If My Peopleby Ed de la Cour on July 15, 2012
"If My People"
2 Chronicles 7: 13 - 14
As several of us were having breakfast together on Friday morning, the conversation at a table behind me caught my attention as it began moving in a politically angry direction. We know lots of people are mad these days, and Christians can be among the maddest. We tend to see our nation going to hell in a handbasket for any number of reasons – spiritually, morally, economically, politically – you name it. Of course, throughout human history people have always believed the world was falling apart and getting worse, so it’s not a hard truth to sell.
What is more difficult and much harder than getting mad all the time is making the decision to do something to help remedy the situation. When Solomon dedicated the temple, a great amount of work was invested to build it, but also a great amount was invested in worship, expressing his personal and Israel’s national sense of dependence before God. After this, in 2 Chronicles 7: 11, the author says, “When Solomon had finished the temple... the LORD appeared to him at night.” God was about to give the king special instructions so he would know what to do in the event of a national emergency, what to do instead of becoming mad or becoming frustrated.
National emergencies are not a new phenomena. Every nation, every city, and every family has experienced those times when life has become too hard to handle. America lived through the Civil War, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the rebellious tumult of the 1960s and 70s. So this passage really ought to be a significant assistance to any person, any family, any nation seeking help from God as they go through distress and live in pain. It is because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit through this particular passage that many of us began to believe we are living in times that are spiritually very significant.
As we begin, notice that the difficulties mentioned in these verses are brought on by God. Many of us think that there is no way God could ever be responsible for judgments such as these. But God says, “When I shut up the heavens,” indicating that the drought, the locusts, and the plague are divinely ordered, and are not randomly or capriciously dropped out of the sky.
All this begs the question: do disasters always find their origin in God? Aren’t there simply natural disasters that have no spiritual meaning at all? Is it always God? That’s a hard question, but I would respond this way: if you are thinking about some horrendous situation happening in America or somewhere in the world, and the Holy Spirit begins to prompt you to realize this means God is not pleased with the rebellious heart of man, and there are awful consequences for the sins of this world – then God is speaking to you through this event. If you receive nothing at all like this, perhaps you are simply not listening!
You will recall Romans 8: 18 - 21, where Paul says all of creation is in bondage to decay and is subject to disasters as a sign of that decay. There is decay throughout the created universe, because of the presence of sin, and as a consequence of the sin of humankind. The storms that move through the atmosphere, the earthquakes that send shock waves to destroy cities, the cancers that rob people of their lives, all these are creation breaking down, “groaning as in the pains of childbirth.”
The wildfires that recently swept through Colorado, the tornadoes that devastated the south last year, the earthquake and tsunami which destroyed so much of Japan, are all indicators of the falling-apart nature of this old world. It is up to us, however, to rightly interpret these events, to recognize whether the voice of God is speaking in the midst of economic downturns, and in the midst of droughts and floods. When plagues of sickness take thousands upon thousands of lives, when people you love find their faith in God crumbling, when our own children lose their faith for whatever reason, we want to be especially keen about hearing the heart of God and understanding what is happening. In each and every meteorological, geological, or medical event, the voice of God is calling His people to repent.
God spoke to Haggai and through him told the people of God to give careful thought to their ways. Think about how your lives are going wrong... how nothing you do prospers. Think about that. Think about the lack of God’s blessing on your life. Is God speaking to you through this experience?
Consider what God might be saying to America when communities in Colorado burn to the ground, when something called a land hurricane strikes our Midwest, or when the economy of the greatest nation in the world lies dormant and unresponsive even to the persistent tickling of our government.
Are all these events merely natural, everyday occurrences, that have no meaning or significance beyond the events themselves? No, not at all; these events are indicative of much more than a tantrum thrown by random and inanimate forces. They are the consequence of fallen creation and fallen man, and are the result of man’s insistent and long-standing rebellion against God. As disasters occur, this passage helps us to understand that by them, God is wooing us back to himself. There is a way out, there is a solution, and the solution is found in our relationship with God. The solution is found when we take ourselves seriously as “if My people.”
What characterizes, what is the common denominator for the kind of events God mentions here is devastation. A drought means there is no water to sustain life. Plants die; famine results. Locust darken the sky as they swarm, and then eat every green leaf in sight, and famine results. A plague is a disease that overtakes and kills large numbers of people, leaving nothing but weakness and destruction in its wake. That is devastation, that is destruction and it is total and complete. Devastation can be physical, as these examples attest. Devastation can also cause widespread spiritual and emotional damage. When we are devastated, it can create a sense of desperation in our hearts, a desperation defined as hunger for God unsatisfied by money or success, a thirst for His presence that is unquenched by any other substitute. We know this is not always the case, as sometimes devastation causes cynicism and bitterness, but certainly the preferred response is hunger, thirst and desperation in the heart for God.
When devastation brings forth hunger for God in the hearts of people, and those people begin to express that desperation for God in their lives, you can know God is wooing His people back to Himself. When a desire for the things of God begin to outweigh and outdistance our appetite for pleasure or for life-as-usual, that’s a sign this desperation is maturing. That’s when you know God is wooing His people back to Himself.
That is also when God’s people begin to humble themselves. Here God is not advocating sackcloth and ashes, self-flagellation, or self-mutilation. God is inviting us to see ourselves accurately, Biblically, soberly, as we ought to see ourselves. There comes a time when Christians understand everything we are and every possession we think we own is nothing less than God’s gift and all of it belongs first to Him. That is easy to say and it is easy to nod our heads in sage agreement, but it is another thing to allow God the kind of access to our lives and access to our bank accounts that shows we are not lying when we say, Jesus is my Lord and my King. Friends, we are neither self-made nor self-taught. God has made us. God has blessed us, and now it very well may be that God is breaking us.
Through the painful trials we endure, God is causing our hard shells to crack, weaken, soften, and yield to the gentle pressure of the Holy Spirit. Do you know how to tell when Christians are beginning to soften and become responsive to God? One indication is when Christians set aside time to pray together. That is a really good sign of growing humility. Slowly, we are seeing people from the churches on Cape Cod becoming more willing to step away from whatever they were doing, and be willing to yield enough to go to meet with other Christians, simply to humble ourselves and to join hearts in prayer. Here in Pocasset, we are a long ways from being able to say we are experiencing success in that area, but it has begun in other churches. Most of us have not yet begun to soften, or to yield to God, and our hard shells are still resilient and very strong. But God says, when we Pocasset Baptists humble ourselves and seek His face that will be a sure sign God is working in the middle of our stuff and in the middle of our church.
I speak with people every week who say they pray all the time. What they are probably doing is one of two things. They are either engaging in spiritual self-talk, or they are bringing their shopping lists to God, saying, “God, please do this, and that, and this, and that.” Seeking the face of God is far different from what these folks are doing. Seeking God’s face is not stopping at Heaven’s Market Basket... is not asking for things; it’s enjoying His presence. It is pure worship. People who simply seek God are rare these days because we all want stuff and want God to do stuff for us. People who seek God’s face simply want God.
God is not bound to answer the prayers of wicked people. If there is a formula to have God answer your prayers, these verses probably comes as close to a formula as you will find anywhere in God’s Word. Humble yourself. Seek God’s face, and turn from any wickedness in your life.
That last condition is where the rubber meets the road for you and me. Many of us believe we can repent and all will be well, but our repentance doesn’t include a change in behavior! Plus, we all have a whole bunch of grey areas in our lives, areas that may bother us but we enjoy engaging in the behavior, so we make excuses about our participation. When a believer is serious and not fooling around, those grey areas will disappear from their lives.
This whole statement which God made to Solomon is a conditional promise in the form of if/then. If you do this, then God will do that. Many of the promises of God are unconditional in nature and do not depend one bit on our response or our behavior. We are saved by grace and not by works, so the love of God is completely unconditional, as are many of God’s promises, but not this promise. What God will do here depends completely on how we respond. If we turn from the behaviors and attitudes of our hearts that are displeasing to God, God will listen to our prayers. He will forgive our sin. He will heal our land.
That’s the word here which reaches into our hearts, that grabs us, and makes us take notice – the promise that God will hear, the promise that God will forgive, and the promise that God will heal. It is not only our nation that needs healing, but our families need God’s touch as well. We have relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters – strained, torn, and devastated by years of built-up resentments and bitterness.
When we see people who are wracked by the powerful pull of addiction, when some friends are falling into the depths of depression, when other friends are seeing what little faith and hope they once had draining away – we become more than alarmed. We become desperate for God to come by here and do the kind of redeeming and healing work only God can do.
So the question to you this morning is this: what are you willing to do, how much of your life are you willing to invest in approaching God on the basis of the promise described in these two verses? Many of us have this committed these verses to memory, but are we ready to step up our game and do whatever is required to see God answer our prayers? It is not kidding or exaggeration to say the fate of our nation lies in our hands.
The people in Haggai’s day were so busy with their own lives and so taken up in their own agenda that God had to speak directly to them, and say there were good reasons why they were not prospering or experiencing God’s blessing. They had put all their attention and all their money into their own lives and into their own homes, all the while the things of God were allowed to rot and fall apart. Solomon was told that when he became aware of God’s absence, when he realized disasters were striking close to home, he could remedy the situation by turning away from sin and turning to God. It was a simple solution, and yet, three thousand years later, we are still struggling to find ourselves taking advantage of God’s promise.
Will you make a decision today to become part of the solution rather than griping, rather than complaining, rather than remaining part of the problem? Will you humble yourself and find a way to pray together with others, to depend on God for real, and not just as something that sounds spiritual to say? Will you seek God’s face, not for what you hope to get, but simply for the purpose of getting to know Him? And will you allow the Holy Spirit to complete an inventory of your heart and life, and as a result, remove everything that is standing in the way of God from your life?
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
First Baptist Church of Pocasset
298 Barlows Landing Road
Post Office Box 1080
Pocasset, MA 02559
Church Office: 508-563-3164