Thursday, July 4, is Independence Day, where Americans celebrate the courage and resolve that birthed the nation. For many evangelical churches across the country, this day stands alongside other significant dates where special time and attention are given to pray for the nation, such as Memorial Day and the National Day of Prayer.
On these national holidays, a Biblical passage that routinely comes up is 2 Chronicles 7:14. “[And if] my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.”
In 2019, we live in a present cultural moment of heightened national partisanship. Even the best-intended remarks can be misunderstood and the relationship between faith and politics is complicated, to say the least.
Being wise in the current climate may lead some to simply pray a passage of scripture and avoid commentary or personal bias. Unfortunately, the tendency toward bias can be relentless even when praying the words of Scripture. In the case of 2 Chronicles 7:14, “often, the way this verse will be preached… is as a rallying cry. In so many sermons, the ‘people’ referred to in the passage are the American people, and the ‘land’ is the American land.”[i]
It is dangerous to separate any verse of scripture from its context.[ii] This promise was made following the dedication of the newly constructed temple built by King Solomon and after offering a significant sacrifice. It began a long history between God and His people.
In his notes on this particular verse, J. Vernon McGee writes, “remember the old adage that ‘all scripture was written for us, but not all scripture was written to us.’”[iii] The promise to heal the land was not written to us in our generation, to our city, state, or nation. But it was written for us, which is better by far.
Throughout that dedication ceremony, there was a single refrain the people prayed and sang. “For the Lord is good, His faithful love endures forever.”[iv] Forever includes today.
The principles, commitments, and promises of 2 Chronicles 7:14 sustained people prayer in every generation who were humble before God and others, depended on God alone, and trusted in His enduring faithful love no matter the circumstances or the particular land in which they live.
Praying 2 Chronicles 7:14 is still appropriate in our day. When doing so, consider how the verse describes a relationship between God and His people. Each element gives greater insight that guides our prayer.
God is gathering a people. “If my people, called by my name…” From the beginning of Scripture to the very end, we read a great story of how God loves all people and intends to dwell forever with them. He was doing this when giving this promise generations ago, and still today the whole earth waits with anticipation for all the sons and daughters of God to be revealed.[v]
Pray it will always be true that your life extends an invitation for others to know God, to break down barriers, and bless all who you encounter.
God’s people are humble. “…humble themselves…” God resists the proud but give grace to the humble[vi] and God’s people are to be humble before God and before others. The New Testament offers Jesus as the definitive example of humility, who emptied himself of all that was his by divine right, and self-sacrificially looked to the needs of others, always.[vii]
Pray God will help you to be sincerely humble, as humble as Jesus who prayed, “not my will, but yours.”[viii]
Be people of prayer. “…and pray…” God’s people never trust in their own strength and ability, in the people or powers of this world, in economics or politics. They trust in the great God of the ages[ix] and the matchless power of prayer.
Pray that the Spirit of God will continue to teach you to call God your Father, and to pray even when you don’t always know what to pray.
God’s people are repentant. “…and turn from their wicked ways…” Humility followed by prayer, then turning away from wickedness is the full picture of repentance. The Psalms of King David illustrate how difficult this really is. He prayed for God to search his heart, to keep him from his willful sin and also from his hidden faults.[x]
I confess I do not always know the wickedness in my own heart, and it is difficult to just turn away from evil. I must have a fixed point of ultimate good to turn toward.
Pray that God’s face, Word, and nature be your sole pursuit.
God hears the humble, repentant, prayers of his people. “…then I will hear from heaven…” The key to interpreting this verse is by remembering it describes the relationship between God and His people. John taught in his writing that we already have everything we are really asking of God when we remember this.[xi]
Give thanks to God because He does hear you when you pray.
God is already healing his people through forgiveness. “…forgive their sins…” John taught that God hears us when we pray and if we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive.[xii] In this way, God is already pouring out his healing throughout the world. To be forgiven and to forgive is the greatest healing we could ever hope to know.
Pray that the land in which you dwell be a fellowship of forgiven and forgiving people.
God’s people know that salvation belongs to God.[xiii] “…and heal their land.” We must resist the temptation to dictate what healing should look like because salvation is God’s and God’s alone. This is probably the hardest part of praying this verse. The key to effectively praying 2 Chronicles 7:14 is remembering that it isn’t as much about God healing a land or nation, but healing and salvation for the people of all nations.[xiv]
Avoid the mistake of looking at 2 Chronicles 7:14 as a formula. Instead, notice how all the elements of this verse cumulatively depict the attitude of the heart when trusting in the gospel of Jesus Christ: humility, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, and then restoration. Through the gospel, Jesus is saving a people. There are times when that includes blessing particular nations or generations. There are times when it does not.
Pray expecting God’s healing to come and grateful for God’s promise that healing has come through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God hears us when we pray, and in hearing us, God has given us all the healing we could ever hope or need[xv], the forgiveness of sin and the faithful love of a heavenly Father that endures forever.
[ii] This statement can be attributed to multiple scholars. I most recently heard it spoken by Warren Wiersbe, who incidentally passed away May 2, 2019, on the National Day of Prayer.
[iii] McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983. (Vol. 2, p. 240)
[iv] 2 Chronicles 7:3,6
[v] Romans 8:15
[vi] 1 Pet 5:5-6; Prov. 3:34
[vii] Phil 2:6-10
[viii] Lk. 22:42
[ix] 1 Tim. 1:17
[x] Ps. 19:12
[xi] 1 Jn 5:15
[xii] 1 Jn 1:9
[xiii] Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9
[xiv] Matt. 28:18-20
[xv] 1 Jn 5:15