Friday, February 27, 2009

Fragrance or Stench?

. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will 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 (2 Chron. 7:14).

I had never thought about this Scripture in the way that Shirley—a fellow church member—expressed it last night in prayer meeting. She said that when we share the gospel with someone or stand against corruption in our community, but have ungodly attitudes or behavior in ourselves, we hinder our listeners from accepting what we say and what we stand for. Of course! Why would a person take seriously our message that they need to change if there are obvious ways in which we haven’t allowed the Lord to change us?

Shirley further pointed out that this verse lists several things that God requires of us if we want him to heal our land: 1) humbling ourselves, 2) praying, 3) seeking God’s face, and 4) turning from our wicked ways. We tend to concentrate on #2, she said, and ignore the others. No wonder we don’t see more answers to our prayers!

As I have considered these four mandates, it becomes clearer and clearer to me why all four are essential. If we are not seeking God’s face—really getting to know him, learning how he sees things, and letting his attitudes rub off on us—we won’t even pray the right prayers. For example, we might very well be praying for God to destroy “those wicked people” who are perverting our community. But the Lord is not willing that any should perish. He wants us to pray that they will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Or we might pray the right thing out of a wrong motive. For example, have you ever prayed for someone to be saved so that they will not be so hard to get along with? If so, do you really love them in a way that will draw them to the Lord?

Also, when praying about the wickedness of others, what about the humility to recognize that we ourselves are not perfect? Is that not critical? Have you or I ever lied to smooth a situation over instead of solving it? Have we ever looked out for our own interests and ignored those of others? Have we ever struggled with moral issues? Then are we so different from lying politicians, self-serving bosses, and immoral people? If we do not remember that we too are captive to sinfulness without the grace of God—if we are not willing to confess and leave behind every bad habit and wrong motive of our own, we will not give off the sweet aroma of the nature of Jesus. Instead, we will give off the stench of hypocrisy.

Shirley’s final insight was this: If all we see in 2 Chron. 7:14 is that WE SHOULD PRAY for revival in our land, then we are thinking that OUR efforts (our prayers) are the most important factor in bringing change. But this verse says that GOD will heal our land. What is our part in this? Well, we don’t really have a part unless we recognize that we too need to turn from our wicked ways, to be forgiven and healed! When we humbly remember what God has had to redeem us from in the past and admit that we still fall far short of what honors him, then he can forgive us and continue the transformation into his likeness. Then we will know how he wants us to pray, and we will be a help, instead of a hindrance, in changing the world around us. In short, it’s not about our herculean efforts to help God save the world. It’s not even about realizing our own sins and trying to be better. It’s all about looking to his great grace*—to transform us, and then to change the world.
*The best definition of grace, in this instance, is:

“Grace is the divine influence upon the heart, enabling us to do the will of God.”

As the hymn title “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” implies, God’s influence on our hearts is more powerful than the stranglehold of our sinful habits and attitudes. Let's quit hanging on to them. Let's quit struggling to improve ourselves. Let's put ourselves into his hands, trust and cooperate with him, and let him complete the work he started when we first believed in him.

No comments: