This article first appeared in the Ask Hank column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 43, number 1 (2020). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
The Old Testament book of Jonah contains the quintessential biblical account of prayerful repentance. The narrative clearly reveals that Israel was not chosen as an expression of racial favoritism. Rather they were chosen to be a light to the nations. As such, God directs the Israelite prophet Jonah to call the evil Assyrian city of Nineveh to repentance out of a patient desire that none should perish (4:11).
Like many today, Jonah misunderstood the calling of Israel, believing God’s blessings were reserved for the Hebrew nation alone. Yet from Jonah we learn the inviolate truth that whoever trusts in God and repents of their sin will be blessed. Conversely, whoever rejects His grace and continues in sin will be condemned. In sober response to Jonah’s call to repentance, Nineveh did the unthinkable. The city “declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth” (3:5).1
Imagine. A prostituted pagan city fasting in sackcloth and ashes. “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (3:10).
And the great Assyrian city is not alone. Many nations throughout history have repented and prayed for the mercy of God. America is one of them. In the midst of civil war, Abraham Lincoln called on all Americans to participate in a national day of humiliation, fasting, prayer, and repentance:
We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel that necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
Thus, said Lincoln, “It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”2
And that is what happened. On April 30, 1863, the American people in compliance with the request of the Senate and the proclamation of Lincoln abstained from ordinary secular pursuits, humbled themselves, and in deep repentance devoted themselves to fasting and prayer for the restoration of a divided country.
Such times of national repentance find precedent throughout sacred Scripture and provide an apt example for us to follow in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is precisely why my Singaporean friend Elijah Widjaja (the man to whom I dedicated Truth Matters, Life Matters More), asked me to ask you to join me in taking three simple yet life-altering steps:
1) Pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (morning, noon, and evening). This is in concert with the practice of the early Christian church — a practice derived from the ancient Jews who prayed the Hebrew Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4–5). In the Didache, an ancient church catechism that may well have been in circulation prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (A. D. 70), the early church was instructed to pray morning, noon, and evening in the manner of the prophet Daniel, substituting the Lord’s Prayer in place of the Shema.
2) Pray three times a day for 21 days. In Daniel 10, we read that Daniel not only prayed three times a day but did so for 21 days. Thereafter Daniel experienced a breathtaking answer to his supplications. One of the attendant benefits to inaugurating a pattern of prayer for 21 days is that it will likely establish an unbreakable prayer pattern for the rest of your days.
3) Pray as did our Lord and Savior for unity in the body of Christ: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20–21 NKJV). A global church fused together around the essentials of the historic Christian faith is the answer to Christ’s High Priestly Prayer. Divided, the church’s energy remains limited and toxic. United to God and unified to one another, the church is empowered by an unlimited flow of divine energy by which to provide life and light to the world. To paraphrase David in Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is when the body of Christ lives together in unity! For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.”
Allow me to conclude by evoking the principle of multiplication. Just as the new coronavirus knows no borders. So too the principle of multiplication can spread Elijah’s prophetic message of prayer, unity, and repentance throughout the globe. Over the past several days I have begun to call ministry leaders in order that they may begin to spread this message to those within the sphere of their influence. I can easily imagine ministries that reach hundreds of thousands becoming a catalyst to reaching literally billions within a short period of time.
In sum, I urge the body of Christ not to miss this opportunity. Time is constant, but opportunities are not. —Hank Hanegraaff
Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the daily Bible Answer Man broadcast and the Hank Unplugged podcast. Hank has authored more than twenty books, including Truth Matters, Life Matters More: The Unexpected Beauty of an Authentic Christian Life (W Publishing, 2019), from which part of this article is adapted.
- Scripture quotations are from NIV 1984, unless indicated otherwise.
- Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day,” March 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln Online, www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/fast.htm.