KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, SENATOR, DR IFEANYI OKOWA, GOVERNOR OF DELTA STATE, AT THE UNVEILING OF THE INTERNATIONAL CATHEDRAL OF ELOHIM CHRISTIAN INTERNATIONAL CENTRE, ABUJA, ON SATURDAY, JULY 29, 2017.
I welcome you all to this great occasion.
- First, I congratulate the Board of Elders, the Pastorate and the entire congregation on the official unveiling of this edifice. Dedication ceremonies like this offer us a glorious opportunity to reflect on the goodness and benevolence of our God. It goes without saying that only He could have made the building of this magnificent Cathedral possible in the midst of the current economic challenges. It is to His eternal glory and faithfulness, therefore, that we dedicate this place, with exuberant thanksgiving and exultant joy.
- I commend the leadership and congregation of the church for their insight in birthing this vision and demonstrating the resilience and generosity required for it to become reality. Your reward shall be great, not just in heaven but here on earth for the “the generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself” (Proverbs 11:25).
- Indeed “God is not unjust to forget your work and labour of love which you have shown toward His name” (Hebrews 6:10). You can count on Him to fulfil His promises to you because “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent” (Numbers 23:19).
- I begin my discourse this morning by stating that our dear country is passing through a very difficult phase. The 2015 election season will be remembered for being highly divisive and acrimonious. Regrettably, the church got entangled in the political process, albeit, largely out of genuine concern for the progress and development of the country. Sadly, though, finding themselves at different sides of the sharp political divide, many well-meaning Christians and church leaders fell for the bait of Satan, almost bringing a crack in the unity of the body of Christ. The political conversation was not always civil; it was characterised by the vitriol that dominated the electioneering campaign.
- Two years after, I am yet to be persuaded that the situation has changed. With mounting economic pressure, worsening living standards, political uncertainty and the national unity of the country threatening to unravel, many of us in the church are busy pointing fingers, casting aspersions and digging deeper into our positions, even if prejudiced. This adversarial disposition, motivated by the desire for personal vindication, has somewhat relegated prayer for those in authority to the background.
- It is in this light that I find the topic for today’s discourse, “The Role of the Church in Interceding for Our Leaders” exigent and most welcome. I take as my foundation text, Apostle Paul’s significant exhortation in First Timothy, Chapter two verses 1 and 2, and I quote: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (emphasis added). Paul’s exhortation contains four types of prayers, singling out “kings and all those in authority” to be deserving of them. But for our purposes today, I shall focus on intercessory prayer.
- Intercession is the act of standing in the gap for another; it is the noble character of bearing the burden of others, supplicating with God to mercifully and graciously intervene on their behalf. As Christians we have been called to stand in the gap for our nation and pray that His will for the country, the leaders and the governed be established. The process involves identifying with the object of our prayer, repenting of our sins and on behalf of the nation and its leaders, and taking hold of God's will until it is enthroned in all spheres of our national life.
- In calling us to intercede for our leaders, God has but one goal – “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” or as the Amplified Version of the Bible puts it “that we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” From the foregoing, therefore, it is self-evident that intercession procures for all and sundry a life of peace, security and self-worth; living becomes much more meaningful, satisfying and fulfilling.
- One thing we must all agree on from the onset is that intercession is a divine command; it is not optional neither is it a suggestion from the great Apostle Paul. Hear God in Second Chronicles 7:14: “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” (emphasis added).
The divine injuction lists five conditions precedent for availing intercession.
- “Called by My Name” - Every Christian has been called to the ministry of intercession. There is this growing notion that intercession is for a special class of “prayer warriors.” Nowhere in scripture is this thought entertained. While certain may have yielded themselves more to the Spirit’s stirring, it is an incontrovertible truth of scripture that God has called all Christians to be intercessors. All Christians are called to be intercessors because all Christians have the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
- “Humble themselves”- It takes humility to admit that the solution to our problems do not reside in our knowledge, abilities, party affiliation and political preferences. Some of us are looking for a political messiah but may I announce to you, ladies and gentlemen, that there is only one Messiah. His name is Jesus Christ; He is the King of Kings and Lord of lords. His dominion is from everlasting to everlasting and He reigns over the affairs of men.
- “Pray”- We must really pray and not just talk about praying. We are to pray for God to give our leaders wisdom (1 Kings 3:7-9), we are to pray for supernatural intervention in the nation’s affairs (2 Kings 7:1 and 18), we are to pray for God to give us honest and capable leaders (Proverbs 29:2a), we are to pray for God to scatter the forces of evil coming against Nigeria and to deliver us as a people: (Psalm 68:1, 60: 11-12, 44:4-5), and we are to pray for God to repay those troubling us with tribulation (2 Thess1:6).
- “Seek His Face” – This means to continually wait upon Him in prayer and fasting, passionately entreating Him to execute His will upon the nation. It is proof we are depending on God, that we are not trusting in our own wisdom and abilities.
- “Turn from their wicked ways”- This is where the rubber meets the road. God is here challenging the church to put its house in order. I am a firm believer in the dictum that as goes the church so goes the nation, for the spiritual controls the physical. Our “wicked ways” include selfish ambition, deliberate, wilful disobedience to His word, paying lip service to missions and evangelism, sexual immorality, handling the word of God deceitfully and merchandising the gospel. It also means ministers of the gospel must resist the temptation to seek fame, fortune, and power by all means. Let it be reiterated that the church is neither the master nor the servant of the State; it is the conscience of the State. Therefore, the man of God must not pursue after political patronages or engage in flirtatious relationship with those in authority such that he loses the moral authority to speak truth to power.
- Bad things happen when we ignore or neglect the command to intercede for those in authority. The Prophet Ezekiel gave us a peek into the divine groan as we hear His plaintive cry in Ezekiel 22: 30: "I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one" (emphasis added).
- We learn here that God is at once disappointed and grieved that there was nobody to intercede for the land; nobody loved the country of Israel enough to sacrifice their time and body in deep intercession for it. How sad! We can deduce from this passage of scripture as well as in Abraham’s fervent intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah, the ancient world’s sin city, that God doesn’t just intervene in the affairs of men; as Charles Spurgeon once noted, “prayer is the slender nerve that moves the omnipotent muscle of God.” Without our prayers filling up the mercy seat, judgment with its concomitant evils of sadness and sorrow become inevitable as repercussions for man’s continual disobedience and rebellion to the divine will (See also Psalm 106: 23; Exodus 32: 10-11).
- The Bible commands us to pray for our leaders because “there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1). In other words, all authority has been established by God to accomplish His purposes. Now that doesn’t mean God approves of every action of government or its officials. Bear in mind that when Paul penned those verses, Israel was under the cruel domination of Rome, probably during the reign of the evil Nero. So whether good or bad, our responsibility is to pray for God to use them to accomplish His will. How He chooses to answer that prayer is His prerogative. But we must not lose faith in His power to effect the desired change.
- Writing to the Jewish captives in Babylon, Prophet Jeremiah admonished them not to engage in civil disobedience against the government but encouraged them to pray, as ludicrous as that may have sounded to them. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
- The self-evident truth that our personal prosperity is tied to the prosperity of the nation is eloquently attested to in this scripture. Is there anybody or organisation here, for instance, that has yet to feel the biting effects of the economic recession? Even in the midst of their pain, poverty, suffering, hopelessness and injustice, the divine will was for the Hebrew captives to pray for God’s blessing on Babylon because in doing so they were indirectly furthering their own sustenance and well-being.
- To do otherwise would not only have been ungodly, it would also have been a fatal blunder. Surely, if it was the divine expectation of the Jews to pray for their captors, it cannot be any less for us living under a New Covenant established upon better promises (Hebrews 8:6). After all, to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).
- When we intercede for those in authority, we make it possible for them to come under the divine influence. King Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, after Jesus Christ, said: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). It wasn’t until the cries of the Jews reached the ears of God that He mercifully intervened to free them from the bondage of Egypt. And through fervent intercession, Haman’s evil plot to exterminate the Jews was miraculously thwarted.
- In the same way, the Lord will use our prayers - and cries - to enable those in authority to make the right choices and wise decisions that promote good governance, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. Our prayers are the raw materials He uses to prevail on those in authority to initiate good policies and legislation, and reject those that will undermine righteousness and justice or hinder the preaching of the gospel.
- Finally, God commands us to intercede for our leaders so that they might come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Verses three and four of our foundation scripture says: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The gospel is still God’s remedy for sin, and the power of God unto salvation. It is not His will that any man perish (2 Peter 3:9) and it is obligatory on our part to partner with Him in this all-important crusade to emancipate men from the shackles of sin and death.
- As we further our reflection on this subject today, I urge us all to embrace intercession as a lifestyle, even as we emphatically spurn division, vigorously pursue unity amongst ourselves, generously extend grace to those who do not share our faith, while praying for our leaders and holding them accountable to the tenets of righteousness, equity and justice.
- It is on this note, my lord bishops, distinguished clergy, ladies and gentlemen that I now rest my case.
- I am most grateful for – and humbled by - the privilege to address this elite gathering on such a momentous occasion.
- God bless us all.
Office of the Governor