One of the most famous verses of the Old Testament is 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”. It is often quoted in public prayer and has been especially helpful during the covid pandemic.
In 2 Chronicles 6, King Solomon had prayed at the dedication of the new temple, and that chapter teaches us much about prayer. Then in 2 Chronicles 7, we see the impact of his prayer in the fire that came down from heaven. In v.12, we read of how God came to Solomon at night to bring words of reassurance and exhortation in vv.14-16.
Our text contains three things that God’s people must do, and three things that God will do in response.
- God’s people defined.
Let us firstly note that God is addressing, not society in general, but His own chosen and called people. We need to be reminded of who we are! As Christians, we are, as the Apostle Peter says ,“a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). By nature, we were born “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). But, as the Apostle Paul goes on to say in the next verse, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ”. The Bible also speaks of mankind bring dead in sin. By nature, we were like the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, or Lazarus in John 11 who had been dead for four days. In both cases, God spoke, and life replaced death. When we were saved, God called us just as He called Lazarus that day in Bethany. We need to often remind ourselves just who we were and who we now are. We were once lost and undone but have been brought into the family of God through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. Surely, when we reflect on this, we should not falter and fall as we often do.
- Three things God asks of us
First, we are to humble ourselves. We have nothing whatever to boast of, but pride lurks in each of our hearts. We need to remember that we are but sinners saved by grace.
Second, we are to pray and to seek God’s face. Prayer is the lifeblood of the believer, but if we are honest, few of us pray as we ought. We can go through the motions, but real prayer takes effort. At a national level, it was sad, though not surprising, that there were few if any calls to prayer last year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In days gone by, our nation prayed. The Ulster revivals of 1859 and 1921 were driven by prayer. In this new year, as evangelical Protestants may we be people of prayer. “Seek the Lord, and his strength: seek his face evermore” (Psalm 105:4). In the two World Wars, many prayed. An amazing example is the Dunkirk evacuations of 1940. Please see the details of the leaflet and film about this wonderful answer to prayer in the “News and Update” section of this website.
Third, we are to turn from our wicked ways. Now, those are hard words. We are Christians. How could we be guilty of wicked ways? But that is what God is saying about His own people. As we examine ourselves, we will find that we have perhaps imbibed the world’s low and dismissive view of sin. This is an age that makes light of sin, but we need to remember that “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God”. (Shorter Catechism Q.14). The Bible presents us with many examples of God’s people who sinned most wickedly. One was King David. May we pray with him the words of Psalm 139:23-24 – “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”. Let us be sure to repent of sin every day and turn away from the slightest hint of it.
- Three things God promises to do.
If we respond positively, we see that God, our heavenly Father, has promised to respond in turn.
First, God has promised to hear. The devil is keen to tell us that when we pray, our words simply bounce back down on top of our heads. He will make us doubt that God has any interest in our prayers. But our text reminds us that God does hear. Psalm 34:17 tells us, “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth”. The prophet Isaiah says, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1).
Second, He has promised to forgive. We should not be surprised by that, for God’s love toward us is beyond measure or comprehension. In Christ, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Take note of the words of the Apostle John in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. The psalmist asks “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” before going on to answer the question, “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). Well might we say with the hymn-writer, “Who is a pardoning God like thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?”
Third, He has promised to heal our land. Oh, how our land needs healing at so many levels. We need healing from the physical and psychological impact of Covid which has ravaged the nation for almost a year. We need healing, too, from the moral and spiritual collapse into wickedness and rebellion. Our land is ripe for judgement, but if we do what is asked of us, then God has promised to forgive and heal.
It all begins with us as God’s people. Once we are revived then the church is revived, and once the church is revived and renewed, “the blessings ripple out to heal the wounds inflicted by sin on the wider community” (Andrew Stewart, “A House of :Prayer”, Evangelical Press 2001).
What wonderful promises are contained in our text. Let us take them to heart and apply them to our lives in the assurance that they will be fulfilled.