How should we pray for a nation in a time of crisis?
Written by Robin Sydserff, Minister of Chalmers, Spring 2020
1 May 2020 Post 4
Yesterday the BBC website posted an article How will coronavirus change the way we live? Twelve BBC correspondents were asked for their opinions. Here are the headlines:
1. Technology reporter – We’ll be tech dependent for the long haul.
2. Business correspondent – Will we stop buying new clothes?
3. Business editor – Will the rush hour be confined to history?
4. Transport correspondent – Fewer flights could mean higher prices?
5. Education editor – Virtual lessons for the long term?
6. Science editor – Fossil fuel frenzy or green recovery?
7. Sports correspondent – Sport in perspective?
8. Arts editor – Cinemas and theatres to bounce back?
9. Home editor – Will we still be neighbourly?
10. Social affairs correspondent – ‘Overlooked’ care sector will still need help.
11. Global trade correspondent – Global trade will survive.
12. Defence correspondence – Pandemic has not killed global tensions.
The article was interesting and informative. Yet the lack of spiritual reflection in the media and across public life, is sobering. Long gone are the days when as a nation we are asking: Will this mean a return to God? As plans emerge in the coming weeks to ‘unlock’, what recognition will be given to the important role of churches to the well-being of society? This is an important matter for prayer, and an area for Christians to engage as opportunities for public dialogue present.
As the pandemic dominates our lives, Christians in the West are being confronted with the sober reality of a society without God. And very little evidence as yet of a turning to God, even in the face of the daily government briefings on people dying. Will that turning come? We pray so.
I am trying to read a bit more about how Christians across the world are reflecting on these times. There are two basic perspectives. On the one hand, optimism that this might be a turning-point for the gospel. On the other, a time for repentance for Christians and churches. Both are biblically based. Both are true. In terms of proportionate emphasis, the former is by far the stronger.
My strong personal conviction is that we need to hear and embrace the latter as the first priority. Personal convictions are to be questioned. Yet as the minister of Chalmers, I find myself deeply burdened by the seriousness of sin, and with the need for a season of repentance and renewal. I do not write this lightly. It would be foolish to do so. What has persuaded me is the encouragement that others across the church family are sensing a similar burden.
As we settle into a new normal in our lives, the next few weeks in God's Word on Sundays will ask us to take sin seriously. If this is to be a season for repentance and dealing with sin, I pray we'll look back on this particular aspect of lockdown as one of deep encouragement and liberation, with thanksgiving to God. Hebrews 12:1-2: '...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ Many of us will identify with some area of sin that so easily entangles us. What an encouragement it will be to see the ties and entanglements loosen.
24 April 2020 Post 3
Last week we looked at the powerful prayer in Daniel 9. The prayer is expressive of a man under conviction of sin, his own and on behalf of the people of God. The language in the prayer is honest, moving and powerful. Here is an example: ‘We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name…’ (Dan 9:6). By not listening to the Word of God through the prophets, the people of God had not listened to God. The consequences are far-reaching: ‘…our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land’ (v6). The people of God are without excuse, without hope, except for the mercy and grace of God.
In this season of lockdown, we need to take time to pray in a spirit of repentance. Not because we have more time – some have, others don’t – but because of the times in which we are living. For most of us, these are unprecedented times, an opportunity to reflect on the spiritual state of our country and the world.
As Christians we would all agree that the country's greatest need is the gospel. In that light we pray for people to turn to Jesus in their fear and find salvation in him. But before praying for that advance, thinking what we might 'do' and seeing people respond, there first needs to be a deep-hearted repentance, individually, as a church family and as Christians across the nation.
Repentance is the necessary first step. And not a token step, or casual word, more likely a season of heartfelt repentance for some time, saying sorry to God and appealing to His mercy.
I found the following essay by Sam Storms on the Gospel Coalition website very helpful. The essay is titled The Christian and Repentance and can be found here
True Christian repentance involves a heartfelt conviction of sin, a contrition over the offense to God, a turning away from the sinful way of life, and a turning towards a God-honouring way of life.
To truly repent one must also confess the sin openly and honestly to the Lord.
Although repentance is more than psychological catharsis, there is in it a true feeling or sense of remorse. If one is not genuinely offended by one’s sin, there is no repentance. Repentance is painful, but it is a sweet pain. It demands brokenness of heart…but always with a view to healing and restoration and a renewed vision of the beauty of Christ and forgiving grace.
Thus, repentance is more than a feeling. Emotion can be fleeting, whereas true repentance bears fruit. This points to the difference between “attrition” and “contrition.” Attrition is regret for sin prompted by a fear for oneself: “Oh, no. I got caught. What will happen to me?” Contrition, on the other hand, is regret for the offence against God’s love and pain for having grieved the Holy Spirit.
On Sunday mornings we will be returning to Mark’s Gospel starting midway through chapter 9 through chapter 13. Spending time with the remarkable Jesus will be good for us as individuals and as a church.
For the next three weeks our focus will be Mark’s description of Christian discipleship, modelled on Jesus’ life (Mark chapters 9-10). Mark’s method is to expose worldly attitudes and behaviours that tempt us. Where it is needed, pray that under the Spirit’s conviction, the Word of God will lead us to repentance and change, both as individuals and as a church. And in its stead, growth in likeness to Jesus, as His indwelling Spirit changes us.
17 April 2020 Post 2
Daniel is a book focusing on the exile of God’s people in Babylon in the period 605 – 539 BC. The Exile was a time of crisis for God’s people.
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Daniel chapter 9 records a powerful and moving prayer. Over the coming weeks I hope that Daniel’s prayer can inspire us. Can I encourage us to read the prayer and let God’s Word speak into our hearts? In the comments that follow I highlight a few points to help us pray.
The timing of Daniel’s prayer is dated as 539 BC, when the Babylonian Empire fell to the Medo-Persian Empire and it was decreed that the exile of God’s people in Babylon was over. The road back for God’s people would be long and hard, the return to their land and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. You can read what happened in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The message of the book of Daniel is that God rules, is building an everlasting Kingdom, and calls people to live in light of that fact. This is in contrast to earthly kingdoms and rulers whose power and rule is transient, given by God for a time then taken away. This message is for all people, to recognise and submit to God’s rule. But in the context of the Exile, this time of crisis for God’s people, it is an important message for the people of God, to humble themselves before God, confess their sin, and learn to live distinctively in light of God’s rule.
Daniel’s prayer is both personal and on behalf of all God’s people. Daniel, the Lord’s servant (9:17) prays to his God (‘I prayed to the Lord my God…’ (v4, NIV)). Yet as we read the prayer it is clear that Daniel is praying on behalf of God’s people: ‘The Lord our God…’ (vv9, 13, 15, NIV). Indeed, the petitions in the prayer are almost entirely expressed in the plural – ‘we have sinned…we have been wicked…we have turned away…’ (v5, NIV) – a pattern that runs through the prayer.
Moreover, the manner of his prayer is striking, verse 3: ‘So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.’ (NIV) Daniel’s manner of praying conveys powerfully his seriousness and discipline. Here is a man of deep faith. We have seen this right through Daniel’s life, from a very young man in chapter 1 (1:8) to an old man in his eighties (6:10). Similarly, in chapter 10 reference is made to a three-week intense period of prayer before an answer was given (10:2).
Turning to the prayer there are a number of things we can learn.
Daniel prays according to the Word of God (9.1-3). His praying is saturated in Scripture, in particular language that expresses God’s faithfulness and commitment to his people.
There is a logical flow to Daniel’s prayer. He begins with confession of sin (vv4-6). ‘I prayed to the Lord my God (Yahweh, the covenant God) and confessed:’ (v4a, NIV). Daniel prays confessing the sin of God’s people. The disobedience of God’s people has been comprehensive, so the confession of sin is comprehensive. This is no vague feeling or expression of guilt, and in verse 5 Daniel uses a number of specific phrases to show how this disobedience had affected every part of their lives: ‘we have sinned’ reveals the fundamental problem; ‘done wrong’ implies a godless and self-centred approach to living; ‘We have been wicked and rebelled’ implies guilt, evil and rebellion against a sovereign ruler which deserves punishment; ‘we have turned away from your commands and laws' suggests determined disobedience, even apostasy. The key to it all is verse 6: ‘We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name…’ (v6a, NIV) By not listening to the Word of God through the prophets the people of God had not listened to God. This has affected all of God’s people: ‘…our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land’ (v6b, NIV). The people of God are without excuse, without hope, except for the mercy and grace of God.
16 April 2020 Post 1
Many Christians are increasingly convicted to pray in this time of national crisis. What should we pray for the nation? It is, of course, important to pray for politicians, the NHS, other key workers, the bereaved, the sick and the most vulnerable. The Word of God encourages us to pray for all these things, as well as for our church family and our own families. Rightly, we are praying for these things.
What else should we be praying for? Can I encourage us to pray with repentance for the spiritual renewal of the nation? God’s sovereignty is a great assurance in times of crisis. Yet under his sovereignty the Coronavirus pandemic has swept across the world. Some will claim this is God’s judgement. Some will suggest that the national crisis we are facing in the UK is God’s judgement on our nation for turning away from him. That may be true, but we need to be cautious of drawing such a conclusion. For three reasons. First, we don’t know what God is doing or saying. Second, in the New Covenant God’s judgement is spoken of in terms of the ‘day of the Lord’, when Jesus returns. Third, we are not a covenant nation like Israel, where blessing and judgement were directly linked to their obedience or disobedience through their history.
Yet, taking these cautions on board, this pandemic has foregrounded a number of important truths. The world we live in is overshadowed by death. As Christians we know that. But for the first time in a generation, everyone is talking about death. We are no longer a death-denying society. Moreover, the Western world, in particular, has been faced with our inability to be in control. And the way the crisis has been handled by our nation’s leaders is revealing. While they are doing their job well, there is almost no evidence of a consciousness of God.
Our nation, like other nations in the world, particularly the West, desperately needs to turn back to God. The Coronavirus pandemic is not going to go away. Lockdown will be extended, in some parts of our society and life, indefinitely. Social distancing will become the new normal. It is possible churches will not be able to meet for a long time, at least how we used to meet and took for granted.
Week by week we are struck by the timely nature of God’s Word. Over the coming weeks and months God’s Word will teach us how we should respond to this national and global crisis, in how we think about it and what we do. The Word of God will teach us how we should pray in this time of crisis.
It will be good for us to look up and out from our own circumstances to pray for the world and our nation for spiritual renewal and the advance of the Kingdom of Jesus.
I will post something short and readable on the Chalmers’ website every Friday morning to help us do that. You will find the most recent post at the top of the page.