Recently God led me through the opening chapters of the book of I Samuel, in which we hear about the boy Samuel’s first encounter with YHWH. After that rather scary story, the text tells us this:
“And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord. (I Samuel 3:19-21)
I’m not a prophet, or if I am one, I’m not a very good one. Over the years I’ve made predictions about several things that I thought God was about to do, only to be proved wrong. The Holy Spirit led me to reflect on the several times that He had “let my words fall to the ground.” It was embarrassing and humbling to review that history.
But after that He reminded me of one thing that I said that He had not let fall to the ground, and won’t. That’s what I’m writing about today. It’s this:
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, a number of leaders in the American and British Protestant churches took direction and encouragement from a passage in II Chronicles regarding praying for our nation. We took to praying through this in large numbers. Most of us can quote it by heart since it’s been repeated so many times:
…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. (II Chronicles 7:14)
Now, there are plenty of warnings out on the Internet these days regarding the context of this statement, and there’s some truth to the warnings. The declaration by God in this case is YHWH’s response to young king Solomon’s prayer over the temple that he had just dedicated. It’s not a promise to the United States, nor to Great Britain. Furthermore, waving statements in God’s face shouting “You promised!!” is infantile, and we should be past that by now in our relations with God. Try talking to your spouse that way and see how it goes (or save yourself the trouble and don’t, ’cause it won’t go well, and we all know it.)
All that said, it is also the case that God responds to the needs and prayers of His people. People in large numbers have been praying, “Lord, heal our land” for at least five decades now. If one believes that God answers prayers–and I do–then it is simply unthinkable that God would not hear all those requests and move to heal our nation. Promise or not, in context or out of context, it’s a legitimate prayer and lots of us have been at it for quite a while. God will certainly hear and act.
Here’s the part that I started talking about way back then in the 1980s: we might want to consider carefully what it might look like when God decides to answer that request. It might not look like we expect it to look. It might not seem so pleasant when it hits.
YHWH did keep His promise to Solomon. He moved to keep Israel on track with Him, and when they failed in their divinely-assigned duties, He sent Babylon to destroy the nation. After Babylon had been at it for several decades, they waged one, final campaign against Jerusalem and took it captive. Thousands of Jews were slaughtered, and thousands more taken captive into Babylon. The entire nation was laid waste; every city was devastated.
This was God’s mercy. He did not destroy Israel; He left a remnant, and seventy years later they returned to rebuild their nation. Their hearts had been changed. They never worshiped any other gods after that.
I was thinking about this in the light of the economic dislocation that is being produced to prevent a COVID-19 virus epidemic in the US. This is just the beginning of what “heal our land” is going to look like. It’s the first shock. I doubt that it will be the last. When the Holy Spirit reminded me of this particular word, I told Him “I would have been happy to have You let those words of mine fall to the ground along with the others.” But He won’t, because it’s the truth: “heal our land” may look an awful lot like “destroy our land” for a while, and there’s nothing that we can do about that. But this is what we’ve been asking for.
Those of us who love Jesus should not be afraid. He will provide for us, and we personally may be spared much agony. But we need to set our expectations realistically: “spared” in a time of God’s judgment is not always so very comfortable. Ezekiel the prophet was spared when Babylon invaded; but when he prophecied he was living in Babylon, far from home, where he had been taken captive. Lot and his daughters were spared when Sodom was destroyed in Genesis 19; but they lost their home, their friends, all their livestock, Lot lost his wife, and the daughters lost their prospective husbands. God’s favor and protection in a time of turmoil is a sure foundation, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll escape all that’s unsettling. Still, our hope should be in His provision, and we should be willing to accept from His hand whatever He decides to give us.
We can express confidence that the end result will be a nation of people who honor and respect the Creator of All Things, because that’s what we’ve been praying for. Only, there are things we’ve taken for granted–like our political system, or our economy–that may not be precisely the same when it’s all over. We’ll have to be flexible and let God be God, and we’ll have to trust Him. This is His work, in response to our prayers. Let’s not waver in our resolution to produce good.
Meanwhile, there’s comfort to be obtained from knowing that we’re part of God’s plan to rescue the nations, that He intends good toward us for Jesus’ sake, and that even if we expire we’ll be serving His purposes. This is the message Jesus conveyed when the disciples woke him in the middle of a storm in which they were afraid they might perish: “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25) He might rebuke the storm, as He did on that occasion. Or He might let the storm do its damage but save everybody from death, as He did to Paul and his companions in Acts 27. Or He could even let you die…but it will serve His purposes if He does, as in Lazarus’ case in John 11, or as in the case of John the Baptist in Matthew 14. Be faithful and trust Him, and your confidence will testify to your neighbors of the greatness of God, when they see the good things that God has worked into your character.
God bless you, be safe, be healthy, and be effective.