Of course, any true Christian revival will be built upon a foundation of prayer. The Third Great Awakening began with a businessman in Manhattan who started noontime prayer meetings that eventually swelled to 10,000 people in New York City and then spread across the country. In the New Testament, James says that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
But does God promise to heal America if we pray?
“…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” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Every self-respecting, patriotic Christian can recite the verse from memory and many claim it as a direct promise of God to the United States in the year 2013 without really giving much thought to the context of the promise or to whom it was given.
In 2 Chronicles 7, we find the Israelites, led by King Solomon, dedicating the temple they just built. Solomon asks God to fulfill his promise that a descendant of David would always sit on the throne of Israel. God responds by warning Israel of the consequences of disobedience—telling them what the results will be when they turn from him (‘when’ … not ‘if’). Read it in context:
“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 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 was a specific promise given to King Solomon and the physical nation of Israel.
Pastor Mark Dever, in The Message of the Old Testament, said:
“You will often find this verse reprinted next to an American flag, evidently flapping in the breeze of destiny … But God’s promise here is made in the context of his special people. If you read elsewhere in … the Old Testament generally, you find that this was how God referred to the nation of Israel. While America has been privileged with liberty and prosperity, we are not the chosen people of God, Israel, ruled by David’s line, preparing for the Messiah.”
1 Peter 2:9 describes Christians this way: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…” But as I discussed in my piece on America not being a Christian nation, Christians are not tied to a specific physical country. The “holy nation” is the universal Christian church spread across many nations around the world—not the Most Holy United States of America. Dever says that Christians have no physical “land” to be healed because God’s people are international rather than belonging to a chosen nation.
So because this promise was made to the nation of Israel, does that mean it has no application for modern Christians and the church today?
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). All. Every last word is profitable.
In his book Can God Bless America? John MacArthur explains that
“Christians in America must lead the way back to God. We must confess our guilt, revive our consciences, turn from our sin, and turn to God. Then we must boldly proclaim the way of blessing to those who do not know Christ. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8).
The 2 Chronicles promise isn’t a formulaic direct line to God’s immediate happy blessings or a Jesus-shaped good luck charm. Rather, it gives us a pattern of repentance, turning from sin, and seeking God that is true for all times and for all people. If every Christian in every church in America does these things, God may indeed, in his mercy, “heal” our land and send a revival. But we need only look at the devout, faithful Christians living under oppressive regimes in the early church in Rome and the modern churches in China and N. Korea to understand that God does not always protect Christians from adversity or terrible persecution. God doesn’t always heal the land, no matter the fervor and devotion of the churches and Christians in them.
In Why Government Can’t Save You, MacArthur says that reforming society isn’t to be the Christian’s top priority.
“The church will really change society for the better only when individual believers make their chief concern their own spiritual maturity, which means living in a way that honors God’s commands and glorifies His name. Such a concern inherently includes a firm grasp on Scripture and an understanding that its primary mandate to us is to know Christ and proclaim His gospel. A godly attitude coupled with godly living makes the saving message of the gospel credible to the unsaved. If we claim to be saved but still convey proud, unloving attitudes toward the lost, our preaching and teaching—no matter how doctrinally orthodox or politically savvy and persuasive—will be ignored or rejected.”
2 Chronicles 7:14 is indeed relevant for today’s Christians, but not as a call for our nation—in the generic sense—to repent and ask God to heal our land. It is relevant for God’s people—individual Christians and churches from every tribe and tongue and nation to repent and acknowledge their total dependence on God. The blessings that will follow are the fruit of the Spirit lived out in the lives of Christians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). That’s where true healing would begin in our land.