"If My people …"

“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,

“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 will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

— 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

That passage keeps coming to mind when I look at the fires in Australia, the volcanic eruption in Philippines, the cyclone bearing down on Fiji and the earthquakes in Puerto Rico. There’s also been talk of a new “mystery illness” that’s broken out in China.

But while the end-times checklist makes for an unmistakable call for us to lead more and more people to Christ so they’re not left behind when the Lord does return, there’s something else that’s key to our role as “God’s People”. It may even be easier, in some cases, than overtly evangelizing.

That is to turn to God, ourselves.

The Lord’s promise is that if “My people” pray and turn to Him, He will heal the land. He doesn’t say that all people have to be the ones praying: just that His people had to pray. The impact of that prayer is not simply on our land and home, but on the land of those around us.

Remember that Elijah prayed first for drought, and then for rain (James 5:17). When Jesus set out on the Sea of Galilee with the disciples and later calmed the storm, “other little boats” were in the vicinity (Mark 4:36). They would have been just as threatened by, and just as saved from, the storm as the disciples were.

In other words, our prayers affect not just us, but those around us, regardless of the other people’s “belief systems”.

So if we are “God’s people” — that is, not necessarily “perfect” in the self-righteous sort of way, but if we love Him above all, put everyone else’s interests ahead of our own, and submit our ways to His ways — we have a responsibility to pray. We pray for specific situations, but also continue to seek His face, ask Him to expose whatever wickedness still lives inside us and turn to Him to heal it; and as we do that, He promises to heal the land.

Not just our land, but that of those around us.

There’s our marching orders. Let’s march!

Truth on fire

NB: this is about the ongoing bushfire situation in Australia. If you, like many of us, want to contribute financially to relief efforts, here is a piece about some legitimate organizations that are raising money. And, at the end of this post, I’ll give you the link to an effort particularly close to my heart.

Having spent the last two months in Australia, I can tell you this: the bushfire situation is BAD. The story is the lede on every newscast and the front-page of every newspaper; the word “unprecedented” comes up almost as much as “quid pro quo” in the US media this past fall; and there is hardly a person in the country who is not, in some way, affected: they’ve either experienced the fires first-hand or they’re within four degrees of separation of someone who has.

People are praying, and praying mightily, for rain and God’s intervention.

“Our hearts cry out to you for those who have lost loved ones, and those who have lost properties in the wake of these ravaging fires. Father we pray, in your mercy, restrain the forces of nature from creating catastrophic damage; in your mercy protect human life.” the prayer reads. “Guard those volunteers, rural fire service personnel and emergency services who selflessly step into the breach to fight these fires. Guide police and authorities who help evacuate and shelter those who are displaced.  Bring comfort and healing to all who suffer loss.”

— Special prayer by Most Rev. Glenn Davies, Archbishop of Sydney

Part of our human nature is to look for an easy answer to a complex problem that appears to be out of our control. Blame the Australian government, which has a hard time acknowledging that climate change is real. Blame the environmentalists, for the unfounded reason that they opposed the practice of “back-burning” — burning off potential fuel for fires in order to prevent bad ones from happening. It doesn’t matter what the truth is: find someone to blame, and you’ll feel better.

Rev. David Robertson, in his blog The Wee Flea, has done a masterful job of dissecting the arguments all around, with a follow-up piece on truth in general. It’s timely, since people can be left crying out, “What is truth?”

When Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”, how little he knew that he was staring The Truth in the face.

And now is the time to remember the truth that we Bible believers are privy to: Jesus warned us there’d be days like these.

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”

— Matthew 24:6-7

He doesn’t refer to “catastrophic bushfires” in as many words, but He does talk about “tribulation” like we’ve never seen before (Matthew 24:21), so I think we can say pretty confidently that what we’re seeing in Australia fits into that category.

And then what?

Jesus returns. Exactly when, we don’t know and aren’t supposed to: but the fact remains that these things are happening, the Bible “called it” thousands of years ago, and our “marching orders” in light of this are to point people to Jesus Christ so that no one is lost when He does come back.

Sorry: let’s change that perspective. We are to point people to Jesus Christ so that as many people as possible join Him when He returns, bringing with Him the New Jerusalem.

Fires, famines, earthquakes, incurable diseases, terrorism and struggles between “tribes” all look like bad scenes to be lamented. But they are all precursors of unimaginable glory, and we have to keep that in mind.

And that is the Truth. In that Truth is the Hope we so desperately need.

The Australian bushfire fundraising effort that is particularly close to my heart is one my daughter has taken on: all proceeds from one of her songs will go to three charities that are helping with bushfire relief. Read more about it here.

Pray without ceasing

The fires in Australia that I wrote about last week keep getting worse. TV newscasts show communities wiped out, homes reduced to smoking ruins, people being put up in what are essentially refugee camps and others being evacuated by water.

This morning, over the Melbourne CBD

There’s a smoky haze over downtown Melbourne and a whiff in the air that reminds one that the reality of the situation is not that far away. Pretty much everyone knows someone who is, in some way, affected.

So again I say that we need to pray over the situation: to use the relative comfort and leisure we’re enjoying to lean in and call on God to turn the situation to His glory. It’s all we can do – and all we should have to do.

We did have rain last week. We need lots more, so we can’t let up on our prayers or in our faith that God will answer.

Let’s pray for the 3 R’s:

  • Respite (for the firefighters)
  • Recovery (for the people affected)
  • RAIN

Praise God, that He has given us the ability and the authority to pray like this over crises, through His Son. We’ve said before that prayer in the Holy Spirit doesn’t know physical distance. Now is the time to put that to work!

Let it rain!

The other day, when I was talking about our responsibility to pray, from our positions of detached comfort, over disasters and people affected by them, I wrote in fairly general terms.

I do that often. I don’t want to tie God’s hands by telling Him what I think a situation needs, because what I think is right and good may be at cross-purposes with His will.

But there are times when it’s pretty doggone obvious what the situation needs, and you pray for it, glorifying God in any event.

I’m thinking in particular of the fires in Australia. They need rain. Extended, drenching rain, to squelch the fires. The fireys* need the respite – they are exhausted, in spite of being supplemented by colleagues from all over the world. On the prayer list at Hillsong churches on Australia, “rain” is #1.
So if you want something specific, there you go: command, in Jesus’ Name, for rain to fall on the bushfire areas of Australia.

You don’t have to be a super-charged person of God to do it, either.

The effective, fervent prayer of the righteous man avails much.

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.

– James 5:16b-17

Jesus’ half-brother goes on to say that Elijah prayed again, and it didn’t stop raining for ages.

If the rain doesn’t come immediately, some might slack off and say, “I suppose God has His reasons …” and give up praying. But that would be one of God’s reasons: to get us to keep praying and not let up, and to encourage others to draw closer to Him. His arm is not shortened: nothing is too big for our God; while the Fireys might be running out of strength, resources and water, He’s just getting started.

“Fireys”: Aussie slang for firefighters.

And God said, "I'm still here! Really!"

It’s Saturday morning as I write this, sitting on the balcony of an oojah-cum-spiff hotel in Surfers’ Paradise, Australia. Not even 6am, and the sun is already high in the sky, glistening on the Pacific Ocean. Palms sway their fronds along the beach, flowers are in bloom, and little lorikeets with their colourful plumage flutter through the trees. We are headed for a glorious day.

And I use the word “glorious” deliberately. Here’s why.

  • Bushfires are still doing incredible damage to property, homes and wildlife not too far west of us: recently, the city of Sydney was under an air quality warning because of the smoke from those fires.
  • There is a lunatic in the Australian Senate who claims climate change is due to the Earth being closer to the sun.
  • The President of the United States is turning his wrath on a 16-year-old girl.
  • Boris Johnson has been handed a huge majority in the UK Parliament, suggesting people in the Auld Sod are prepared to “go it alone”.
  • I’ve lost track of the number of multiple shootings — terrorist and otherwise — in the past couple of months.
  • Hatred, racism and other signs of inhumanity are increasing, in spite of the publicity campaigns telling people to stop.

Why do You stand afar off, O Lord?

Why do You hide in times of trouble?

The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor;

Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.

— Psalm 10:1-2

And yet … there is still incredible beauty all around. Babies are being born, trees are bearing lovely fruit, people are going out of their way for others and the sun is glistening out of a clear blue sky over the Pacific Ocean.

Maybe God isn’t hiding.

Maybe God is saying, through the beauty and the continuation of life and love and the earth that He created, along with all that is in it, “Hi! I’m still here!”

Haven’t we strayed away from God long enough? I mean, we’ve been doing so for centuries — in fact, millennia — and the question we need to come back to is, “How’s that working for us?”

God is still there. He hasn’t moved. And He is waiting for us with open arms, waiting for us to turn to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.

That’s why I say, “glorious”.

The Lord is king forever and ever:

The nations have perished out of His land.

Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble;

You will prepare their heart;

You will cause Your ear to hear,

To do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,

That the man of the earth may oppress no more.

— Psalm 10:16-18