Here’s something you should be told at church: prayer is not enough.
On 22 April, on a dusty farm outside the central city of Bloemfontein in South Africa, hundreds of thousands of Christians gathered for a prayer service led by Angus Buchan. Concerned about the state of the country, this group gathered together in response to the promise in Scripture found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “…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.”
I won’t go into the many ways this passage has been abused in the past, including pointing out that it is the second half of a sentence, and that it comes in the middle of a consecration of a Temple with many other instructions attached to it. Let’s just focus on what these words themselves say. We are not just called to prayer. We called to sort our lives out, to humble ourselves, to seek God and to turn from wickedness.
I strongly support the desire Christians had to pray for our country. And I strongly support any group of people gathering together to commit themselves to good and to God. But the big question, 48 hours later, is “now what?” What happens next.
I have four suggestions, all flowing from this verse in 2 Chron. 7:14:
1. Choose to humble ourselves
Humility involves thinking of others more highly than ourselves. Humility involves believing the best about others. Humility means I accept that my views, my approaches, my worldview and my way of life are not definitive for others – that other people may have equally valid, but different views, approaches, worldviews and ways of living. Humility means not imposing my beliefs on others. Humility means asking more questions. Humility means seeing the world through other people’s eyes.
How can we truly demonstrate a spirit of humility in South Africa and the world right now?
2. Confess our sins
This is not about listing the problems we see in the country, and asking God to fix them. This is about looking in our own hearts, and seeing the sins that might be deeply rooted there. In the context of South Africa right now, I’d suggest that sins of greed, inhospitability, not caring for the poor, hard heartedness, selfishness and lack of love should be on our lists. Especially those of us who are wealthy. And yes, even those of us who do “a lot” for the poor – could we do more? Remember that confessing is more than just saying we’re sorry, it involves actively turning away from these sins and even involves correcting any damage done to others because of these sins. Repentance also involves restoration.
What sins should we confess? And should we do this publicly (“confess your sins to one another”)? And in what ways should our repentance include restoration?
3. Commit ourselves to action
Faith without works is dead. What actions are we going to take to turn our fervent prayers into reality? What are we each going to DO to ensure that we live in a better country than we have today?
4. Connect with our fellow South Africans who don’t look, sound or think like us
We are ALL God’s people. We eagerly desire to live in a country where the heavenly vision of “every nation, tribe and tongue” brought together because of their shared love for the King of Kings becomes a reality. We don’t want to be divided by race, gender, class, sexual orientation or any other aspect of being that we have no control over. Nor do we want to be divided by any of the issues that reflect the circumstances of life and life choices we’ve made, such as education, marital status, culture, language or wealth. In Christ, there should be “no slave or free, no Jew or Greek, no male or female”, we are all equal before Him. In order to make this a reality, though, each of us needs to commit to crossing some boundaries.
Which boundaries are we prepared to cross? Are we prepared for this sacrifice to cost us something, and, if so, what? How can we build faith communities that demonstrate our connectedness in Christ? How do we raise up the lowest in our communities to places of honour? And what does it mean that the greatest amongst us should be our servants?
Choose, Confess, Commit and Connect. And, yes, also keep praying. But if praying is all you’re doing, you’ve misunderstood how God chooses to work in this world. Remember, “faith without works is dead”.
The ancient Ignatian tradition of Christianity puts it this way: “pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.”