On The Brink of Crisis: A Call To Prayer
Dr. Henry T. Blackaby
If we don't understand how we need to repent, how in the world does the nation stand a chance of survival?
Keynote Address at the National Day of Prayer event in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on Thursday, May 6, 2004
This is a very, very incredible time for our nation and for us to be able to take a moment, look into God's word and let God focus our hearts on what's on His heart. So often times of prayer can be very self-centered and "we"-centered, but prayer was designed -- not to change the heart of God toward us -- prayer was designed for God to change our heart toward His heart. And in His presence, He's the only one who needs to speak, and when He does, He lets us know what's on His heart and His mind.
I prayed much about this time with you, and I know that God's people across the nation will be praying, but I felt in my own heart somehow I need to see this critical moment in the life of our nation from God's perspective, and so my theme for you, and we'll look at the scripture and hear what God has to say, when God sets a watchman on the walls of a nation, what's on the heart of God?
God never sets watchmen on the walls of a nation unless it's in a critical moment in its history. And as I look into the scripture, there are several passages where God announced to His people, "I have set watchmen on your walls." And one of these is found in Jeremiah Chap. 6 and verse 17: "I set watchmen over you saying 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet'."
When God sets watchmen on the walls of a nation, God knows there's impending danger. The enemy is coming. And the watchman was designed to watch carefully, night and day. And whatever they saw they were to announce, so that God's people would know how to respond. Now I need to drop into your thinking what God says from Isaiah ch 62 because in that passage God announces what the watchmen are supposed to do. He says, "I have set watchemen on your walls" and here in the scripture it says "I've set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem." What if God were saying -- and I believe He is -- "I've set watchmen on your walls, O America"? Now I could ask you, "Do you know where they are?" Do you know how to identify the spiritual watchmen that have been set on the walls of America?
Because you need to hear when the trumpet blows. Or you need to hear what they're saying. But listen to what he says as to why He put the watchmen on the walls. He said "I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem. They shall never hold their peace, night or day."
In other words, a watchman is on a 24-hour alert, and whatever they see and whatever they hear, they're to immediately let the people of God know. And they can do it in the middle of the night. They can do it in the daytime. But the watchman that God assigns to the walls of the nation are first hearing from Him. And then what He announces to them, they watch to see what God is doing next.
Now you understand that God set watchmen on the walls of Israel because their sin had reached a point in the mind and heart of God that he - God - was going to send an enemy against them and destroy them. There was a point when Israel refused to repent. And when God blows the trumpet and calls for repentance onthe part of His people, if His people simply say, "Lord, what do we need to repent of?" it means they're a long ways away from God. And God would say, "If you don't even know what to repent of, you've not been listening."
You see, America is the result of the condition of God's people. We hold the condition of the nation in our hands. And when God brought judgment on Israel, it was God's people who never recognized that they had departed from the heart of God. They no longer heard the voice of God. And they'd turned away from God. And they would not return.
So He set spiritual watchmen on the walls of the nation and they did blow the trumpet. The prophets spoke out but God's people killed the prophets. There's one way to stop hearing from God, and that's to kill the messenger. Don't listen to the messenger. And then He came to Jerusalem and Judah and He again sent prophets, but the people never heard.
Now I want you to hear it carefully, because our generation is no different than theirs. When God sounds a spiritual trumpet in the land, would you recognize that He was doing it? Do you not already hear the warnings of God? DO you not already hear that the enemy is coming in like a flood? And God is trying to raise up a standard against it, and you and I are the standard.
And Jerusalem and Judah never heard either, and God destroyed them. And then God said, "I'll send My Son. Surely they will hear Him." And he became God's spiritual watchman. And when He spoke, He spoke a warning from God. Do you remember the very first message that the Son of God preached to God's people? "Repent." We forget that. If the Lord Jesus stood in this arena here tonight, do you know what His first word would be to you and to me? "Repent."
But the average child of God in our day would cry back to God: "Wherein do I need to repent?" Folks, if we don't understand how we need to repent, how in the world does the nation stand a chance of survival? And God is trying to say to US: "YOU need to stand before Me and let me tell you what I see and what I hear. And then when I tell you what I see and what I hear among God's people here in America..." then we need immediately to turn around from the way we've been going and return to Him.
Now listen to what God intended for the spiritual watchman that HE sets on the walls of a nation. "I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem. These shall never hold their peace day or night. You who remember the Lord do not keep silent, and give him no rest until he establishes -- until he makes Jerusalem -- a praise in the earth." Could we not apply that on this National Day of Prayer? To see this moment from God's perspective. He's setting in the midst of our nation spiritual watchmen. Some might call them intercessors. But let me suggest something to you: God is the only one who can set watchmen. He assigns them. He never asks for volunteers. I directed for many many years the office of prayer, revival and spiritual awakening. On the front burner of my life is revival in America and across our world. God has let me move in significant circles of the top Christian CEOs of America, and He has recently dropped me into the United Nations and into Washington with the ambassadors around the world, and somehow I find myself trembling, because when I go alone with God I hear from His heart. And God says, "What you've heard, I want you to go out and tell My people. And many of these ambassadors are Christians. And I've had the privilege of sitting with them and watching them weep over their countries, especially in Africa.
And it is as if God said, "Henry, I gave you a word for them. You need to tell them what's on My heart." And this past year, God took me to an incredible place. In First Samuel 2:35 I want you to listen to it carefully. But I want you to put your life along side of it to see if in any way God might be calling YOU to spend a special time in the presence of God to hear from the heart of God, and hurry and talk to the people of God. In that verse, things were at their worst. 400 years of the judges, the worst time in the history of God's people. And suddenly, God announces, "I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to all that's on My heart and My mind." In other words, God couldn't find anybody who would stay long enough in the presence of God so they could know what's on the heart of God. Let me ask you about your time in the presence of God. Do you know what God is saying about the nation? Do you know how close we are to judgment, or blessing? Let me read a passage, because I believe that God's people no longer believe ... no longer believe ... that God gives His people two choices. We believe that God gives us just one choice. We believe that God is saying, "I will bless you."
Let me ask you: Have you ever heard someone say, "O God, will you bless us if we deserve it, and will you curse us if we don't."? When was the last time that you heard that kind of a prayer? We better pray it, because if we ask God to bless us when we don't deserve it, then we're headed straight for judgment and we'll not even know what took place. So let me read from the last part of Deut. chapter 30. Listen carefully. This is why God sets watchmen on the walls of a nation. In this chapter, the last two verses, He says:
I call heaven and earth to witness today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life .... choose life .... that both you and your children may live. That you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life.
I believe that God is saying to America: "I set before you today life and blessing, death and cursing. If you obey Me ... if you return to Me ... if you take Me seriously ... then you will live. But if you don't, you will die. I believe that God makes no exceptions, plays no favorites. And if you have any sensitivity to what's happening in America today, you would tremble, because God has never allowed a nation who had so much of the blessing of God and turned aside from it so thoroughly ever to survive. And I believe that we're standing on the edge of the future of the nation. And I believe that God's people hold the key to the future of the nation.
On this day of prayer we stand in the presence of God. We ask Him, "Watchman? What of the night? What's happening? Lord, what's happening? What's on Your agenda? How do we ensure the future?" And God would say as He did through His own Son: "Repent! And return to Me, or I will judge you."
I believe that the message to our nation on this national day of prayer is one of the most serious we have ever faced. I believe that America is going to decide what kind of a nation it's going to be before the year is out. We're in a cultural war. It is one that is incredibly serious. I've listened to a number of Senators as they spoke to us, a group, in Washington DC. And they said, "This year, America's going to decide what kind of a nation it will be."
Now, you and I have incredible potential for deciding the future of America. But we cannot do it 'business as usual.' Whatever we have been doing has brought our nation to the edge of destruction. Don't continue doing the same thing. Your prayer life and mine ought to be seen by our children and they ought to be seen in the life of the church, and in the life of the community, as a people who believe that we stand on the edge of the future, and that we decide that. I know that I have taken very seriously how my children respond to what they see in my relationship to God. Do they see a sense of urgency? Let me ask you, if your children were to watch you for an entire month, would they say that your primary concern is to be successful and to make money? Or would they see as the primary concern of your life a deep grief over the sin of America? And that you have changed your prayer time, and you get up much earlier now. And if your children were to come downstairs at four in the morning they would see you weeping. Or do they look at your life and say, "at least Dad and Mom have no concern for the nation or where we're at."
What about your grandchildren? I have ... WE have ... four boys and a girl. All four boys have felt called to pastor. Our daughter is a career missionary in Germany, and our oldest two grandsons have already felt the call of God into ministry. When I realized that God had given me children, my prayer was, "Oh God - help me to live before my children in such a way that they would choose to want to serve the God they saw their Dad serve." And God answered that prayer. But let me suggest to you not one of us here tonight ought to take lightly how our children are reading the urgency and the depth of grief in our heart concerning the condition of the nation. And on this national day of prayer, it would be my prayer that we would make a fresh commitment that if God should so assign us, we would be assigned by God to be spiritual watchmen on the walls of the nation. For you see, we tonight will determine the future of the nation. There are enough of us here in this one place that if we heard our Lord cry out to us in the same way that He cried out to His disciples in Gethsemane, "Watch! And PRAY! Lest you enter into a time of temptation or testing."
Now, many of us understand what it means to pray. But very few have I observed know what it means to watch. A watchman is one who reads the signs from the heart of God and the society in which they live, and they make the connection between the urgency in the heart of God and what He sees and what He understands, and rearranges our life. My prayer would be that as we come out of this time, that there will be a greater sense of urgency on your heart. There would be a greater sense of a return to the presence of God to be an intercessor on God's assignment. That you WILL pray for the President.
I was one of the founding persons thinking together, praying together in the institution of "Pray for the President." I'm a part of the major prayer movements across the land, but folks, I'm there by choice. I could be doing a thousand other things, but God has said, "I want to assign you to be a spiritual watchman on the walls of the nation. And I want you to look at whatever you see and whatever you hear in My presence, and then with me, out across the nation, hurry and tell the people of God. Blow the trumpet in Zion."
So I come to you tonight and say, Our nation, in the heart of God, is at a very critical point. If God's people will not return to an intense relationship to God on behalf of the nation, the nation doesn't stand a chance of avoiding the judgment of God. But we have a choice, do we not? You and I have a choice to hear God say, "I have set YOU as a watchman on the wall. You are not to keep silent day or night. You're to warn your children."
I have fourteen grand-children. My wife ordered seven girls and seven boys. And if you know my wife's prayer life, that's what we have. And I'll go directly from here to meet with nine of them. And I want you to know I'm going to sit with all nine. I'm going to look into their eyes, and with God's enabling, I'm going to blow the trumpet in Zion to all of my grandchildren, my three sons and my three daughters-in-law, who all live in the same place.
What will you do when this night is over? Will you stand long enough in the presence of God to get a message from Him and hurry to tell your children? Hurry to tell your grandchildren? Hurry to tell your church family? Your Sunday school class on Sunday? The workplace where God has put you? Would it not be a tragedy if God had to say, "Let me tell you what could have been, if you'd only heard Me on this night in Lancaster, on the national day of prayer." The rest of the year is going to unfold the quality of our prayer life. May it be that none of us will have to stand before God and say, "If I'd only realized how serious it was, I would have changed some things." And God says, "I've told you how serious it was, but you didn't pay any attention."
Matter of fact, one of the saddest verses in the Bible is that one which I read, because it said, in Jeremiah 6:7 "I set watchmen on your walls, O Israel, and you said, 'We will not listen to the voice of the watchman'."
I'm going to take a moment, just for us to pray together. And I want you to make some firm commitments in your heart. Do you realize that your life as an instrument of God to change the course of the nation is just a prayer away. You're not that far from being an instrument of God to change the course of history. Do you believe that one person in the presence of almighty God can save a nation? Ezekiel 22:30-31 - Let me quote Ezekiel 22:30-31 and then apply it to this moment here in Lancaster.
I looked for a man who would make up the hedge and stand in the gap before Me for the land, lest I destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have destroyed it.
Read it carefully. I have trembled and wept through the night over that one. Lord, if You're looking for somebody to stand in the gap before You for this nation at this hour, my prayer would be that when you came to my life you would have found the one you were looking for. But O God only eternity will be able to hear you say either, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You heard My call, you answered, you stood before Me for the land and I chose not to destroy it."
Or I will hear Him say, "Henry, let me show you what could have been, if you'd only heard Me, and only responded to Me." So let's take a moment to bow our heads. Your relationship to God as a spiritual watchman for the nation is just a prayer away. With our heads bowed, would you have the courage, based on scripture, to make your life available to God should he choose to assign you? Does He know your heart? Does He know you're a faithful priest? Does He know that you would do all that's on His heart for the nation? Release all there is of you to all there is of Him. Repentance is releasing everything in you to everything that's on His heart.
Father, we do release. We have no idea where that will lead. But we do know Your word. You read the heart, and O Father, these your children have chosen on this night to gather together in Your presence and you're reading the heart.
Henry T. Blackaby is president of Blackaby Ministries International, an organization he founded in order to help people experience God.