if my people who are called by my name 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.
This passage that we have been considering in recent weeks seems to present a progression. The progression goes like this: humble oneself, pray, seek the face of God, and turn from wicked ways. Wickedness, sin, and evil are unpopular words in modern America. We now live in an “anything goes” society that does not believe in right and wrong, sin and righteousness. So, people who have rejected the truth that they may have “wicked ways” will not appreciate this message.
Modern America has invented a god in its own image—a god who really has no conditions and simply lets us live according to our own standard. Whatever we think is right is what is right and if we do our best this god is OK with it.
That is not the God of the Bible and it is not the God I know. The next phrase in this progression we are looking at is “turn from their wicked ways.” Rest assured that this God believes in wickedness and will not bless us if we invent our own standard and ignore His. He is the Master of the universe and has the last word on what is wicked or not. We need to find His mind on the matter and turn from wickedness if we expect Him to do His part.
The Book of Judges ends with the words, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Regretfully, that phrase describes modern America and much of modern Christianity. Secular America has conceived this new permissive god but Christians should not have bought into their concoction.
I am going to make it simple and define wickedness the way Almighty God defines it. Wickedness is sin at work. Sin is acting outside of the will of God. Later in our verse God says He “will forgive their sins.” Sin is our nature. Wickedness is what we do because of that nature. The Hebrew word for “wicked” simply means to deviate from God’s way. That’s why God says “wicked ways.” When we are wicked we are simply traveling our own way instead of His way. James tells us that it is evil to make plans without considering the will of God. (James 4:13-16).
Sin or wickedness is not simply a long list of rules for godly behavior. We include the Ten Commandments and a few other dos and don’ts that fit our lifestyle. Then we go about our business without giving it much thought. The problem with this approach is it does not require a living relationship with our Lord. Like Buddhism or many other religions we merely have an eight-fold path or list of precepts or rules that guide us. God is not even in the picture.
God’s way is the way of fellowship with Him. It is a living relationship where we walk along together through the Holy Spirit and live in communion with Him. So, sin is simply acting out of relationship or fellowship with Him. When we go in it on our own we are rejecting Him and simply experiencing religion.
God told Solomon, “If my people…. turn from their wicked ways.” The Hebrew word translated “turn” means to turn around and go back to your beginning place. “If you get off the path someday,” God was saying, “it is possible to come back to this place of beginning in relationship with Me in submission to My will.” God is giving the same promise to the Christians of America who have left the fellowship they had in the beginning. Like the church in Ephesus we have left our first love and have gotten way off track (Rev. 2:4).
This demands an about face not just for individual Christians but for churches. How many of us have simply drifted along without consulting the Lord about where we were going or what we were doing? How many of our churches have simply adopted a system that works and just become comfortable in the system without any need of God? Some have even knowingly disobeyed God because obedience to His will might affect their attendance numbers or the bottom line on their income.
One pastor told a friend of mine that it is simply a matter of “nickels and noses.” In other words, the driving forces behind all the decisions being made were how much money is coming in and how many people are coming through the door. This does not even require the presence of God. It is the church in Laodicea which left Christ at the door trying to gain entrance. It is a Christianized service club because Christ is not in it. It may be doing many good things in the judgment of people but it is not the church Christ is building.
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Could it be that the reason hell is having its way with what we call church is because we are building something instead of letting Christ build the church He died to establish. The apostles and prophets laid the foundation and we are to build as directed by the Lord of the church.
That means stopping, turning around and coming back to the beginning—to God’s word to reevaluate what we are doing and why we are doing it. Are we doing these things for our own glory or are we doing something that will bring glory and honor to our Master?
God’s promise to Solomon and to us ends with “then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Is God hearing us when we are ignoring Him? Is God forgiving us when we will not even admit our sin? No! If we will be obedient to make this return to His will, He will do His part and the end result is the healing of our land. Today our “land” is all that pertains to our lives—our marriages, our families, jobs, possessions, health, and well-being. The “land” to the Hebrews was their grocery story, clothing store, transportation, housing, and anything else they needed for life. If the land was sick their entire lives were disturbed.
We are a mess today because we fail to realize that we are on a road God is not blessing. We are on a pathway the Lord is not traveling. It is time to return. Many Christians, no doubt, will ignore this message and continue in their Laodicean, lukewarm, comfortable religious mode that allows them to do as they please. But the Spirit is calling out a remnant to follow Him. Mary and I desire to respond to His call. We hope many will join us.
Image courtesy of Leland Francisco's Flikr Page -- Creative Commons License