Prayer - the Strength of a Nation

We focus our worship today on drawing closer to our Lord in order to find a greater measure of wholeness and healing in areas of our lives that bring heartache and pain, frustration, distrust, anger or despair. To be certain there is much in our world that we cannot understand. Why - after thousands of years do people continue to kill one another in wars, terror, abuse, and emotional cruelty? Why after generations of scientists and billions of dollars poured into research can we not heal the body of its rapid decline toward death? And, after all the romance novels, soap operas and movies about love stories can we not avoid heartache? Because we are what we are…finite beings that are incapable of genetically passing down wisdom to our newly arrived successors. Each one of us must struggle to find our own way back to God - the God who completes us.

I think it is extremely appropriate that we enter into this time of reflection and prayer with heartfelt enthusiasm since in just a few days we will go to the polls and vote for people who will shoulder the responsibility of making decisions that directly impact each one of us and the future of the world. I implore you to pray because our political process has changed just enough over the years since its original design that it has become a mechanism that deeply divides our people instead of rallying them together towards common goals and unifying our efforts for peace. The campaigns of our two prime candidates take advantage of our worst fears and defame one another's character and history instead of lifting up whatever might be good and working to redeem a very bad situation.

At the same time, I receive forwarded e-mails from well-intentioned Christians that relate touching stories about one or the other candidate's depth of faith and their interaction with the humblest of common citizens. Yet their platform is always aimed at decisive military action to encounter the enemy and stop him before…before…our worst nightmares become reality. And, according to all the latest military intelligence and media coverage it would seem that it is indeed an appropriate recourse.

Something about all this troubles me at a deep level. Something about our situation reminds me of the nation of Israel in the years of Jeremiah's prophetic career. In 626 BC, King Josiah of Judah discovered one of the books of the Torah when his workmen were doing repairs on the Temple. For Israel it was a rediscovery of the core of their covenant faith with God. King Josiah initiated a great reform movement that removed the false gods from all the lower shrines and centralized the worship of the people in the temple of Jerusalem.

The turning back toward their heritage and the promises their ancestors had made in covenant with God strengthened Israel as a nation during those years, but it also infected them with a huge case of "nationalism." They proudly believed that God was on their side and that no evil could befall them. Most of the court prophets preached messages of returning to the good old days of national glory under God and everyone cheered them on. They indulged themselves in blindly believing they were powerful and had a decisive role to play in the political scene of their day. But their cheering for what they wanted to hear drowned out the message that they needed to hear, that God was about to allow their pride to be crushed, and, their people to be carried off into exile so that he could remold them into his people.

Why? What was missing? Afterall, had they not returned to the faith that Moses had established and abandoned the Assyrian and Phoenecian gods? They themselves had read in the scrolls that God had called them out to be his chosen people.

Well, perhaps their professed faith was only a shell and lacked true substance. Perhaps it was merely a front in the hopes of changing their destiny, their future. Their problem was they relied on the strength of their nation instead of relying on what gave their nation strength.

It is a critical distinction to make and balancing is like walking on the blade of a knife. Jeremiah understood it. His many lamentations in the wake of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem declared his recognition of the true source of their previous glory. And, he turned to God in the anguished prayer that we heard today. How fully he knew the iniquities, the apostasies and the sins of the people of Israel, but he also knew that nothing they could do would return them to the life they once had - only God could do that. He said, "Can any idols of the nations bring rain? NO it is you O Lord our God who do all this!" Can these men and women we elect really bring lasting peace? Not on their own. Only through the constant and earnest prayers of everyone in the nation lifting up their dependence and reliance upon God to guide them.

This is the critical distinction we need to make in all aspects of our lives. Who or what is the source of our breath, our ability to think, to move, to make decisions, to learn? Look in the yellow pages of our phone book. I know what I hold in my hands is not the newest edition, but it is still revealing. I counted 180 entries for physicians, 153 entries for lawyers and 239 religious organizations. Statistically this is a very good balance, right? But how many of them team up together to accomplish their goals? How many doctor or attorney's offices have chaplains on staff? How many churches have parish nurses or attorney's available to aid the Christian in his daily walk? When I worked in the 7th Day Adventist Hospital in Ft. Worth Texas, they kept a team of 7 chaplains on duty during the waking hours. One assigned to every floor, one to hospice, one to ER and one to intensive care. They understood the power of prayer that aided the doctors in their care plan.

In the seminary that I attended in Texas, they encouraged many of us to consider corporate chaplaincy. Large companies have begun to recognize that employees work harder and more efficiently and employee relations are better when there is someone available to meet the spiritual and emotional crisis that occur on a daily basis especially in the "all business atmosphere of huge corporations." Few people are able to leave their personal or internal problems at the door when they enter school or work. No matter how we may be encouraged to "get over it," problems remain a force that brews beneath the surface until it erupts in unintended ways. We are seeing it daily in violent outbursts and the amazing numbers of our teens that are involved in self-inflicted pain as a means of dealing with things they cannot get a handle on.

To help us understand the important connection between our spiritual health and our physical, I'd like to tell the tale of Greg Anderson, author of The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness. Greg had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous lung. Four months later, the doctors informed him that the cancer had spread into his lymph system and they gave him about 30 days to live. Desperate, he sought out all kinds of organizations all over the country trying to find those who had managed to live through similar situations to seek the right course of action. The one constant message he received was "forgive." Puzzled he reflected on his life. He began to realize he had been a very critical person unable to extend grace. In fact, three months before his original cancer diagnosis, he and a new controller at work began a series of escalating attacks and recriminations on each other. He discovered that thirty days after his own diagnosis, his enemy was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He began to wonder if there was a link between his toxic behavior and the onset of his illness.

He sat down and started writing out a list of those he needed to forgive and those from whom he would seek forgiveness. He spent many days in this task and finally went to see his adversary from work. "I have come to say I am sorry. I deeply regret the hurt I have caused you." The other man replied, "Greg, I am the one who needs to say I'm sorry. I'm old enough to be your father. Yet I treated you like the outcast son. Please forgive me." Greg today is a wellness crusader and successful author. He identifies these days of hard emotional work as the "absolute turning point" in his physical healing. One of his famous quotes is, "Only one thing has to change for us to know happiness in our lives: where we focus our attention."

While atheists may be pushing harder and harder to force our faith life into the privacy of our homes and our church buildings, we must not be dismayed. Public demonstrations of our faith can be but a shell. It happened to Israel very quickly after a period of time that was originally a sincere revival. Our prayers can go up to God with the blink of an eye, with each and every breath, or every beat of our hearts. It is simply a matter of focusing our attention toward God every minute and not putting our whole faith into our human leaders. Implore God to walk beside you as Jeremiah did and pray diligently for our every need.

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