If My People

It was in 1976 – the year of the United States’ bicentennial – that I started hearing my fellow American evangelicals quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall 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.

The verse, I was told, was a promise. If American Christians would pray for their country, God would restore their nation to righteousness, keeping it from falling under God’s judgment.

I agree that Christians should always pray for the nations in which they live. The Apostle Paul urged that “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I think, however, that 2 Chronicles 7:14 calls for a different application. I paraphrase:

If the members of Christ’s church will humble themselves,
pray and turn from their wicked ways,
then God will forgive their sins, heal his church
and bring his kingdom to its full fruition.

The promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 pertains to the central covenants that God made through Abraham, Moses and David. The Lord chose for himself a people who would bear his name and live in peace together on the land he gave them in fulfillment of his covenant promises. The leaders and people of Israel, however, did not always live up to the requirements of the covenants that God made with them. God’s judgments were intended to bring Israel to repentance when it went astray. Israel’s own unfaithfulness was the greatest threat to its continued enjoyment of the land of promise. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God promised King Solomon that – up to a point – he would hear the prayers of his penitent people when they prayed in the temple and restore peace to the land. However, 2 Chronicles 7:19-22 indicates that the royal house’s own persistent unfaithfulness could still lead to the destruction of the temple and the expulsion of God’s people from the land.

As I wrote yesterday, the New Testament analog to the land of promise is the kingdom of God. The church is – or at least ought to be – a foretaste of the coming kingdom. The church is one in Christ, destined to be holy and blameless, and yet its brokenness is obvious to all. In that sense, Israel and the church have a lot in common.

If the kingdom, and by extension the church, is the analogy of the promised land, then Christians who only pray for their earthly homelands are thinking too small. The most basic prayer of the Christian is “thy kingdom come.” It is the church, and not a particular nation-state, that now occupies the central place in God’s covenant. Christ’s church consists of people from every race, nation and tongue. Too often in history we have seen Christians put king or country in the place that only God should occupy.

Just as the ancient Israelites repented of their idolatry and sought to live anew within the framework of God’s covenant law, so we Christians of little faith should repent of our own unfaithfulness and seek to live within the requirements of God’s new covenant in Jesus. Our broken church is a sign of our unfaithfulness, and sometimes it looks like the world, the flesh and the devil will destroy it. We have Christ’s own promise, though, that not even the gates of hell will be able to overcome Christ’s holy church. The church is of God and will be preserved until the end of time. The only question is, will we be a part of the church that endures?