The Challenge of 2 Chronicles 7:14

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)

There are some prerequisites here:

  • We need to be a people who are called by His name
  • We need to humble ourselves
  • We need to pray
  • We need to seek His face
  • We need to turn from our wicked ways

All these steps are necessary, and can only happen in this order. It is so easy to think that we are called by His name. I mean, how many people are out there calling themselves Christians (to whatever extent), saying they believe in God. But it is God “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

Yet even when we are sure of our calling, we need to humble ourselves. Being humble provides us with a set of character traits or attributes which will put us in a position in the world in which we can show the love of God through our good works and sincerity of heart. Secondly, being humble is not an end goal to be achieved, but a starting point to obtain from which all our transformation into Christ-likeness happens. Strangely enough a great book to study humility is James. I did this once, and it was really amazing.

When studying the book of James on the theme of humility my aim was to go through each verse and see if the character of humility was to be found in there. The main two distinctions is what character humility will produce, and what humility will give us. Humility is being patient (James 1:4, James 5:7-8, James 5:11), being self-controlled (James 1:19-20; 3:2), being content (James 4:1-3), being receptive to the Word (James 1:21), being repentant (James 4:8-9), being submissive (James 4:15), and being self-sacrificial (James 5:4-5). Humility will give us glory (James 1:9-10; 4:10), will give us grace (James 4:6), will give us rewards for work (James 1:25), and will give us spiritual healing (James 5:16). For each of the above, we at least need to find the humility to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13).

Our humility should (and maybe can only) drive us to our knees, to pray. The reason prayer has such great potential for changing things is God. And the reason prayer is surrounded by such difficult problems is God. If it weren’t for the power of God over natural process and over the human will, there would be no hope in praying for change in the world or in people. And it is that very same power and prerogative of God that creates the problems we stumble over in prayer. This is what Spurgeon said:

“It is our full belief that God has foreknown and predestinated everything that happeneth in heaven above or in the earth beneath, and that the foreknown station of a reed by the river is as fixed as the station of a king, and “the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses.” Predestination embraceth the great and the little, and reacheth unto all things; the question is, wherefore pray? Might it not as logically be asked wherefore breathe, eat, move, or do anything? We have an answer which satisfies us, namely, that our prayers are in the predestination, and that God has as much ordained His people’s prayers as anything else, and when we pray we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts. Destiny decrees that I should pray — I pray; destiny decrees that I shall be answered, and the answer comes to me.”

And prayer is hard work! “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). The Greek word used here for “devote yourselves” is “proskartereō” and means to “to be devoted, steadfastly attentive, persevere, constant readiness, be strong”. Wow, to be devoted to prayer means to be constant ready, to be steadfastly attentive. Prayer is hard work. I never considered prayer to be hard work. I mean, do you ever need to take a shower after you’re done praying because you sweat so much of the hard work? I don’t! The other verse is “Epaphras… always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). The Greek word for “laboring earnestly” is “agonizomai” meaning “to contend with adversaries, fight, to endeavour with strenuous zeal”. So it’s not only hard work, it’s a fight.

But not only pray, but also seek His face. The Bible talks about this in a number of verses:

  • Jehoshaphat sought God’s face on the eve of a great battle (2 Chronicles 20:2-4);
  • We are commanded to seek His face (Psalm 24:5-6; 27:7-9; 105:4; Hosea 5:15)
  • We receive justice through it (Proverbs 29:26)
  • Daniel sought His face in his prayer about the 70 weeks (Daniel 9:3)

Turning towards God, seeking His face, means being confronted with His glory. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are being transformed – progressively, degree by degree – into the image of Christ the Lord. This work of transformation is a process. We are becoming like Christ. We are growing in our capacity to show Christ by being like Christ. That is God’s will for us. That we be progressively be conformed to the image of Christ. When we behold the glory of God we see the face of Jesus Christ, and it transforms! God’s life in us is started or brought into existence and our human heart life, love, thoughts and power is replaced by God’s supernatural life, love, thoughts and power. It cannot be that we are beholding the glory of God and are not being transformed. Yes, we have our own willpower, but “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) must have as a result that we turn from our wicked ways…

And the result? God will listen, and respond. Isn’t that amazing!

Consider This!

Lately I am getting more and more excited about Scripture memorization. Well, not only excited, but I am actually doing it. I will leave it in the middle for now what I am memorizing because I do not want to boast, but I was having a discussion last Sunday with a friend of mine on this topic, which resulted in this post.

Have you ever considered how much Scripture the Pharisees ever memorized? You can say a lot about their character and conduct, but they must serve as an example with regards to their zealous and almost fanatical dedication and discipline to Scripture memorization. Granted, the heart must be there as well, but still. Let me start by giving you an overview of their educational system, and then baffle you with some statistics I figured out.

The Jews in Jesus’ day had three levels of education, which was most likely instituted by Ezra after the exile in order to teach the people the Scriptures again. The first level was called ‘Bet Sefer’. At the ages of six through twelve, the Jewish boys and girls would begin their education in the synagogue school, learning how to read and write. The textbook was the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the goal was to memorize the sacred text. The Babylonian Talmud Baba Bathra 21a:6 says, “Before the age of six do not accept pupils; from that age you can accept them, and stuff them with Torah like an ox.” Incredible, isn’t it! Can you imagine having memorized the Torah by the age of twelve?! This level is concluded with a Bar Mitzvah for the boy, to welcome him into the community as a full member. This was also the age from which they were allowed to read the Torah out loud in the synagogue during services.

The next level was the ‘Bet Midrash’. This was only for the best of the best. I would assume for those who indeed memorized the Torah. This level was from age thirteen to fifteen, where they continued studying and memorizing the entire Tanach (in other words, the complete Old Testament). Very few were selected for this pursuit.

The final level was the ‘Bet Talmud’, which was the longest in duration as it went from the age of 15 to 30. To participate, he must be invited by a Rabbi and, if selected, he would begin a process of grooming that would lead to the potential of becoming a Rabbi at age 30. Those who were chosen were referred to as Talmidim. They would literally follow in the dust of their rabbi – desiring to emulate him in all of his mannerisms. They would eat the same food in exactly the same way as their rabbi. They would go to sleep and awake the same way as their rabbi and, more importantly, they would learn to study Torah and understand God the exact same way as their rabbi.

I could say a lot more about this and how this reflects on Jesus and His disciples, but the goal of this post was not to dive into the Jewish educational system, but to consider Scripture memorization. As I mentioned at the first level they learn and memorize the Torah by the age of 12. Just to give you an idea: that’s 187 chapters, or 5852 verses or 156,058 words. Just to give you the equivalent from a New Testament perspective, that is in terms of chapters, memorizing from Matthew until 1 Thessalonians including; in terms of verses it’s roughly memorizing from Matthew until 2 Corinthians including; and in terms of words (which is probably the most accurate measuring method) it’s roughly memorizing from Matthew until more than half of Hebrews. Can you imagine!! And that at the age of 12!!!

Let’s do the math: 6 years = 72 months = 312 weeks = 2184 days. Thus, memorizing the Torah (which is 5852 verses) is roughly 3 verses per day (2.68 to be exact). I don’t even want to know what that would mean memorizing the remainder of the Old Testament in only 3 years.

Now, I am not saying that we should all memorize the Torah, but there are definitely advantages to memorizing complete books of the Bible. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” and “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Also, with memorizing verses there is a lesser likelihood of taking verses out of context or missing the flow of argumentation. For example, for any verse starting with “therefore…” you would need to know what preceded this verse in order for it to make sense.

Let’s make it practical. Let’s say you aim for memorizing one verse per day and you would only focus on the New Testament, then this would mean that within 2 weeks you could memorize 2 John or 3 John, but you may find these maybe not the most attractive books to start with. But doing Philemon or Jude in 4 weeks sounds like a good option, because these are great letters. Or think about memorizing Ephesians in only 6 months. Another great option is of course memorizing some psalms. There are 150, varying in length between 2 verses (Psalm 117) and 176 verses (Psalm 119), but the average length is about 16 verses, which means that on average a psalm can be memorized in two weeks.

My advice is this: don’t be overwhelmed by memorizing Scripture. Take it slow, pick something that appeals to both the mind and the heart, and just do it! All you need is a decision, a plan to memorize and refresh, and accountability. Take baby steps, and before you know it you have memorized a psalm, a chapter, or a complete letter or book. Once you start training your mind to hold the information you will get better at it and will be able to memorize more verses a day.

Now, why is this so important? “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11). Don’t we all want to sin less?! I know I do! Less sinning means giving more glory to God, which means more and more the object of our worship will be God, and that is what He desires and delights in.

The Prayers of Paul #2 – To the Romans

Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.” (Romans 10:1-4)

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27)