Things in the world are bad and they seem to be getting worse every day. In my hometown, Gary, Indiana, they arrested a guy for killing a lady and he confessed to killing several more people. People in Chicago are probably secretly relieved that this has overshadowed all the news about shootings in the Windy City. And the politicians seem to be oblivious to it all as they concentrate on convincing us not to vote for the other schmuck. Meanwhile, the mayor of Houston, Texas attempted to use the courts to bully area Pastors into ending their attempts to stop an ordinance allowing transgender individuals to use opposite sex bathrooms. This last item underscores the difficulty that Christians encounter when attempting to bring our perspective into the public square. History informs us that in earlier times it was the expectation that the Christian church would play a large role in addressing the evils of society. The Civil Rights Movement is a prominent example. But these days, not only is the church’s point of view NOT welcome in the larger culture, many Christians accept the notion that it is up to other institutions to address the problems. Is there a role for the church to play in addressing the problems of society? What should we (Christians) do?
I think the Bible gives a clear, yet overlooked, statement of what we should do. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God speaks to Solomon on the occasion of the dedication of the great temple in Jerusalem. God is speaking not only of the temple, but also of the relationship between Himself and His people. I know that most of you reading this can quote this verse and are likely nodding your head right now. You are thinking, that’s right Ellery, we need to pray!! But slow down a second. God said to Solomon, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves…” Of course, the full verse is, “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 I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The first step for the church today is to humble ourselves. It’s true that we probably don’t pray enough, and we certainly can stand to turn from our wicked ways, but the point is, humility must come first. Even when we do pray, we tend to stress praying with authority. We want to decree things. We want to command the atmosphere. I’m not saying this is unbiblical. I’m saying, right now, it’s arrogant. I’m saying we fail to recognize that WE are the problem. We need to accept our responsibility for what is going on in our communities. To use Old Testament imagery, we need to pray in sackcloth and ashes, as if in mourning. We need to accept that, while we have been chasing fame and fortune in our churches, and been ruled by greed and lust, we are reaping a harvest of unrighteousness. Jesus Christ has been reduced in our lives from Lord to friend, and His sanctuaries to multi-purpose auditoriums showcasing the latest technology. Meanwhile evil has spread unchecked all around us.
Please don’t misunderstand; I am not saying we all need to be monks or Luddites (look it up). I am typing this on my MacBook Pro while listening to my iPod through Bose noise-cancelling headphones. And, I don’t think all churches are carnal and all pastors are con-men. I am saying that, in my opinion, many of us have drifted from a dependence on God and the simple disciplines of Christianity – disciplines such as Bible study, fasting, and yes, prayer. I am saying that prayer is necessary and critical to addressing our problems. We must turn to God and implore Him to help us. We must seek His face and try to discern His reaction to our endeavors. And where we know that we have gotten off course, we must change. But, before all that, we must humble ourselves. We must recognize that it will not be our bold leadership, or our powerful oratory, or our social activism that makes the difference. All that is superficial if we do not heed God’s warning to Solomon that day when He further said, “But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples (2 Chronicles 7:19-20)