Praying for the Nation

Sept. 24, 2016 Dave Butts

Session Transcript

In over twenty-five years of prayer ministry, I have never seen anything happen like what is happening around the world in our day. Whether you know it or not, you’re living in the midst of the greatest prayer movement, as far as we can tell, in the history of the church. More people praying in greater numbers, with greater power than ever before.

I’ve been privileged to serve the last fourteen years as the chairman of the board for the National Day of Prayer in the United States. This year, we saw over 49,000 different prayer events with millions of us gathering to pray.

What’s exciting about that is there are a lot of Christians in other nations who are committing to pray for us here in the United States for which we are so very, very grateful.

This year, we’ve seen so many things happen. I don’t have time to tell those. As we gathered in Washington, D.C. in July in Together ’16 we saw over 300,000 young people gather on our national mall to seek the Lord and to pray.

I just came from Dallas yesterday (I think it was yesterday), and we were there with Tony Evans and The Gathering. It was an extraordinary gathering of Christian leaders and pastors coming together to seek the Lord, to repent. So much of what I saw and experienced there I am seeing here with you. And it’s continuing on.

And I want to tell you, I believe that there’s something that is fueling this. There is a holy desperation that is sweeping across this nation. There’s an awareness that we’re in trouble. There’s a sense of crisis in this nation.

Now, it doesn’t matter where I go. It doesn’t matter who I talk to. Everybody believes we’re in crisis. It does depend on who you talk to as to what the crisis is.

Some people believe that the crisis has to do with international issues, with terrorism and the threat of war. And certainly that’s a very, very real crisis.

For others the crisis has to do with the economy. Trillions of dollars of debt and no real way to pay that back and the fear of economic collapse.

For others the crisis has to do with issues of morality and ethics and the sense of a nation that is increasingly turning its back on God.

For others, the crisis has to do with issues of justice and equality and fairness.

Some of you are going, “Can I vote for all of the above?” Because that’s kind of the sense of what I’m finding with many as we’re seeing that these crises come together in almost a perfect storm in our day.

The good news is we’re beginning to pray about it. You know, here in the United States that has often been the case. In times of crisis we have again and again gone to the Lord in prayer.

Very early on in the years of our nation, our founding fathers discovered that what they had to work together as states was not working well. The Articles of Confederation allowed us to simply have a loose knit association. The states were more like friends than actually one nation.

It wasn’t working well. So we came together in a constitutional convention to form a better framework to work together as a nation. I know this is going to come as a shock to you. But that group of politicians came together and couldn’t agree on anything.

They were getting ready to go home when one morning the oldest delegate to the convention and the man who had perhaps the most unorthodox faith there, eighty-seven-year-old, Benjamin Franklin stood. And he addressed the president of the convention, George Washington with these words:

I have lived, sir, a long time. And the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: That God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can arise without His aid? We’ve been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that except the Lord build, they labor in vain that build. I firmly believe this. And I also believe that without His concurrent aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interest. Our rook today will be confounded. And we, ourselves, shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance to spare an establishing governments by human wisdom. Leave it to war and conquest.

I beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessing on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.

And we continue to this day to have prayers that open our sessions of Congress. Crises continue and so does prayer.

Some eighty years after that, the nation found itself in another great crisis. It was almost unimaginable for us today as north was fighting south. In the midst of this great civil war where over 500,000 Americans were to die, President Abraham Lincoln on March 30, 1863, issued this call to prayer to Congress.

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We’ve been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us. And we have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace. Too proud to pray to the God who made us. It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power; to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Again, and again in times of crisis, we’ve gone to God in times of prayer. And these are simply a few of those who led us before the throne of grace in times of crisis. How will we pray for our nation in this time of crisis?

The principles that I want to share with you today drawn straight from the pages of Scripture most certainly I’m focusing on the United States. But I want you to know that they apply to literally every nation.

I would go beyond that and say that they’ll apply to you as an individual. Anybody here ever have a crisis? Of course you do. You have them; you’re in them; you will be in them. And many of these principles will help us to pray in our own personal crises. But I’m going to focus on how do you pray for our nation.

I’m going to say some things that are tough—some things that might offend you. It’s okay. We’re all leaving here in just a little while. But before I get into what it says in Scripture, can I just tell you something we need to quit doing? We need to quit praying silly prayers.

You know what a silly prayer is? And this is where I might offend some of you. "God bless America." My friends, quit praying that. God’s not going to bless America; not as we are; not right now; not in a nation that has continually turned its back on God, that has literally outlawed Him from the public square; a nation that continues to kill our unborn. We cannot in all integrity ask God—a holy God—to bless that kind of nation.

Now, I believe, I’m praying, that we will see such a move of the Spirit of God touch the heart of this nation that we’ll once again be able to pray such a prayer. But until then, let’s learn how to pray biblically.

I want us to look at a nation that was in serious crisis. It’s the southern nation of Israel. It’s called Judah. It was a time when Hezekiah was the king. The story we’re going to look at is found in Isaiah 37. I’ll be reading in Isaiah 37 beginning in verse 14.

But I want to tell you that before we read this, you need to hear what was happening and what brought about this prayer. Judah was in trouble. They had the first terrorist nation, the Assyrians, camped outside their front gate.

The Assyrians really were the prototype of what it meant to be a terrorist. Terrorists do things that aren’t always logical, but they strike fear into people’s hearts. That’s what the Assyrians did. They were so evil, so cruel to those that they conquered, that sometimes when a city or a nation heard that the Assyrians were coming, they absolutely surrendered before ever fighting and hoped they’d somehow find mercy. That’s what terrorists do.

And now it was little Judah’s turn. Basically, most of the nation was behind the walls of Jerusalem assuming that none of them were going to survive. 300,000 Assyrian soldiers under their King Sennacherib were outside the walls.

Sennacherib, true terrorist that he was, prepared a letter. It was a letter that mocked God; it mocked Hezekiah; it encouraged surrender from the Israelites. Then he had that sent all around the outside wall of the city and proclaimed loudly so that everyone in Jerusalem could hear it and be afraid. That’s what terrorists do.

Then after that had been proclaimed and everyone had heard it, he had that prepared on a scroll, sent it by messenger to King Hezekiah. That’s where this story picks up. Isaiah 37, beginning in verse 14.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers, and read it; then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.  Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God” (vv. 14–18 NIV).

It’s a powerful prayer. And there are principles within this prayer that are so amazingly contemporary. It is almost as though God wrote these for our day because so many of the circumstances are almost identical. We can pull these principles out and we can begin to pray them in powerful effective ways this very day.

I want you to see that before Hezekiah began to pray, he did a couple things. He took the letter, the scroll from Sennacherib, and he read it. Now that may not sound very profound. But remember, he’d already heard it along with everybody else in Jerusalem. He’d already heard what was in the letter. But he took time, once again, to read this. He paid careful attention to what was going on and to the circumstance. He didn’t want to miss anything.

Now, friends, I find a lot of Christians don’t want to pay attention. When it comes right down to it, many times we get a little overwhelmed by all the crises. All the things going on in the world and in our nation, and we reach a certain saturation point where we kind of want to say, “I don’t want to hear anymore. I’ve got my own things. I’ve got my family. I’ve got my friends. I just want to kind of circle the wagons and stay right here. I don’t want to know what’s going on.”

But if you don’t know what’s going on, you don’t know how to pray. You’re not able to see what God is doing and how He is at work in our nation and around the world. Hezekiah becomes a great example of someone who paid attention to what’s happening around him.

One of the ways that I’ve been praying in my own life is that God would make me like the sons of Issachar. Issachar was another one of the twelve tribes of Israel. It was said of them in another place in Scripture that the sons of Issachar understood the times in which they lived and knew what Israel must do.

So, I’ve been praying for that spirit. “Lord, would You make me like those folks from Issachar? That I would understand the time in which I live and then have an idea of how to pray and what to do and what the people of God must do in our day.”

Hezekiah becomes a great example for us of paying attention to what’s going on.

The second thing that I see before he began his prayer is that he immediately before, upon reading that, went to the temple of the Lord.

Now, you and I live in New Testament times. When we want to seek the Lord, we just stop. We just stop where we are, and we pray. But if you live in Old Testament times and you want to seek the Lord, you go somewhere. You go to the temple of God. You go there to seek the Lord.

I find it interesting that in the midst of this great crisis, Hezekiah didn’t call together his counselors. He did not call together his generals. He didn’t try to survey what’s going on here. He immediately began to seek the Lord.

Where do you go in times of crisis? What happens when crisis comes to you? Here’s what I love about Hezekiah. He immediately went to the One who could solve the crisis rather than focusing on the crisis.

See, all too often, even in our prayers, we spend all of our time praying, focusing on our crisis, focusing on our issue, focusing on the problem, and then we wonder why we don’t feel any better when we’re done praying. We’re called to be like Hezekiah. We take the issue to the Lord.

Then he did something very, very interesting. He took that scroll; he unrolled it, and laid it on the table in the temple. And in a sense he does this: “God would You read this? Lord, would You look and see what this guy said about You? Lord, what are You going to do about it?”

He took this to the Lord. He began to seek the Lord, and then he took the issue and he laid it out before the Lord. He did not take a survey, a poll of how everybody felt. He took it to God. And with that, he began to pray.

I want you to see just a couple simple things that you and I can pray in the midst of our crisis.

The first thing that Hezekiah does is he begins by acknowledging God’s power. It is a wonderful opening to a prayer. You have to admit that, don’t you? Listen to this again.

“Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”

Man, that is powerful. He does not start by focusing on the crisis. He focuses on the One who can solve the crisis. He comes into the presence of God. He focuses on who God is. He acknowledges God’s power.

I’m convinced that most of us don’t do that. Now, I’m not pretending to know all of your prayer life and some of you have learned this principle. But over the last twenty-five years, I’ve heard a lot of Christians pray. And I believe that most of us have a tendency to look at the opening part of a prayer as introduction. You know what I mean? Even if we’re reading a biblical prayer.

You know, we read this great prayer, that great way to open: “O, Creator of all things” and we kind of go, “Oh, that’s good. Now, get on with the real thing. Come on, let’s get on to the real prayer.”

You hear people pray that way, and you kind of feel like, “I wonder if they really mean it. ‘O, great and most gracious heavenly Father.’” And sometimes you think that it’s more like saying “Dear God” that we’re not really saying anything or meaning anything.

My friends, I want to tell you the way you begin your prayer may be the most important part of your prayer because as you do so, you are focusing on the One who can deal with this. It isn’t your words. It isn’t simply your authenticity. It’s God Himself that’s going to solve the crisis.

Friend, that’s how Jesus taught us to pray, isn’t it? The disciples came to Jesus one day and they said, “Lord, would You teach us to pray?”

Jesus said, “Sure. I’d be glad to teach you to pray. I’ve prepared a neat little outline for you. And I want you to start off . . .” Okay, this is Dave’s version. “I want you to start off your prayers, guys, by paying attention to who you’re talking to. I want you to start your prayers kind of like this. ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’”

You see, that’s exactly what Hezekiah was doing. Hezekiah was praying like Jesus taught us to pray. Pay attention to who you’re talking to. All too often we come running into prayer with all of our prayer lists and things we want God to do and we don’t stop and think and consider who’s on the other end of this. What’s really happening as I pray?

I find it fascinating that Hezekiah prayed a prayer, began his prayer, the way Jesus taught us to pray. And then I start thinking, Well, of course. Hezekiah was the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather of Jesus on His mother’s side.

And you find that so many of these kings in the godly lineage of David prayed in this powerful way. And Jesus, in a sense, summed it up for us and gave us this instruction. “Here’s how to pray.”

Now, the second thing that I see, after we have begun to acknowledge the One who can deal with the crisis, Hezekiah does a powerful thing that I find most Christians today never ever get to. He recognized that this letter and this attack and these Assyrians out there were in fact assaulting God. That this whole situation was an assault against God.

Now, obviously Hezekiah and the people of Judah were also concerned for their own lives. They understood that their lives were at stake. But Hezekiah did this brilliant thing in which he took the prayer and he made it not about them but about God. He prayed it this way:

“Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule [You] the living God.”

“God, this isn’t about us, ultimately. It’s about You. He’s attacking You.” And you see, it takes all of this request and puts it on a whole different level. It’s no longer about us but it’s about God.

I want to suggest to you—no, I just want to tell you that at least some of the crises that we face as a nation are in fact assaults against God. Let me give you two examples. There are more.

The first deals with what we often call Islamic radicalism or Jihadism. I’m not talking about Islam as a religion. That’s another whole message. All those who are Muslims need to know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Most Muslims want to live peaceful lives and are in fact the ones who are typically in real danger and are often losing their lives with the growth of radical Islam. And though they may a small number percentage wise, there’s still over a hundred million of what we would call radical or Jihadist among Islam.

Now, I would say to you based on their own writings not on what I would tell you. What they would say is that they are absolutely opposed to Christianity and are committed to the destruction to our faith. They’re opposed to our God. They’ve set themselves up against Him.

It’s kind of interesting that one of the negative terms that they would use, that radical Islamic terrorists would use against anyone living in our nation and many other nations in the west is they would call us “Crusaders.” And you go, “Crusaders? The Crusades? Wasn’t that like a long time ago?”

The trouble is, most of us don’t like history. But so often, in other cultures, especially in the Middle East, memories are very, very long. And there is still a battle going on between the Crusaders and Islam in the minds of many.

It is a spiritual battle. There is an assault against our God, against our faith. And our prayer rather than praying against them, needs to be, “Lord, what are You going to do? Lord, what will You do with this attack against You and against who You are?”

Now, the second assault against God is a little harder for us to hear because it’s from inside. Last summer the Supreme Court of the United States decided that they knew better than God how to define marriage.

Listen friends, before I go any further, I want you to hear this. God calls the Church to love. That’s our only option. We are called to love. We are not to be haters. We are not determined by who we are against. We are not to be hating those who are different or who have different desires than others.

But we also take stands for God, for what God has said. The Lord has clearly defined marriage between a man and a woman. And our Supreme Court, the highest court in our land, representing us, like it or not, has declared, “No, God, You did not get it right. We’re going to do it this way.”

And my friends, when that happens, it is an assault on God. It is saying His Word no longer matters in our nation. It’s not a matter of them or us being angry, although I understand being upset. It is a matter of learning how to pray as Hezekiah prayed.

“God, will You open Your ears? Will You keep Your eyes open? Lord, are You hearing what they said about You? Are You hearing how they’re rejecting Your Word?” You see, that’s the biblical way to pray. I’m just calling us to pray what Scripture says—to follow this model of a godly king who saw God move. There’s an assault against God.

Now, there is a small section in here. I won’t take but just a couple of minutes. He acknowledges in the midst of this prayer that the victories of the enemy have indeed happened against these other nations and their gods and their idols. But he kind of does it funny.

In a sense what Hezekiah does is say, “God, You know that part of what Sennacherib said was right. They did defeat all these other nations, and they took their gods and their idols and they threw them into the fire. But God, You and I know those weren’t gods at all. They’d never come up against You. I can’t wait to see what You’re going to do.”

So many times we despair. We look at the situation around us and it seems so big, so out of control. And it is, if you’ve got to solve it or if I’ve got to solve it. Or even the person that we elect as president, it they have to solve it. But if it’s God, be at peace.

Now, we come to the final part of this prayer. Here’s where it gets real good, because here finally Hezekiah gets to the point that we’ve kind of been waiting on.

Deliver us. Deliver us. “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

You know what I love about this? This whole prayer leads up to this simple request. “Deliver us.” You know what Hezekiah did that we so often don’t get? He didn’t tell God how. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty good at telling God how He ought to do things. And you are, too. Come on, admit it, right? Everybody nod. That’s different than nodding off.

We’re pretty good at telling God, “Now, here’s the crisis. And God, here’s what I want You to do to solve the crisis.”

I’ve got to tell you. Hezekiah had no idea what God was going to do. He couldn’t have dreamt of the answer. He just made a simple request. “Deliver us.”

But then he did something really, really powerful. He added on to that deliverance request what my friend Bill Elliff calls “a cry for deliverance with a purified purpose.” He put a purified purpose. “Lord, deliver us. But would You do it in such a way that all the nations of the earth would know that You alone are God.”

You see, he purified the purpose. It wasn’t about Judah. It wasn’t about the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It wasn’t about Hezekiah. It was about God.

He says, “God, I want You to deliver us. But I want you to do it in a way that You’re the One that gets the credit. That nobody is going to think that it was our army or our brilliant strategy or our design or our budget or our plans and all the things that we sometimes get caught up in. God would You do this so that all would know.”

I want to tell you. There are a lot of “so that” prayers in Scripture. My wife, Kim, and I do some writing. We often thought we ought to write a book called “So That Praying” because there are a lot of them. What it always does is someone will make a request then they add the “so that." And the “so that” always takes it and makes it about God.

God, would You do this so that You would receive honor and glory? God, would You do this so that Your kingdom would advance?

You know, you can do that not just for the nation. You can do that in your own life all the time. If I go to a hospital room and pray for someone, I always pray for healing but then I always add on a “so that” prayer.

“Lord, would You heal my sister here so that the doctors and nurses and family would know that You’re the One that did this. Lord, that You would receive increase, honor, and glory because of what You’ve done here in this place.”

You can do that in almost any situation. Hezekiah does that. It’s fascinating that he prays this simple prayer. He has no idea what’s going to happen. He really doesn’t.

You and I get to read the end of the book. You know, we know what happens. But Hezekiah was right in the middle of this and he didn’t know. He didn’t know that he was going to go to bed that night, wake up the next morning and during the night one angel was going to show up and kill 186,000 Assyrians. He didn’t know that.

He didn’t know that the survivors of the Assyrians would high tail it back to Nineveh, to their home city. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know that Sennacherib, when he got back home, was going to end up going into his home temple where two of his sons were waiting on him to assassinate him. Hezekiah didn’t know that. He prayed a simple prayer in the midst of a crisis and God heard.

Now, I want to read one more verse before we’re done, before we pray. That very next verse was one I had not read. Verse 21. But I want you to hear this. I’m just going to read a part of that because the prophet Isaiah gets involved at this point. It says,

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me . . .”

Now, the rest of the chapter goes on to explain all of what I’ve told you that’s going to happen to the Assyrians about the angel showing up and all of these things. He didn’t know that when he prayed it.

But the prophet came and the word of God to Hezekiah, I’ve got to tell you this, is a word of God for you today. “Because you prayed to me, Hezekiah, history has changed. Because you prayed, Hezekiah, nothing will ever be the same again. Because you prayed, I stepped into a hopeless situation and changed everything. It’s because you prayed.”

My friends, the same God of Hezekiah is right here, right now in this room, and He is saying to you the exact same thing. “Because you have prayed, nothing will be the same. Because you prayed I will step into this person’s life and that person’s life. Because you prayed, I’m going to work in that church. Because you prayed, I’m going to change something in the power structure of my city or our nation. Because you prayed.”

It is so easy for us in a nation of 320 million to feel totally, totally helpless. To look at the situations in Washington, D.C. and other places and say, “I’m without power. I can’t do this.” It’s decision makers in Moscow and in London and in Tehran and in Jerusalem and in Washington, D.C. Those are the ones that are important. They’re the ones who are making decisions.”

And God will say, “No. I’m not looking to those places. I’m looking to My people. And because you have prayed I will step in and I will change things.”

Do you believe that? Then it’s time to pray.

Lord, I thank You for Your Word. I thank You that Your Word is not a book like any other book—it’s living. It speaks to us today. I thank You, Lord, that in Your Word You don’t simply tell us to do something without typically showing us how. When the disciples asked You, Lord, how to pray, You said, “Pray like this.”

I thank You for the faith and prayer of this ancient King Hezekiah. Lord, would You show us how to pray? Continue to show us how to pray as he and others prayed in Scripture. Thank You, Lord, for being a God who hears and answers prayer.

I thank You for my sisters in this room who have been so challenged and accepted that challenge to become a people of prayer. I pray for that spirit of grace and supplication to fall upon them that the prophet Zechariah speaks of.

Lord, may that spirit of prayer be upon us, not just here, but goes with us. And we will see something that happens in the church not only in this nation but around the globe that sparks the awakening that we believe is on Your heart that You’re desiring to do to wake up Your people to see Your purposes accomplished and Your name proclaimed throughout the earth.

We pray it in the powerful name of Jesus, amen.

All Scripture is taken from the NIV.