemic could leave 100,000 to 240,000 people in the US dead. We are responding to a crisis that is unprecedented in my lifetime by seeking a spiritual awakening that is also unprecedented in my lifetime.
We’re focusing on this familiar text: “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” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Yesterday, we discussed the foundational urgency of humility, noting that God cannot give what we will not admit we need. Today we’ll consider God’s call to pray. The Hebrew word means to “entreat, supplicate, beg.” It is also collective, meaning to pray as a nation for the nation.
The grammar indicates an ongoing, habitual lifestyle consistent with God’s instruction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As Richard Foster noted, “All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives.”
Why does an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God need us to pray for awakening? We do not inform him of our need, for “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). We do not convince him to do the right thing, for he promises, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). We do not coerce him into action, for our Lord is the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).
Rather, prayer positions us to receive what grace intends to give. When we pray, we enable God to mold us into the character of Christ (Romans 8:29). We draw close enough to him that we can hear his Spirit’s voice in our hearts. And he uses our intercession, influence, and ministry to advance the spiritual awakening we seek.
“When God is about to accomplish great things”
Collective prayer has been instrumental in each of the spiritual awakenings America has experienced.
The First Great Awakening began with the prayer meetings of Theodore Frelingheusen. The Second Great Awakening was sparked by Isaac Backus’ call to prayer. The Third Great Awakening was birthed in Jeremiah Lamphier’s prayer meeting at Old North Dutch Church in New York City on September 23, 1857. The Fourth Great Awakening began in 1904 in a prayer meeting led by Evan Roberts.
Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest theologian and key leader of the First Great Awakening, observed: “When God has something very great to accomplish for his church, it is his will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of his people . . . When God is about to accomplish great things for his church, he will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication.”
With whom are you praying for awakening today?