In the spring of 1798, the United States was on the brink of war with France. Fearful of the future, President John Adams issued a proclamation declaring May 9, 1798, a day of prayer, fasting and repentance in the United States. He encouraged all Americans to go to church, fast and pray. He urged them to ask God for forgiveness and help.
In 1812, President James Madison made a similar proclamation as our country entered war with Great Britain. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln called for three separate days of national fasting and repentance. The last such presidential proclamation was made by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918 as World War I raged and the Spanish flu pandemic swept across our nation.
Throughout history, believers have seen times of war, pandemic and natural disasters as reminders that Judgment Day is coming. Christian leaders throughout history — both political and religious — have used times of danger and disaster to encourage fellow believers and fellow citizens to repent and turn to God for help.
In 2 Chronicles 7, God promised King Solomon, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 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 forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
God promises to hear, forgive and heal.
Sadly, during 2020, such voices calling for prayer and repentance were few and far between. Smiling preachers on TV will tell you that such messages are too negative. People are already hurting. No one wants to hear that.
Yet, it’s what we all need to hear. Times like these remind us of our need to repent and turn to the only one who can truly help and heal.
Yes, I mean you. The problem with national calls to repentance is that they can lead many Christians to knowingly nod and say, “Yeah, that’s right. Our nation needs to repent for national sins like abortion and the hypersexualization of our society.”
You are correct. Many in our country need to repent of those sins. You probably don’t, though. The sins of our society probably aren’t the sins with which you struggle the most. When we call for national repentance, the temptation for you and me is to look at our world and say, “They need to repent.”
What we fail to see is that you need to repent. I need to repent.
For our failures as fathers and mothers, for our angry words and thoughtless deeds, for not praying and going to church like we should — for all the shameful things which hide in the dark recesses of our hearts and lives — we need to repent. The trials and troubles of 2020 are a reminder that sin has consequences. It’s not only those godless people in our country who deserve God’s anger and punishment.
You do. I do.
So, repent. Repent and trust in God’s amazing promises. No matter how bad you’ve messed up or how far you’ve fallen, God will always take you back because of Jesus. He will always forgive you when you repent because Jesus suffered God’s anger in your place on the cross. If you have a chance this week, read Luke 15:11-32, Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. You can’t commit a sin that God won’t forgive.
So, look at the year which just ended. Look at what is happening in our world right now. Look at your life.
Then repent. Tell God you’re sorry for what you’ve done. Turn to him for healing and help.