My National Day of Prayer Speech

Last week, I had the privilege and honor of speaking at the JoyGlobal National Day of Prayer event in Abingdon, VA. Below is a copy of the speech I delivered (as prepared).

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I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to share with you what God has laid on my heart on as we gather on this national day of prayer, seeking God’s wisdom and guidance in challenging times. He has impressed upon me two things.

One: our nation is in crisis. I don’t think I’m shocking anyone here with that statement. More and more every day, our national leaders – and many of our fellow Americans – grow disconnected from God and lead our nation down a treacherous path. Right is wrong, up is down, and some of the worst people in society are in authority over us.

Two. There is no crisis bigger than God. No matter what challenges we face, no matter how immoral our society becomes, no matter how hopeless our situation appears – God never changes. And he—and only he—has the power to revive our nation.

Our job is to let him.

So how do we do that? The answer, of course, is in Scripture, where we find the model for revival of God’s people.

If you compare the history of the Israelites to the history of America, the parallels are overwhelming. God miraculously delivered the Israelites from an oppressive ruler in Egypt – Pharaoh – and into freedom. And he miraculously delivered the American colonists from an oppressive ruler in England and into freedom. It’s impossible to study the revolutionary war and not see the hand of God enabling a ragtag group of farmers to defeat the most powerful military force on the plant. Despite what any secularist may tell you today, God did establish this nation, using his faithful followers to write our Declaration of Independence and Constitution in a way that would secure the blessings of liberty for its people. Just like the Israelites, we were a free nation under God, picking our own leaders to represent us.

But quickly things stared to go south for Israel, and they got stuck in a cycle of blessing and judgment, depending on their collective relationship with God at any given time. It went something like this. When they were connected, humbly worshiping him, following his commands, they were blessed and free. Then they would grow complacent, forgetting his Word and the source of their blessings, worshiping idols, and judgment would come as their enemies would rule over them. Eventually, they would suffer enough and cry out in repentant humility for to God to deliver them. And he would, setting them free and connected to him again. And the cycle would repeat.

So—do you see this cycle playing out in America? I do. I don’t think it takes a lot of imagination to see it. The question then becomes, where are we in the cycle? If you ask me, I would say we’ve disconnected from God and his Word, forgetting where our freedom and blessings come from, have trusted in our own work and understanding, worshiped idols, and are speeding toward judgment.

Now let me read some Scripture to you. Deuteronomy chapter eight. I’m going to read the whole thing, because I think it’s all important. See if you notice anything that can apply to us today.

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.

Is that not exactly where we find ourselves today? God’s words to his people thousands of years ago are screaming to his people again right now.

Now—let me be clear on one critical point. His Word then and now are directed at his people. It’s easy to place the blame for America’s problems on nonbelievers, but I want us to resist that temptation. In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells us not to judge those outside the church, but those inside. Nonbelievers—or the world—do what they do. We should not expect them to yield to the Word of a God they don’t even believe in. We should, however, expect every Christian to yield to that Word.

Otherwise, judgment comes. As it did for Israel, eventually ending up in a brutal exile to foreign lands.

Have you ever noticed that nonbelievers are blessed or cursed by the strength or weakness of believers around them? God promised to spare all of Sodom—a terribly sinful place—if enough righteous people were found. Of course, you know the end of that story. God didn’t find enough righteous, and he torched the entire nation. Now think of Jonah. He was running from God, and the sailors on the ship he was on experienced God’s wrath when he brought the storm to get Jonah’s attention because of his disobedience. And now on the positive side, the entire Western world has been infinitely blessed by freedom when God’s people sacrificed everything to secure it, based on his Word. Atheists enjoy total freedom of thought and expression today because of the sacrifices of the Christians they often love to criticize.

So, with that principle in mind, that a group of people—or a nation—is blessed based on the actions of its believers, where should Christians focus their energy when trying to revive a nation in crisis?

Right. Ourselves. Forget about the world. With three-fourths of America still identifying as Christians, yet most of them behaving no differently from nonbelievers in how they talk, think, act, treat other people, what they watch, eat, the idols they worship, and so on, we have grown completely disconnected from the God who blessed us with this great nation. And just like the Israelites, he is placing us increasingly under rulers who become bolder and more ruthless by the day. Just how far away are we from open oppression? I don’t know. Maybe a ways, but I suspect we’re closer than many people think.

Now, I’m not here to scare you. Christians should not live in fear. So far I’ve focused mostly on my first point, that our nation is in crisis. But now I’m moving to the second—and much better— point, that God is bigger than our crises. And he can revive.

We often make the concept of revival complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. Sometimes we tend to focus too much on what we have to do to bring revival. If we listen to powerful messages, get fired up for God, and try to live better lives, revival will come. But, in the end, that leads only to disappointment. You know why? Because those actions are of our own effort. Revival will never come by human effort. It instead is a result of an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon a people, humbling them, driving them to their knees to cry out in repentance and for his mercy.

We all have things to repent of. If you are in tune with God’s Word, you know exactly what sins you struggle with. I intimately know mine and pray about them every day. And that is key, right? Prayer. Which is fitting, on this national day of prayer.

To illustrate this, go back to the Revolutionary War for a moment. There was no way America could win. The British had all the money, all the men, all the guns, all the power. A bunch of lowly farmers stood no chance. But George Washington was a deeply humble man of faith and prayer, and he prayed his soldiers through miracle after miracle, ultimately defeating the British in the biggest military upset in human history.

But it wasn’t an upset, was it? Because God did the work. He doesn’t need big numbers to deliver a victory. When his people humble themselves and rely completely on him, that is when he shows up and shows off. And he’ll do the same thing with us today.

Let me read to you about a dramatic revival of his people from Scripture. 2 Kings 22:11-20. This is before the exile, but in a time of idol worship and when God has promised that judgment is coming. A new king named Josiah takes over and finds the Book of the Law. This is what happened:

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”

I won’t read the rest, but Josiah goes on to destroy the idols they were worshiping, and the Israelites restore their covenant with God.

It’s so simple. His people had fallen away from his Word, but just upon hearing it again, they humbled themselves in repentance before God, and total revival broke out. Immediately. And God did not bring the judgment he threatened upon that generation.

I believe many Christians today don’t look very different from the world because they have lost connection with God’s Word. Few people study it or know what it says, yet they claim to be Christians.

There’s nothing we can do to force other people—or even ourselves—to be interested in studying God’s word. Again, it is only by his Holy Spirit moving within the hearts of people that will draw them to it. But, on this day of prayer, let us take heart that we can pray for the moving of that Spirit. Again, God doesn’t need big numbers. He will hear the cries of the righteous.

How many righteous people did he say he wanted in order to spare Sodom? Ten. Just ten. We have that many righteous standing right here, right now. Revival starts with us. We must pray continuously for humility in our own lives and for God to pour his Spirit out on this land and drive more people into humble prayer.

And what does that look like? Let me show you the spirit of two prayers from the Old Testament, spoken by Ezra and Nehemiah. This is after the exile when the Israelites wanted to return home and rebuild.

Listen to these selected verses from Ezra 9:

Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed:

“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.

“But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem. …

“What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this. Shall we then break your commands again and intermarry with the peoples who commit such detestable practices? Would you not be angry enough with us to destroy us, leaving us no remnant or survivor? Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

The humility in this prayer is staggering.

And now from Nehemiah 1:

“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

Same thing. With deep humility, Ezra and Nehemiah confess themselves and on behalf of their people and their need for God. We need to do the same. Not just today. Every day. We need to study God’s Word and live according to it by his power, focusing on reviving the church and not the world. And you know what? Then the world might start to want to participate in our revival. The strongest witness you can ever offer to nonbelievers is to live a humble life, according to God’s Word, harnessing his power.

So on this national day of prayer, I take heart that you all came to humble yourselves before God with me, seek his forgiveness and wisdom. And I think about all the other faithful Americans who are doing the same thing across our entire nation today. In cities and towns everywhere, people are gathering, kneeling, bowing, humbling themselves before the Lord, confessing, asking for his guidance, protection, and power. It fills me with hope. Sodom just needed ten. We already have millions.

Revival can come to America. Starting with us. And, like God’s people under Josiah’s reign, we can avoid judgment and return to being a blessed nation, living free under God again.

Let’s pray.

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