When King Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death, he prayed: “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” God replied, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears,” and added fifteen years to his life. Hezekiah’s good works were the religious reforms that he carried out to abolish idolatry in Judah. His prayers and tears for the country did not go unnoticed by God. God not only extended Hezekiah’s life, but also gave the miraculous victory over the Assyrians.
At last month’s seminar on local missions, Boston District Superintendent Rev. We Hyun Chang raised a thought-provoking question: “Let’s say your church had to close down. Will your neighbors grieve the loss?” It was a call to ponder if we, who have set our hope in Christ, are living in ways to make a world a better place, to foster human flourishing. I remember how Rev. Lee Surp Park, the Korean Mission Superintendent of the North Central Jurisdiction in the late 1980s, used to pray and cry aloud for churches that could not live out the call. About thirty years ago, at the opening service of the National Korean Caucus held in Korean Church of Atlanta, Rev. Park prayed, “Lord, what happened to us Methodists? Revive this church, as you revived England and America through John Wesley’s holiness movement!” Little did I know back then, that I would be doing ministry at that church ten years later. If we were to offer up a prayer of lament, as did Hezekiah, what should we pray for?
In Korean drama series “Age of Wanderer” (2002), there is a scene where the legendary fighter Shirasoni comes to his senses and says to another fighter Kim Duhan: “It’s not fun anymore. I want to stop being a gangster.” Being a gangster was what he was good at, but he realized he could use his fighting skills for something good, something bigger than himself – to restore justice, to defend the weak from the Japanese thugs and such. And so it is with churches: when our purpose of existence in the world becomes vague, what we need is a moment of awakening.
Hezekiah’s prayer and tears need to be restored in us. We need prayer for dying churches to thrive, with faith that our spiritual revival will bring new vitality to families and local communities, to the city and the country. We need prayer for churches to rise up, to build up the kingdom of God, and to bring lost souls to Christ so that they too could live in the joy of salvation. But for us to lift up such prayers wholeheartedly, our lives need to first reorient toward “holiness of heart and life,” putting away all forms of idolatry and doing what is good in the eyes of the Lord.
The United Methodist Church General Conference has once again been postponed to September 2022. The current situation brought by the coronavirus pandemic, added on top of possible separation of the UMC, is a ‘challenge to change’ for our denomination as well as local churches. The contention over the LGBTQ ordination had simmered for years, but COVID-19 has been an unexpected shock that pushed us to rethink our paradigms and assumptions from the ground up. The uncertainty of what lies ahead may be unsettling, but this time of change could be the time whereby “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). Just as Paul’s scars of suffering became the marks of Jesus in him, God will likewise work through current challenges to shape the character in us – the character of faith that lives by the heart and mind of Jesus. In times of confusion, I pray that we experience God deeper, following the lead of the Spirit into the wilderness to boldly train and exercise our faith. And I pray that churches and individual believers alike will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil, as much as it is promised, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:37) Disorienting times can become an opportunity for renewal, for us to return to the heart and mind of Jesus.
The Bible speaks of the end times as a time of salvation and grace for those who believe, and it is led by God of new beginnings. Above all, the church is the body of Jesus Christ, built upon the foundation of faith in the resurrection, in life that triumphed over death. No matter what challenges lie ahead, this faith will make holy transformation possible. I pray for this blessing for all churches and believers alike.