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Reflections on a message given by Dave Butts at Worthington Christian Church on Sunday, October 23, 2016 (a follow-up message from the Midwest Prayer Conference).

Nearly every believer (and probably most non-believers) in America would agree that the country is in crisis today.  Crisis from the outside at the hands of Islamic terrorists, rogue states like North Korea and reinvigorated rivals like Russia; crisis from the inside on fronts like the economy, social injustice and unrest, and moral decay.

As American believers, we tend to focus on the impact of these crises on us.  We bemoan the gradual loss of freedom of religion, speech, and even thought in the name of "tolerance".  We're concerned about current and potential impacts on the church.  We're outraged over decisions relating to abortion, marriage, and other topics and over the ill treatment of those who take a stand for their beliefs in these areas.  We're worried for our safety in light of terrorism on American soil.

These are all natural reactions to crisis.  They are the result of horizontal thinking, which is our most common mode of thought.  They focus on the earthly, visible realm. 

Isaiah 36-37 tells the story of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, threatening Jerusalem during Hezekiah's reign.  He sent a threatening letter to Sennacherib, pointing out how Assyria had conquered all the nations around Judah and how their gods had failed to protect them.  "Surrender, or you will suffer the same fate they did" was Sennacherib's edict.

Undoubtedly, Hezekiah was concerned for the safety of his people and for the future of Jerusalem and of Judah.  But as he prayed over this crisis, these were not his primary concerns.  After worshiping God for his sovereignty and power, Hezekiah acknowledged that Sennacherib had indeed destroyed all the other nations and thrown their gods into the fire.  But he also knew that their gods were mere wood and stone, and he prayed to the Living God:  "Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God…Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God" (Isaiah 37:17, 20).

Hezekiah's focus in prayer was on God's own glory - both within Judah and in the surrounding nations.  This concern both motivated and dominated Hezekiah's prayer, as it once had the prayer of Moses interceding for Israel after the golden calf episode (Exodus 32:9-14).

I wonder what the church in America would look like if our primary concern were God's glory rather than our own offended sensibilities over moral issues?  Instead of marching on abortion clinics, would we be on our knees, spreading out the text of Roe v. Wade in front of us and imploring God to increase his glory by intervening on behalf of the unborn?  Instead of fretting over ISIS, would we be facedown before our God begging him to show Muslims that he is indeed the only True, Living God?

Certainly we should be concerned over the direction of this country.  But  I think about James' words in James 1:19-20: "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." 

I find myself often going to the indignation place when I see or hear of further stories showing the moral decay of our country.  But I think God is leading me to a different kind of response.  I think he's showing me that anger - even righteous anger - isn't a great starting point for intercession, because it's focused too much on us.  I'm leaning these days more toward grief - grief for the neglect and trampling of God's glory in our country at all levels.  And I'm finding that a better starting point for intercession, because it's focusing my heart and mind more on heavenly things and less on earthly things.

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