As we stand at the crossroads with multiple challenges before us as a nation – politically, economically and spiritually – our greatest need is prayer. But in order to be aroused to what many would see as an extreme measure, we need leaders called “for such as time as this” – men and women who refuse to be intimidated into submission to the current worldview and who recognise the urgency of the hour.
The Bible says: “…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 forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7.14)
But where is the Church, and where are her leaders calling us to pray? We now have the example set by South African Christians who responded to such a call by travelling hundreds of miles across the country to join an estimated 1.7 million people petitioning the God of Israel to intervene in their nation’s desperate problems with corruption at government level spiralling out of control.
The immediate euphoria of the early post-apartheid days, when a rainbow nation swept clean of injustice basked in the new sunshine, are long gone. Instead of godliness taking root for the long-term, a spiritual vacuum was left in the corridors of power, and it is as if the demons of the past have returned with fellow spirits making the last state of the nation worse than the first, as in the teaching of Jesus on the subject in Matthew 12.43-45 when he explained that some cases could only be dealt with by prayer and fasting (Mark 9.29).
In a book written in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London, Oxford vicar Charlie Cleverly likened the church to the position of Queen Esther when called to rescue the Jewish people from destruction in ancient Persia. The author calls for men of courage to rise up and lead us to the foot of the cross, to be prepared to suffer for our Lord as our forbears did when burnt at the stake for bringing us the gospel in our own language.
A mini-version of Foxes Book of Martyrs, The Passion that Shapes Nations (Victor, an imprint of Kingsway) also compares England to the spiritual dilemma described above by Matthew. We were swept clean by martyrs and others who lit a flame for the gospel to be spread throughout the world, but we have since disowned our godly heritage and are now seven times worse off than under the likes of Henry VIII.
Where is the courage that took Paul Hannington to Uganda where he died for his troubles; that took Hudson Taylor to China at great personal cost? Where are those who will stand up to godlessness and compromise in both church and state? We are approaching a crucial election, but God is apparently not on the agenda – a shameful situation for a nation granted the inestimable privilege of spreading the gospel across the globe.
Lib-Dem leader Tim Farron, a declared Christian, has long refused to be drawn on his view of gay sex, but has now finally succumbed to press intimidation by stating that it is not sinful. As Cleverly states in his book, “…the Church today, when faced with homosexuality, hardly dares to mention sin in this context. She is intimidated like Esther into silence.”
The alarm bells are sounding. Preachers are being hounded and even arrested for quoting the Bible, a student has been expelled from Sheffield University for his biblical views on sexuality. Appropriately, the South African prayer gathering was called It’s Time. Surely it’s time to say, as the irrepressible farmer/evangelist Angus Buchan has said, that ‘enough is enough’.
As he addressed the teeming masses gathered on a former Springbok rugby player’s farm, he thundered to the young men present: “You will not sleep with anyone until your wedding night!” Cries of ‘Amen’ echoed across the veldt (I have watched videos sent by friends on the ground).
Need I say more? The great need of the hour is not political debate, but urgent, passionate prayer. God’s people, and especially church leaders, need to humble themselves and pray and seek the face of the Lord for the healing of our nation.
The Old Testament refers to the “men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12.32) and the prophet Hosea calls us to break up our unploughed ground – “for it is time to seek the Lord” (Hosea 10.12).
As Charlie Cleverly put it, Esther understood “that the destiny of nations is not in the hands of politicians but in the hands of the people of God who pray”.
He adds: “I believe the Church is under threat as in the days of Esther and she needs to awaken to a coherent strategy.”
As John Knox called out, “Give me Scotland or I die”, where are those crying out in the wilderness: “Give me England or I die”?
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com