There are many times in our lives when we face an ongoing problem. When we are finally released from its hold, what a relief it is! Sometimes the problems are our own fault, and we have to do whatever is necessary to work our way through the self-inflicted consequences to freedom. Whether it is credit card debt or a prison sentence, release is a joyous occasion.
The people of Israel found themselves in captivity because they had rebelled against God for many years. God had warned them over and over through the prophets, but they wouldn’t listen to the warnings. So, God finally brought the punishment He had told them would come. God allowed Israel to be taken captive into Babylon. Jeremiah was one of the prophets God used to warn the people. He had prophesied their captivity and the time they would finally return to Jerusalem. Another prophet, Daniel, read Jeremiah’s prophecy and determined the times God had set. He realized it was time for their release. Daniel was one of those captives that had spent the last 70 years in Babylon. Hope rose up in him as he realized the captivity of Israel would soon come to an end.
So, Daniel began to pray. He knew God had already ordered the time of their release, yet he prayed a prayer of repentance and invoked the mercy of God. There had been no confession and repentance on the part of the people in exile, and Daniel was setting into motion the fulfillment of Scripture through his prayer. Before release, there must be repentance.
There are times when the enemy attacks and we must withstand him in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are times God allows the enemy to attack because we have removed ourselves from under His covering. Then we must repent and return to our God to be released.
Daniel prayed “we have sinned and committed wrong, and have behaved wickedly and have rebelled, turning away from Your commandments and ordinances. Further, we have not listened to and heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” All of Israel had heard God’s warnings, but they continued in their rebellion. They heard but didn’t repent.
Daniel’s prayer continued like this, “Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this tragedy has come on us. Yet we have not wholeheartedly begged for forgiveness and sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our wickedness and paying attention to and placing value in Your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept the tragedy ready and has brought it on us, for the Lord our God is [uncompromisingly] righteous and openly just in all His works which He does - He keeps His word; and we have not obeyed His voice.”
If we want to see release in our lives, our homes, our churches, our nation, we need to cry out to God in repentance. Daniel realized the reason they had gone into captivity was because of their sin. God didn’t punish them unjustly. Actually the longsuffering of God had been more than gracious. But before they could leave Babylon and return to their homeland, there had to be repentance for the sins that brought God’s chastisement on them.
There is a scripture promising good from the Lord that I hear often. It speaks of God’s good intentions toward us, and is a solid verse showing His mercy and love. But we can see a greater extent of this love when we read it in context with the verses above and below it. God loves us so much that He will punish us to turn us back to righteousness. Listen to what Jeremiah prophesied concerning the captivity and the release of God’s people. “For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.” (29:10-14)
God’s people had no future of peace and hope in the direction they had taken. He had to turn them, and they had not listened to His warnings through the prophets, so He brought them to a place of chastening because of His great love for them. He will do the same for us, and it is a good thing. It is to keep us from moving outside the realm of God’s kingdom. God’s punishment is not for our destruction. It serves to restore us into the right path and a right relationship with God.
“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:7-9)
If a child will listen to a warning, the punishment will not come. If they refuse the warning, the punishment will be severe. Punishment causes us to see sin for what it is. It serves to turn us from that deadly poison to that which is beneficial for us. Maybe your relationship with Jesus is weak and cluttered with worldly pursuits and you have felt the tug of God’s Spirit to come closer. He is warning you of the dangers ahead. If you hear and obey, you will avoid the consequences and pitfalls ahead.
We also need to pray for our families, our cities, states, nations and world. God wants to release us to walk in the power of His kingdom, but disobedience can keep us from it. Repentance is the only way for release.
2 Chronicles 7:14 tells of the mercy of God to restore us when we come to Him in repentance. God clearly shows us how to return to Him and to have His favor restored. He shows us our part and His part.
“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 will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Instead of reading it quickly, let’s digest each part and see what God requires of us so we can receive what He promised.
Step 1 – “IF My people who are called by My name” - God’s people are required to repent when they sin. He doesn’t say the people of the world. He says “My people”. There are times when the Church needs to repent for laying aside the Word of God to suit our culture, for putting our love of the world above our love for God and the souls of the unsaved, for failing to speak the truth from our pulpits and in our homes, for disregarding the teachings of Jesus because they are uncomfortable for us, for putting ourselves on a pedestal to receive the glory that belongs to God alone.
Step 2 – “Humble themselves.” We are to openly and truthfully confess our sins and surrender completely to God’s Word and the leading of His Holy Spirit. Confessing is humbling, but where sin is concerned, it is necessary.
Step 3 – “Pray” – talk to God and listen to what He has to say to us. Stay connected to Him with a close relationship and act on what He speaks to us during those times.
Step 4 – “Seek My face” - Instead of seeking pleasure, the applause of men and all the things this world has to offer, seek the Living God Who alone can give us what will fill the void in our hearts. Continually seek to know Him more intimately through His Word and His Spirit. Seek out the presence and purpose of God.
Step 5 – “Turn from their wicked ways” – Turn away from every act, thought and motive that dishonors God, and set our hearts to please God and to bring Him glory through our lives.
When we follow those steps toward God, He will hear our prayers. Proverbs 15:29 tells us “The Lord is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.” “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” (James 4:8) God also said He will forgive our sins and He will heal our land. There is power in repentance. There is release into the favor of God!
What rejoicing there was on the journey home to Jerusalem after 70 years in captivity! All because God was faithful to turn them from their sin! We can know that joy, too.
Release is a joyous occasion!
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30:11-12