By Bill Francavilla
We all have days when we question what has gone wrong in society. The cause can be an event we see on the news or on social media. But very few of us see it firsthand.
I will never forget the morning of April 17, 2016. Early Sunday morning before the rest of my family woke up, I headed to the grocery store to buy a few things for breakfast. I was completely unaware that another person was headed to the same grocery store with a very different purpose.
I would like to say that I played the part of a hero, but when I heard shots fired and one of the cashiers screaming for everyone to get out, my response was to run as fast as I possibly could. I made it safely out the front door along with two employees and collapsed in the front of the church next door where I called 911.
The local police and paramedics did a top-notch job and soon apprehended the shooter. It was determined he had acted alone. Unfortunately, a man my age who had gone to the same grocery store with a similar purpose as mine was now dead. He left behind a wife, a young daughter, and an unborn baby.
In the news reports later that day many people who did not witness the incident were quoted as saying, “This sort of thing never happens here!”
Nonetheless our town had to face the fact that we had just had a fatal shooting.
In the five years since, I have asked myself how such a violent occurrence could have happened in such an innocent setting. More important, I wanted to know how to keep something like this from ever happening again.
It is no secret that we have seen a decline in the morality of our culture since the mid-twentieth century, and as a result we have seen an increase in crime, poverty, sexual perversions, and apathy.
Perhaps more alarming and not by coincidence, we are living in an age where our culture is more and more strongly opposed to the things of our God.
We have seen the Ten Commandments removed from court buildings, pushes to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, and a devaluing of an elected official swearing his or her oath of office on the Bible.
When prayer was taken out of public school in 1962, suddenly millions of young Americans were no longer praying with childlike faith for their country. As Christians it is easy to ask ourselves, “What did we expect?”
Of course, sin was going to creep in and hit small-town America; it was just a matter of when. We are far from the first culture with Christian roots to face the secularization of society, and we will certainly not be the last. The question that faces us is this: What are we, the people of God, to do about it?
Every four years many Christians vote as if their lives count on it. Without ever engaging with their neighbor, they pull the lever on the voting booth and walk out as if they have accomplished something noble.
While it is of the utmost importance to vote, that act can only go so far. Sure, from time to time we happen to get an elected official that we think is going to “set things right.” But do we really expect reform to come by an act of legislation?
There is still a culture out there to whom we are commissioned to minister.
When King Josiah came to the throne, he was put in perhaps one of the most awkward positions in the history of Israel. At the age of eight, Josiah was tasked with reigning over a people who were openly rebellious to their God.
His father, King Amon, reigned for only two years and had proven to be weak and ineffective. His grandfather was the infamous King Manasseh, a king so evil he sacrificed his own sons to false gods. After 45 years, though, Manasseh had been humbled by God and lived out the remaining ten years of his reign serving God.
While Manasseh tried to reform his kingdom in the latter part of his reign, the culture had already taken a dangerous turn towards idolatry and false worship. There was little he could do to change the hearts of the people.
Now the boy-king Josiah was tasked by none other than his distant cousin, the prophet Zephaniah, with reforming his new kingdom. Nonetheless, Zephaniah did not tell Josiah that change would come from his government; it would come through an act of repentance and prayer.
In 2 Chronicles 34 we are told that by the time Josiah was 16, he began seeking after the Lord, and by the time he was 20, he purged Jerusalem and Judah of all its idols and false gods. But nothing could prepare him for what he would see at the age of 26. As his reforms continued, Josiah made the decision to repair the temple of the Lord where the “Book of the Law of the Lord” was discovered, and for the first time in a long time, the people heard the law and repented.
I believe that the words of Zephaniah can apply to us today. Since we are Americans and do not have a king, the people must seek the Lord, seek righteousness, and seek humility. Unless the people of this nation seek the Lord and pray for a true revival, electing a righteous man or woman to the presidency can only be so helpful.
Believe it or not, this is not the United States’ first moral slump. Just after the revolution, our new country had unbelievably high rates of drunkenness, crime, and profanity. Churches were losing more members than they were gaining.
The late Baptist minister and historian J. Edward Orr wrote about this in his article “Prayer and Revival.” He quotes Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, who wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church “was too far gone ever to be redeemed.”1
How did the situation change? It was through a concerted effort of prayer. It happened when the people of God decided to ask our Lord for His wonderful favor upon our nation. Every revival in history has the same story.
It was true in Josiah’s day just as it is true in ours.
When small-town America no longer feels safe, people tend to ask themselves how we got to this place and what must we do to turn the tide? The answer is always going to be prayer.
If you consider your church a house of prayer, then you should be praying for the coming revival we so desperately need, a movement that will be felt for generations.
Josiah’s revival did not last long, but thankfully we still have the words of Zephaniah to guide us back to our spiritual heritage as the people of God.
1 Orr. J. Edwin. “Prayer and Revival.” https://jedwinorr.com/resources/articles/prayandrevival.pdf
About the Author
Bill Francavilla and his wife, Jessica, pastor Living Hope Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Bill has served in many different ministries from teaching middle school Bible classes to serving as a chaplain at a retirement community. He holds a master’s degree in theological studies from Liberty University and has been active in missions to Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Bill and Jessica have four children: Alex, Liam, Rita Grace, and Gino.