if my people who are called by my name 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 (2 Chron. 7:14)
In teachings on the topic of prayer and intercession, the verse 2 Chron. 7:14 is often quoted as a proof text. From the text, it has been taught that if we as Christians (i) humble ourselves, (ii) pray, (iii), seek God's face, and (iv) turn from our wicked ways, then God will (1) hear us, (2) forgive our sins, and (3) "heal our land". Coming from a Third-wave charismatic background, I was taught to do these 4 steps especially during major prayer and fasting events, with the unspoken assumption that doing so would ensure that our prayers would somehow be more effectual and pleasing to God. The third promise of the healing of the land is furthermore claimed over our nation especially in the 40 days of prayer event leading up to National Day, in which we were to pray for revival to come upon our country, with some fanciful prophecies being prophesied during that time period even.
Nearly a decade later, I have the opportunity to revisit this verse. Does this verse actually teaches such principles of prayer?
As a Covenantal Theologian, it is my belief that the principles taught in the Old Testament are in some manner applicable to us today, since Israel is the Church in the Old Testament. 2 Chron. 7:14 is situated in God's promise to Solomon after his prayer to God in his dedication of the temple, and it is in this context that we must interpret this verse. Being God's promise to King Solomon under the Old Testament era, the conditions and promises are to be interpreted in a different manner in this Gospel age, which imply that their application is spiritual, for the Church rather than for some nation or territory. The conditions and promises are centered on the church and Christians in the church, not even Christianized nations per se. Therefore, to use 2 Chron. 7:14 as a proof-text to pray for the nation is not in line with the teaching of God's Word in this regard. The only way it could be "literally" physically applied in such manner is if one were to believe in some form of Israelism or one is a Old Covenant restoring Judaizer.
What then does 2 Chron. 7:14 actually teach? 2 Chron. 7:14 is a promise to the Church that lays down the general principles that God requires in prayer: that we should (i) humble ourselves, (ii) pray, (iii), seek God's face, and (iv) turn from our wicked ways, following which God has promised that He would (1) hear us, (2) forgive our sins, and (3) "heal our land". God will most definitely hear us, but hearing does not necessarily mean saying yes to us. After all, God is sovereign and His sovereign will will be done. The idea that having longer and more fervent prayers would make the prayer more efficacious and pleasing to God is an act of sorcery — ex opere operato. We must remember that God in Ez. 14:12-20 has said that he will not answer yes to the prayers and intercession of even the three most righteous persons in history when he has decided to punish Judah for her heinous sins, so to think that our prayers can manipulate God is unbiblical. God does sometimes ordain that certain prayers be answered after perseverance in prayer (Lk. 18:1-8), but such prayers is a time of pleading before God, not attempts to "blackmail" God because of the amount of time we have spent in prayer.
The promise of forgiveness of sin in this Gospel age (and even in the Old Testament era) was never to be taken to mean sins being forgiven through the instrumentality of prayer. Rather, it must be interpreted in the same way as the principle of forgiveness of sins in 1 Jn. 1:9, which is to say an experience of an established reality proving the genuineness of that same reality. In simpler terms, what this means is that true born-again Christians who have their sins forgiven will by nature confess their sins and pray to God in so doing. Such activities confirm that the ones practicing them have their sins forgiven, and the Holy Spirit uses such activities to bring peace and the sense of forgiveness within their hearts.
The third promise of the "healing of the land" is to be taken spiritually in the sense of spiritual healing of the individual and of the church. Prayer and fasting in this verse therefore profits the individual believer and the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ comes together to pray, she is the one being edified first and foremost.
This brings us to the question: Does that mean that we shouldn't intercede for the nations and for all who are outside the Church? By no means! Such however cannot claim 2 Chron. 7:14 as a proof-text, but rather texts such as Gen. 18:23-33 and 1 Tim. 2:1-4. Prayers for nations etc if they are to be biblical must be for God's mercy and withholding of deserved judgment, for God to save people (not nations, but individual persons) in the nations out of darkness into His glorious light, and for God to grant peace so that the Gospel ministry may not be hindered. In other words, these should be the focus of our prayers if they are to be biblical; Gospel-centered prayers. If we pray for other issues such as the material prosperity of our nation and other such stuff not instructed in the Scriptures, then we are not praying according to Scripture. God may very well choose to answer them with a yes answer, but he is certainly not obliged to and such is not praying even according to God's decretal will and are therefore unbiblical.
In conclusion, let us learn the proper interpretation and application of 2 Chron. 7:14. May we not use it therefore for so-called "national intercession", much less invoking the verse to ask for material prosperity of a nation at the expense of asking God to grant repentance and faith to people in the nation. Amen.