Praying for our Nation
Praying for Our Nation (Amos 7:1-9; 8:1-2)
Our great national holiday ought to raise the question, "What can I do for my country?" Christians should vote, pay taxes, and serve. But what is the unique contribution of Christians to the nation? Amos would say, "Plead with God to forgive and cease from judgment." Christians should pray for those in governmental authority (1 Tim. 2:2). Beyond that Christians may see the looming possibility of God's judgment and plead with Him to forgive and stop.
Amos was a rural shepherd who lived in isolation. He was a layman, not a priest or a figure of the religious establishment. God showed Amos His intent to judge finally and absolutely the ten northern tribes of Israel. Amos begged God to forgive and cease. Because of one layman's prayer God averted judgment. Today we, too, may beg God to relent from judging our nation. What is the nature and content of such prayer?
How Should We Pray for Our Nation?
Such prayer begins when we see what others do not see.—God always takes some of His own into His inner counsel so they can see and hear what is hidden to others. God caused Amos to see two disasters before they happened. He saw a plague of locusts being formed in a larval stage. Such a plague was the unstoppable agricultural disaster in the ancient world. Amos also saw a "judgment by fire" (v. 4), something like a flash fire that scorched the earth and even the hidden springs beneath.
Amos saw clearly the threats to the nation. Do we? Does our church live with any sense that we are a nation under threat? Or would we rather not see that? God needs a few who live with the discomfort of seeing the threat. This means we must get beyond rush, hurry, and superficiality.
Intercession continues as we understand the crisis.—Amos saw that national survival was threatened. A ravenous, dreadful plague of locusts destroyed the nation's food supply. Locusts ate all herbage—seeds, vines, and fruits. That meant total oblivion. A flash fire of drought only doubled the crisis. For the deep artesian sources of water to disappear meant extinction. Is there any reason to believe America faces an unprecedented crisis for survival? God may show this to some of us and call us to intercede.
Intercession for the nation often comes at the most critical moment. — Amos prayed as the locust plague was coming to devour the second crop of grain. The king got the first harvest of the year for himself. After the latter rain in April the farmer got the second harvest of seed grain, food, and hay. Following that there were six months of absolute drought with no hope for harvest. To lose the second harvest was to lose all. Amos prayed at the most critical moment for God to forstall judgment.
You may know this for certain. Some day some generation of praying American Christians will plead with God before the final crisis. Who knows when that generation will pray?
What Should We Pray for Our Nation?
Intercession comes with the appropriate attitude: "Sovereign Lord" (vv. 2, 5). When we plead with God for national survival we are dealing with the supreme sovereign, exalted potentate of all, the one who has always disposed of the nations of the world and their rulers. When we beg for the nation we come with an unusual sense of God's awesome lordship over history. At the same time, we come on the basis of our own personal relationship to God. The Hebrew text says, "My God." When we pray for the nation we hold in tension the loftiness of God and our own personal relationship with Him.
Intercession comes with appropriate content.—It simply represents our "requests" to God. Amos prayed for God to forgive, to cleanse the people even in the absence of their repentance. When Amos saw the judgment by fire he simply called out for God to cease, to stop.
Our prayers for the nation do not have to be lengthy, but they should be intense. Jesus raised Lazarus with a few words. Our prayers should give a reason for God to cease judgment. "How can Jacob survive? He is so small!" (vv. 2, 5). We should plead with God on the basis of hopelessness, helplessness, littleness, the inability to recover that characterizes a people under His judgment. We seldom go wrong pleading with God for His compassion.
It helps us plead with God not to judge when we think in terms of individuals. It is easier to pray for "Jacob" than for the nation "Israel." When you plead for the nation think of your own friends, family, and neighbors being spared from national judgment.
How Does God Respond to Our Intercession?
God may relent from what He actually intended to do. —This is a mystery, but nonetheless a reality. God does relent (vv. 3, 6). The word means a change in mind because God is deeply moved. God turns away from an earlier decision because our appeal matters. The word actually suggests someone who sighs deeply or groans while changing the mind. The God of the Bible is not an inflexible machine. He personally responds in a dynamic dialogue with those who pray. The word simply reveals this too often to ignore. When Abraham pleaded for Sodom, God changed His mind (Gen. 18:22-32). When Moses prayed for the survival of Israel after their decision at Kadesh-Barnea, God changed His mind (Num. 14:11-20). In the days of Jeremiah, God stated as a principle that He may change His purpose for a nation from good to evil or evil to good (Jer. 18:1-10). God changed His intent to destroy the city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:10). God may change His intent when we pray for Him to do so. He is not a rigid, cold, calculating computer.
There comes a time when God cannot relent.— Amos saw a vision of God holding a plumb line (vv. 7-8). In this vision God asks Amos what the prophet sees. The prophet confesses a single word, "plumb line." This indicates that God has taken the final measure of the nation and will no longer bypass judgment. The same thing is indicated by a division of a basket of summer fruit (8:1-2). The nation is now ripe for the judgment of God. There is a time to intercede. But there is also a time when intercession is too late.
God has never told anyone as a matter of record to stop interceding for America. We are still living in the days of God's mercy. It is a sobering thing to recognize that Israel as a nation lasted from 922 to 722 B.C., 200 years. God has given us more time than that. We, His people, should make the national holiday a time of intercession.