Dear Christ-following people of Cape Town,
Apparently a million or more people were praying yesterday for rain. That is an amazing thing. Okay, let’s go back to the checklist and see what else is there:
“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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” [2 Chronicles 7.14]
Right, so looks like we have humbling themselves, seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways… and then the land will be healed. Sho, Cape Town, we can do this.
 Humble yourself – i imagine this is about the stance we take when confronted by ideas that seem to clash with who we are or face butt our pride by demanding that we stand in front of the mirror and take a good, hard look at what we see and start working at the necessary things. My sister-in-law Shana recently did that after celebrating her wins in reducing her water usage over here and then becoming aware that she had missed something and acknowledging, confessing and committing to doing things differently over here. i think Shana can tick humbling herself as that was an amazing example of doing so and of course one she needs to continue every day.
But this extends to hearing concepts like white privilege or restitution or coming face to face with ideas of excess, entitlement, consciousness, #BlackLivesMatter and more. Instead of simply switching off [as many do] or becoming defensive [ditto] or angry [as well], humbling yourself creates the picture of someone who decides to hold their mouth and opinion and listen carefully and deeply to the words and stories of others and to step towards to really try and understand what they are talking about.
i wonder if humbling yourself might mean that if you have never been to a township, you find a respectful way to journey in with someone who lives there, not as a tourist for selfies or a story, but to understand and see and know better. i wonder if it might mean reading books like the Robert Sobukwe ‘How can man die better?’ or Biko’s ‘I write what I like’ or Frank Chikane’s ‘No life of my own’ or any one of a number of books written by or about black lives in South Africa to help you see another perspective from the one you have. i wonder if humbling yourself might look like learning the predominant black African language from the region you live in?
 Seek My face – Now if you’re already praying for rain, you might want to argue that this one can at least be ticked off, right? But i wonder if seeking God’s face means that you will end up discovering God’s heart which although complex and even confusing at times, can be easily discovered in a number of ways and things.
If you seek God’s face, the first thing you will probably become aware of is the command to Love God with all your heart, strength, soul and mind [the mind part suggesting God might be okay with us using our brains from time to time] but then also continuing on to say things like ‘Love your neighbour’ [in the same way] and also ‘Love your enemy’. We learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan that your neighbour can be absolutely anyone and might involved a beaten and bruised person lying on the side of the road. Further investigation of Matthew 25 and James might strongly suggest that your neighbour definitely includes widows and vulnerable children, but also those who are hungry and thirsty and sick and in prison.
i do wonder if it is possible to seek God’s face and then be okay with owning a holiday house that sits empty for maybe half the year while so many people don’t own their own house or even live on the street or under bridges? i wonder if it is possible to seek God’s face and then continue to pay the person who cleans your house, looks after your children or your garden less than a living wage, heaping up your plate with exotic and expensive foods while their children at times go hungry? i wonder if it’s possible to seek God’s face and live a homogenous existence where all the spaces you inhabit are white [church, gym, area where you live, where you choose to shop or hang out, the people around your dinner table] and the majority of black/coloured/indian people in your life are those who are in service relationships to you [packing your groceries, guarding your car, cleaning your house].
 Turn from their wicked ways – Sho, this feels like an easy one cos we already stopped apartheid right? The law, for the most part, was definitely changed, but i have to wonder if the spirit was changed. Because a law of oppression that was ended still leaves in its wake a whole mess of consequences and attitudes and actions that still need to be changed before we have completely dealt with apartheid. And it is going to be messy and uncomfortable and awkward and time-consuming and probably money-consuming to do that work. Which 24 years later hasn’t all been done [mostly because so much of it was not done 24 years ago when it needed to be but was maybe sacrificed in the name of good relationship].
Are you in good relationship with people of other race groups and cultures? Do you see your black colleague as an equal? Have you stepped towards people or do you constantly find ways to shield yourself and put up walls and create distance or obstacles? When last did you have a black family round for dinner? When last did you go to your coloured friend’s house for a meal? When last did you grab a coffee with your indian mate to catch up?
So you prayed…
Well done. As i said right at the beginning, that is a good thing. When i have a set of tasks ahead of me, i have learned that if i get the hardest/longest/trickiest one out of the way first then everything else seems easier by comparison. But if i leave the hardest til last i have likely used up so much energy and stamina and good will that by the time i get there it seems like more of a mountain to try and scale.
Which is kinda what we’ve done here. Because if we had humbled ourselves and sought God’s face and turned from our wicked ways first… then the praying part, the easy bit, would have been a very natural final moment to seal the deal on a promise God made.
Yes, God made this to the Israelites at a very specific time and context and we can’t just naturally assume that the same promise will be true for us. But if the heart of God is anything to go by, then i am absolutely convinced once we start getting the humbling and the seeking and the turning right, that the answering of our prayers for rain will be an easy one for God to do.
So let’s get to that list, because Day Zero is fast approaching…