GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 572 • October 20, 2020
YOU CAN’T ASK GOD TO DO YOUR PART FOR YOU
God said: “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 I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Myriad professors and pretenders of Christian faith, including many preachers and self-styled evangelists, say it this way: “If we call upon the name of God and pray to Him in the name of Christ, then He will hear from heaven and will forgive our sins and heal our troubled land, our disturbed and wayward nation. He has promised, and He will do it. Will you join us and pray for God to cleanse and heal our nation and our suffering people?”
Virtually every media minister of the “electronic church” and all self-styled “prayer warriors” misuse 2 Chronicles 7:14 these days. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful and precious promises in the Bible – it certainly keeps many on their knees pleading with God to do for us what we know needs to be done, for us and for our country and for the whole world of mankind. We may believe the omnipotent God, the Sovereign Almighty God, can do it all. We want to believe God loves us enough that He is willing to do it for us. We “claim” His promises for ourselves and trust Him to keep His word, not only this particular promise but many others similar to it. There are two reasons we are willing to believe these promises and try to apply them to ourselves.
(1) Wish fulfillment seems ingrained in us. We spend much of our time engaged in wishful thinking. “I wish I had, I wish I could get, I wish someone would do it for me, I want…I want…I wish…I wish…” We are selfish enough to ask, actually to demand, that others give to us and supply for us not only our needs but also pleasures, luxuries, desires – whatever we want. “Give me…give me…give us, do for us, let us have…give…give…give…give…”
(2) Laziness also seems endemic in us, wanting the easiest possible way to get things done without having to work for them ourselves – we want magic. Let God just “say the words” and make it so. It will be done. We want to believe everything is possible if you just believe in God, if you ask Him in faith. Some will protest: “If we can’t believe this promise of God, which of His promises can we believe?” Why should we not believe it?
2 Chronicles 7:14 must be understood in its own context. It was not a stand alone verse or a “blanket promise,” a motto to hang on your wall or print on your clothing. It was not and is not spoken to the world at large, a kind of “Blessed is the person who…” beatitude or promise. It was spoken to Solomon as God’s answer to a long and detailed prayer containing many if–then stipulations offered by Solomon in the presence of the people in the temple he had just dedicated to God. To ensure you understand the promise of 7:14 – you will not understand it otherwise – read the whole context, at least the particular prayer of Solomon, 2 Chronicles 6:12–7:4. Then read God’s answer to the prayer in 7:12-22, from which verse 14 is excerpted. Notice that it pertained only to that special group of people, that singular nation chosen and separated from all other peoples and nations of the earth and allowed to wear some form of the name of God himself: “My people who are called by My name.” Israel was a name given by God himself and only members born or proselyted into it and were committed to the specific covenant God had made with them could expect to benefit from the promises God made to that specific and select theocratic nation. This was not a proleptic or prophetic promise of a future fulfillment for those who would be called Christians. Christians are people of God but they are not called by His name – not even called by the name of Jesus. Christ is not a name, it is a functional title. It is no more appropriate for Christians to claim this promise than to claim permission to eat from every tree in the garden of Eden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, even the tree of life (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:1-3), a promise made to Adam and Eve but not to us — it cannot be claimed by us or applied to us.
No nation on earth today, including the nation that calls itself Israel (since 1949) can claim to have a valid national covenant with God in Christ, none meets the necessary identifying marks listed in 2 Chronicles 7:14, therefore none can claim the promise it contains. To those who try to claim this promise today God could very well say: “You are not my people; I have not called you by My name. There is no covenant between Me and you and the promise you are quoting and claiming was not made to you. The consequences of your wicked ways, personally and nationally, are a burden you deserve to bear and it will continue until you repent and change your wicked ways, until you accept the New Covenant agreement I have offered to you in Christ, until you commit yourselves to Me and become My people in Christ. If you love, honor, and obey me and keep My current covenant and commands faithfully then, only then, I will hear you and help you heal yourself and your land. Let me know if you are ready to do that.”
This does not mean we cannot ask for and expect to receive God’s help and blessings today. Every person and group that is true and faithful to God’s covenant in Jesus Christ, and therefore deserves to be called Christian, can claim every blessing promised to Christians in the New Testament writings. They have God’s sworn oath to fulfill all His words, all His positive promises – all His negative promises (threats) too (Hebrews 6:13-20).
There is no geographical nation of God today – the United States of America does not fit that description. Only the true universal church (not catholic, reformed, restored, or reorganized) can be called the “holy nation” of God (1 Peter 2:9), with all its faithful members holding citizenship in God’s heaven (Philippians 3:20 NKJV, NASB, ESV). But actually, receiving any of God’s promised blessings, including His acknowledgment and validation of citizenship and conferring of ultimate and eternal salvation, is highly conditional. Just saying, “I/we believe in You and we want this promise, so give it to us,” is not enough. You cannot claim it if it is not yours, was not given to you and does not belong to you. As it was in 2 Chronicles 7:14 and the Old Covenant, so it is under the New Covenant in Christ. Notice the ifs and thens mentioned in both covenants – the way it is stated in the text we have been questioning here is certainly appropriate for the New Covenant too. “If (1) My people, which are called by My name, shall (2) humble themselves, and (3) pray, and (4) seek my face, and (5) turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” The healing would apply only to any penalty, punishment, or pestilence God himself imposed upon the nation because of its failures to adhere faithfully to the covenant God had with them – nothing is said about other penalties, punishments, persecutions or problems. There is certainly an important principle involved – we will refer to it shortly – but the special promise stated here is limited, precise and specific. Do not generalize what God specifies.
“If My people … humble themselves.” Do not protest God’s actions and accusations as if they were undeserved by His wayward people. Do not “claim as a right” any reprieve, release, or restoration to favor. Grace and mercy are what you need and can request, but do not present a payment-due or “You-owe-me” bill to God listing what you think He owes or is obligated to give you for having identified yourself with His Christ (James 4:5-10).
“If My people … pray.” Pray in this context may include appropriate acknowledgment of the goodness and graciousness of God, but it is more a confession of personal and corporate error and need. It is a request for help and acceptance of one’s gifts and services and promises. It is an honest statement of one’s condition and one’s need, an expressed desire and genuine request that one’s needs be met and a remedy for one’s condition be provided (James 4:2-3, Philippians 4:6).
“If My People … seek My face.” One must be seeking to know and understand God and to have His will done in everything on earth even as it is in heaven. To seek God’s face and recognition is to seek a right relationship with Him as Our Father in Heaven. He is not our servant in heaven – nor is Jesus our Negotiator in heaven. God is our Lord, our Master, our true spiritual Parent in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13).
“If My people … turn (repent) from their wicked ways.” True repentance is not a matter of changing one’s mind, of thinking differently about sin. It is not merely confessing sin and expressing remorse or regret for it, when it is rote or ritual – beating our breast and muttering mea culpa, my sin – that does not imply a change or correction. “I’ve sinned and I’m sorry, OK? Forgive me and let me get on with my life.” How shallow that must sound to the one we have offended, especially when that One is the Holy God. Our expressed sorrow may be accepted by other persons like ourselves, who cannot know our true attitudes, but God, who reads and knows our hearts, is not impressed by idle empty words that do not express our true intentions (Hebrews 4:12-13). True repentance requires a change of attitude and intention, a change of disposition and commitment accompanied by a change of action and way of life. True repentance from the heart brings a change in relationship to the Lord against whom the sin and offense were committed – a change called forgiveness and restoration.
If and when God’s people, individually or corporately and collectively, humble themselves and seek renewal with Him by repenting and praying and committing themselves to Him in righteousness, God will make a positive answer. He will not change the hearts and actions of their enemies, He will not promise people success in all conflicts or remove all possible problems and hurts from their lives, but He will cancel threats He himself has made against them and will give them a way to survive and surpass all tests, troubles, and temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13). More than that we do not need and our reward from Him will be great in His heaven (Matthew 5:12, 2 Peter 1:1-10).