Back in the dark ages when I was a freshman youth worker with the Anglican Church in regional NSW I dreamed up a combined activity for the youth groups of the city. No it wasn’t a regressive dinner or a chalk chase with a difference. It was the idea that all the youth groups of the city could come together once a term and pray for the city. I had grown up in the day when youth was all about attracting kids to crazy activities but God seemed to be doing something different in the youth groups around town. So we gave it a shot.
To my amazement most youth groups came along. It was incredible. There were hundreds of kids packed into our tiny hall praying with a passion like their lives depended on it. Not just young people praying but leading us adult leaders in prayer. As I reflect on those early days in youth ministry it remains one of my enduring highlights. It was hard to finish the night as the young people wouldn’t stop praying but finally things died down and everyone left with a new enthusiasm for what God might do in our city.
Not everybody however was happy with our gathering. Nobody would say anything directly to me but there was a sense that some youth leaders weren’t happy so they encouraged their youth groups not to attend. I would hear comments of discontent through the back channels. There was a gnawing feeling that I had transgressed that I couldn’t quite get a handle on.
The whole event had been inspired by a video series that was doing the rounds at the time. It was called “Transformations” and focussed on 8 locations around the world where churches had come together in united fervent prayer and seen God answer in some extraordinary ways. The whole “Transformations” movement centred around the core idea of 2 Chronicles 7:14 which said “ if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” So in keeping with the theme of the verse we called the night “7:14” and kicked off right on 7:14pm (not sure if we started in on the 14th of July for our northern hemisphere friends). And that seemed to be where the problem lay.
Sometime later I received a letter from my Bishop. I had been discussing with him an international prayer movement that I was involved with and he had reviewed a book for me that was at the core of this prayer movement. As I read his critique he moved in on the idea of using 2 Chronicles 7:14 in our setting. His critique was simply that we were using this verse out of context. This was my pre Master of Divinity days so the full weight of what that meant was a little lost on me but I knew it wasn’t great. What hit me however was that it seemed that the context word was all that was needed to invalidate everything around the prayer movement. It was the QED of the equation. It was the trump card of the 500 game. It was the landing on Mayfair with a hotel on it.
The dilemma I faced was that I was witnessing great things happening in the youth of my city but I was theologically hanging out on a limb. What was I to do with this context thing? It felt like I had 3 places I could go. I could say that context didn’t matter. The idea that the Holy Spirit can reinterpret scripture away from the cultural historical setting and give it new meaning in a new era sounded very appealing. There are plenty of Christian movements that do this. However, I was interested in citywide unity so sticking with “7:14” could have a dis-unifying effect.
I could settle with context as king. That is, there was no other way to understand the passage except as applying to Solomon and the dedication of the temple. Theologically I would have many peers with me.
However, discounting this verse never seemed that straight forward to me. It seemed like one of the only places where humble prayer, repentance and God moving as a response came together in a beautiful thematically crisp way. So I find it helpful to think about this verse in the context of the character of God and the rest of scripture before I write off 7:14 as a valid short sharp hanger for all things prayer and revival. I think about the New Testament context of God desiring humility, God desiring his people to gather, God desiring prayer, God desiring repentance and his character being that of restoration and then I lean towards 7:14 as being Ok for today. And as long as I’m not too linear or prescriptive around what “healing the land” looks like outside of a land covenantal context then I’ve warmed to the idea.
J. Edwin Orr discusses this type of prayer in his renowned 1976 sermon. He describes what happens when God’s people come together in a 7:14 way.
Trinity Episcopal Church in Chicago had a hundred and twenty-one members in 1857; fourteen hundred in 1860. That was typical of the churches. More than a million people were converted to God in one year out of a population of thirty million. Then that same revival jumped the Atlantic, appeared in Ulster, Scotland and Wales, then England, parts of Europe, South Africa and South India anywhere there was an evangelical cause. It sent mission pioneers to many countries. Effects were felt for forty years. Having begun in a movement of prayer, it was sustained by a movement of prayer
So Why not 7:14? Why not a movement where God’s people put on the backburner fine nuance around context and see the bigger themes. Bigger themes that are echoed throughout scripture and hallmarks of where every revival has exploded.
Why not 7:14 here? Why not 7:14 now?