Friday, July 27, 2012

What should leaders pray for?

 How should leaders pray when they look out their windows and all they see are enemies to take them down?

How should leaders pray when they know their people have missed the mark--have refused to follow where God is leading?

How should leaders pray when their people are exiled from their home in God; how should leaders pray who long for the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth?

2 Chronicles 20
The descendants of Lot, the Moabites and Ammonites and a few other tribes banded together against the kingdom of Judah while Jehoshaphat was king. Jehoshaphat was a good king, but when he looked out the window and saw the hostile armies he became afraid.  And here’s how he becomes an example for leaders whose people are surrounded by enemies.

He set himself to seek the Lord; he proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah and gathered people together from all the towns into Jerusalem to pray and seek the Lord together. This is what he said to God:

O Lord, God of our ancestors. Are you not the supreme God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you.  Did you not give this land to us, the descendants of Abraham.  We have lived here and built you a sanctuary, and promised that when disaster, the sword, judgment, pestilence, famine come upon us, we will stand before your house and cry to you in our distress and you will hear and save.  See now, people you protected from us as we left Egypt, kinfolk from ancient days, they reward us by attacking us and driving us out of the land you yourself gave us.  O our God, will you not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

King Jehoshaphat took the lead and spoke to God on his people’s behalf.  He began by celebrating the grandness of God, by reminding himself and his people of God’s omnipotence.  Then he rehearsed their history, which included the promise of the land to Abraham but also all kinds of hardships, some of them judgment for sin, and reminded all of them of the shared commitment to stand together before God, cry to God together, and invite God to hear and save them.  Then they asked God to intervene with justice between them and their enemies, ancient relatives, really, to set things straight.  They admitted their own powerlessness against the enormous threat, their ignorance of what to do next.  They affirmed at the end their faith that God would act.

If you know this story, you know that God responded through a prophet: “Do not be afraid or dismayed before this great threat. The battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow, go down to meet them, take your position, and stand still.  You will see that God wins this battle on your behalf.  Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow stand still before them and the Lord will be with you.”

And then Jehoshaphat led the people in a hymn of praise.  The next day, they did what God said, encouraged by Jehoshaphat, who said, “Believe in the Lord your God and you will be established. Believe the word of God through the prophet. “ They marched toward their enemies singing a song, and when they arrived, they found their enemies had destroyed each other. 

Leaders—and Quaker churches are full of leaders—when things arise that alarm your people and cause them to fear, remember Jehoshaphat.  

Gather together, rehearse the Lord’s faithfulness, make your request and listen to what God tells you. Then sing praise and do what you are told.

But what about when the threat is not external but internal? The people God has called you to lead will not go where God says to go. 

Numbers 14
When the Israelites had journeyed across the wilderness to the promised land, they sent in spies to see what they were up against.  The spies brought back word that the land was lovely and productive, but the inhabitants were giants.  Ten of twelve said there was no hope, and only two counseled going on into the land.  The congregation howled and wept and complained against Moses and Aaron.  “We wish we had died in the wilderness? Why has God brought us here to die by the sword, leaving behind our wives and children?  Let us go back to Egypt.  Better to be a live dog than a dead lion.” The few who wanted to follow God into the promised land were horrified and dismayed.  They pled with the congregation, “Do not rebel against the Lord; do not fear the people of the land. The Lord is with us, do not fear them.” But the congregation threatened to stone Moses and the few with him.

Then the Lord showed up in front of all Israel and said to Moses, “I have had it with this people.  They despise me, they refuse to believe in me, despite all the signs I have done to preserve them.  I will strike them with pestilence and start over with you. You will father a great nation.”

Interesting spot for Moses.  What would you do?  As a leader, what would you do if your followers all wanted to stone you and God said, “I’ll level them and make a fresh start with you.”

Well, here’s what Moses did.  He prayed: Oh Lord, if you destroy this people, the Egyptians will hear of it, and the Canaanites will hear of it.  You have been in the midst of this people, and the surrounding nations know this.  This people has seen you in person, and you led them by day and by night with a miraculous pillar of cloud or fire.  Now if you kill them all, the nations will say it is a failure for you, that you were unable to bring them into the land you promised them.  You will look bad.  So show your power instead by being slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression even though the sin of these people will have effects upon their children for generations. Forgive this people for their faithlessness according to your faithful love, just as you have done all along, from Egypt until now.”

And the Lord replied to Moses, “I do forgive, just as you have asked, but their faithlessness has this consequence.  They themselves will in fact die in the wilderness as they preferred.  They have tested me again and again, they have disobeyed me repeatedly, and they will not enter this land.  Only the few faithful will endure and enter the land I promised these people.

So leaders, when your people cannot believe in God’s ability to bring them through difficulty into the promised rest, what should you do?  Even when you know that God’s will is to move one direction and the people want to go another direction?  Even when they are prepared to get rid of you so that you won’t make them do what they fear to do?

Pray for them.  Intercede with God for them.  Remind God that whether or not people are faithful, God is faithful.  Remind God that underachievers are still his people, that if God abandons them, it will hurt God’s reputation with the onlookers.  Even though you know that their sin may cripple their children for several generations, pray for God to have mercy on them.  

Hard words, aren’t they.  Counter-intuitive.  As Jesus said, Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, How often I have longed to gather you under my wings, but you would not.  And now, you will die in the ruts you preferred to me.

Finally, what if there is not so much a threat, as a sense of being trapped in an alien culture, a sense of exile and homelessness?

Daniel 9
The royal prince, Daniel, was taken into captivity in Babylon.  As was the custom with captured royalty, it is likely he was made a eunuch with no hope for children, and certainly we have no record of him having any family.  Daniel served the Babylonian kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and then the Persian king Darius as advisor and seer.  He was a loyal and faithful minister who rose to the top in both Nebuchadnezzar’s and Darius’s administrations, despite the attempts of others to trap him because of his faithfulness to God. 

The Jews were taken into captivity, and Jeremiah wrote them there and told them to pray for the welfare of Babylon because they would be there 70 years, long enough to have children and grandchildren.  As Daniel got closer to 90 years old, he recognized that the 70 years was winding to an end, and he began to pray and ask God for an answer.  He fasted and wore burlap, and he began his prayer like this.

Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, you keep your covenant and love steadfastly those who love you and keep your commandments.  But we have sinned, done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, and turned aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your prophets to our ancestors, our princes, our kings, and all our people.

The most interesting thing about this, besides the comprehensive list of synonyms for sin, is the use of “we”—we have done this.  Daniel has, in fact, led a faithful and authentic life of dedication to God.  Yet, as a leader, he includes himself in the list of those who have done wrong. 

Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame falls on us, the people of Judah, Jerusalem, Israel, near and far away, dispersed to all the lands where you have driven us because of our treachery against you.  Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you.  We have rebelled against you, we have not obeyed your voice by following the laws you sent us through your prophets.  To you, to the Lord God belong mercy and forgiveness.

All of us have refused to obey you, and the consequences spelled out in the law of Moses, God’s servant, have fallen on us because of our sin against you.  The calamity of removal from our homeland, the city of Jerusalem has come upon us.  The Lord God is right in all he has done, for we disobeyed his voice.  We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity.

And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and great fame even to this day—we have sinned, we have done wickedly.  O Lord, remember your righteous acts and let your anger and wrath, we pray turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain.  Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have disgraced us and our city Jerusalem among all our neighbors.

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleading and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary.  Incline your year, O my God, and hear.  Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. 

We do not plead before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.  O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name. 

And God answered Daniel and sent Gabriel to explain things to him.  And later, under King Cyrus, another messenger came from God.  Do not fear, Daniel greatly beloved.  For from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 

The message they brought Daniel said that God has a plan in history, that God is sovereign, and that Daniel himself will rise for his reward at the end of the days. 

The lesson for leaders is this:
Do we see that our people have been taken captive by a culture that is hostile to the Kingdom of God?  Do we hope for a return to our spiritual homeland?  For Quakers, has our American middle-class culture captured us and taken us into captivity?  Have we moved from praying for the welfare of our nation to participating in its sins and the structures of evil?  Quakers were called Friends because they obeyed Jesus, who said “You are my Friends if you do whatever I tell you to do.” Jesus gave us a unique vision of Christianity that reaches Seekers otherwise unreached.  How have we systematically ignored or violated what Jesus taught and is teaching us?

Let the leaders of the Quakers pray with Daniel.  O, our God, we have missed the mark and strayed from Truth.  We have turned our back on what it means to be Friends of Jesus while we have kept the title.  We have not lived up to the light that is in us.  We have put limits on the Spirit of God. We have become prosperous at the expense of the good news that Christ is present among us.

We share the prejudices of our nation and we let politics divide us and distract us from what is true and right, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save the world, that the will of God is that none should perish but that all should live eternally, that we are to share this good news with our neighbors and introduce them to the Son of God who can explain everything to them. 

We do not plead before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.  O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your people bear your name. 

Please pray for how NWYM Quakers and Quakers as a movement have missed the mark.

There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.

Human souls! why will ye scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep? Foolish hearts! why will ye wander from a love so true and deep?
It is God: His love looks mighty, but is mightier than it seems;
'Tis our Father: and His fondness goes far out beyond our dreams.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word;
And our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.

1 comment:

Robin M. said...

This is very helpful. Thank you.