Topic Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
If you thought 2008 was a long year, it turns out you were right. Time magazine’s online edition tells us that on New Year’s Eve, a leap second was added to atomic clocks around the world. It seems that Earth’s rotational period needed to be realigned with something called “Coordinated Universal Time.” Our planet is apparently decelerating at an average rate of two milliseconds a day, due to space dust, magnetic storms, solar winds, and our push and pull with the moon. At this rate, we will gain an extra hour in 5,040 years.
Do you think the world will last that long, that the Lord will delay his return until the year 7,049? I’m not sure he will tarry until 2010, and neither should you be. The first Christians lived in the daily expectation of Jesus’ imminent return. Those people who have known God most powerfully in the centuries since have shared that sense of urgency. Jonathan Edwards, for instance, resolved as a young man to do nothing he would not do if he knew the Lord were returning that moment.
Here’s the resolution I have made for this new year, the commitment I believe God would want to find me keeping if he were to return this morning: I will pray and work for spiritual awakening every day.
An “Awakening” can be defined as a socially-transforming spiritual movement. A “revival” is a spiritual rebirth which transforms a person or a church or even a community into New Testament Christianity; a “great Awakening” transforms a nation.
I believe that such a movement is the greatest need of our country in these days, and that believers should be praying and working toward this purpose in every way we can. Today and across this month, we’ll seek to understand what God is doing for Awakening, and learn how to join him.
Where are we?
As 2 Chronicles 7 unfolds, Solomon and the people of Israel have just finished their Temple. This is the high-water mark in the history of the Jewish people. Their borders extend from present-day Syria to the Sinai Peninsula. Their wealth and military might are unequaled in the region. The king has accumulated 100,000 talents of gold (3,750 tons) and a million talents of silver (37,500 tons; 1 Chronicles 21:14)—that’s a net worth of more than $58 billion. Solomon is also the wisest man who has ever lived. And now he has just constructed a fabulous house of worship for his nation’s God.
But Israel’s future prosperity was in no sense guaranteed.
Their Lord warned them that future rebellion would lead to his punishment. In this event he would “shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people” (2 Chronicles 7:13). In a world dependent on rain for crops, defenseless against ravaging locusts or plague, such events would be totally catastrophic.
As it turned out, their future was in greater peril than they knew. Shortly after Solomon’s death, their nation would be divided by civil war. The ten northern tribes would be annihilated and absorbed by Assyria; the two southern tribes would be enslaved by Babylon and then dominated by Persia, Greece, and Rome before their nation was disbanded and destroyed. Their nation would not be constituted again for 20 centuries, and today faces renewed hostility, as the conflict in Gaza demonstrates.
But all of this relates to Israel, the Hebrew people. Few of us gathered for worship here today are Israelis. Why is this warning in God’s word for all the generations and nations to come? Is it still relevant to our day and our nation?
America is the world’s only superpower. Our economy, even in these difficult times, is as large as Japan, China, Germany, India, and Great Britain combined. An atheist group has filed suit this week to prevent prayers or the mention of God at the presidential inauguration later this month, but they admit that they’ll lose their case. Meanwhile, more Americans go to church each week than in any other nation in the Western world. Surely our future is assured.
Or perhaps not.
We are facing the greatest financial crisis we’ve seen in 80 years. The Dow finished 2008 down 35%, the worst year for the markets since 1931. The crisis has wiped out nearly $14 trillion in market value. Tomorrow, members of the House Financial Services committee will begin their investigation of Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion fraud. A yearlong recession has already destroyed 2.7 million jobs, pushing unemployment to 6.7 percent; many economists expect it to rise above eight percent this year.
Our military continues to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan as the conflict continues longer than our engagement in World War II. Global climate change is accelerating faster than even pessimists were predicting a few years ago. Militant Islam continues its ascent, constituting what I consider to be the greatest threat the West has ever faced. At its root it is a spiritual movement, and must be countered by a spiritual movement of even greater power and passion.
I am convinced that God redeems all he allows or causes. We can debate the degree to which God has caused all of this, but we must admit at least that he has allowed it. For what purpose?
What must we do?
What must we do? “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” (v. 14). “My people, who are called by my name” includes us—you and me, all who have made Jesus their Lord. We are “Christians,” literally “little Christs,” those who are the children of God and thus own his name. Awakening in the nation starts with us, here, today.
Our first step is to “humble ourselves,” to admit our need of God. We will return to this momentarily. Once we admit that we need God’s help, we “pray.” The Hebrew word describes a national plea for repentance. This will be our focus next week.
Now we “seek his face.” The Hebrew phrase describes a person who is returning to God in individual repentance. We see the need of the nation, then we admit the need of our own hearts and souls. This will be our focus in the third week of our series.
In that light, we “turn from our wicked ways.” We decide to turn, to change, to realign with God, to submit to him in all our ways. This will be our focus on our fourth week.
When we do these things, God promises to hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land. The spiritual transformation of the culture is the result, a rebirth of nothing less than New Testament Christianity.
So we begin with humility before the Lord. It is a spiritual fact that God cannot do for us what we try to do for ourselves. If you do not believe that our city and nation needs a mighty movement of God, you will miss that movement. A doctor cannot heal a patient who will not admit an illness. God cannot give what we will not admit we need. If we do not believe that we need more of God than we have, we will not have the God we need.
God will not share his glory. Humility is the indispensible factor in divine movement. Paul commanded us to “be completely humble and gentle” (Ephesians 4:2). James, the half-brother of Jesus, told us to “humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
A Roman centurion told Jesus, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” (Matthew 8:8). And the Bible says that “his servant was healed at that very hour” (v. 13). A Gentile woman told Jesus that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27), and “her daughter was healed from that very hour” (v. 28).
Paul said of himself: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). And God used him to write half the New Testament and take Christ to the entire Western world.
John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, KJV). And Jesus said of him, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). Now it’s our turn. We can point people to Jesus, or to ourselves, but we cannot do both. I cannot convince you at the same time that I am a great preacher and that Jesus is a great Savior.
The time has come for us to choose—will we humble ourselves? Will we seek to glorify God with everything we think and say and do? Will we be a means to his end, or will he be a means to ours?
I once heard Rick Warren say, “Stop asking God to bless what you are doing, and ask him to help you do what he is blessing.” What God Almighty is blessing is a global spiritual awakening, a movement of the Holy Spirit wherever God’s people humble themselves, pray, seek his face, and turn from their wicked ways. That is what God is doing in these days.
Here’s the question: Will you join him? Will you admit that our church and community and nation need more of God than we have?
Next week I will be speaking on the threat of Radical Islam and the need for spiritual awakening if the West is to defeat the greatest threat it has ever faced. I will be speaking to the global financial crisis and the ways God would redeem it by turning millions of people from their resources to his.
But let’s begin right here, right now, with us. Do you need to experience the power of God, a transforming spiritual movement? Do we? Will you admit your need of God, and humble yourself before him? Will you seek to glorify him with everything you think and say and do this week? Will you join me in praying every day for spiritual awakening to come to America, starting with you?
Emerson insisted, “One of our illusions is that the present hour is not the crucial hour.” He was right. We don’t have another year or another day to wait. The hour is upon us. The next step is yours.