Evil is helpless where the power of God and the prayers of his children collide.

Pastor Jeff Struecker

1942. Of course the world is at war. The United States called together a group of scientists, chemists and physicists and asked them to meet together at Columbia University in New York City. They said, “We need your help. Would you help us to start to work on a super secret project? We’re late to the game.” As many of you know around the world, the United States chronically shows up late to world wars, and we’re a little bit late to the game. And in 1939, Nazi Germany started to try to develop a weapon. So by 1942, the United States said, “We need the biggest and brightest minds to meet together in Manhattan, New York and to start to work on a project.”

The idea behind this project was based on research from Albert Einstein and his theory of special relativity that basically said where there is mass, there is energy. And so these chemists and physicists started to come together to put Einstein’s theory to the test. 

What they believed is that the smallest unit of ordinary matter, an atom, although it just kind of sat around and chilled out and did nothing, an atom had tremendous potential energy. There was massive power in an atom. And these physicists said, “If we could figure out a way to unleash the power of an atom, we could develop a weapon like the world has never seen before.”

I’m convinced nobody working on the Manhattan Project had any idea just how massive the power was when they started to do some research that would eventually lead to nuclear fission, splitting the atom and releasing the energy that’s been in there all along. And when they started to do the research, here’s what they found:

This is an actual mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion in Los Alamos, New Mexico [photo shown] when the atom was split and this massive source of power was released. Of course, if you know history, you know that this was the event that eventually led to the end of World War II, when two nuclear bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan. 

What these scientists learned is that God created things in such a way that even the very small, even the very subtle, seemingly insignificant atom just lays around and does nothing in a solid, or in a gas, or in a liquid, even in plasma. But if you can release the power, it is massive.

Today, what we’re going to do is look at one chapter in the Bible, Amos chapter 7, but as I was studying for this passage, I was trying to find a Bible verse, one verse, that would summarize everything that you’re going to hear from Amos chapter 7 today. The Bible verse, I believe, that best describes what we’re going to read today is found in the book of James, chapter 5. I want you to hear what the Bible says. James 5:16 says this:

James 5:16  (NLT) Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

Okay, that word power in the Bible, in the book of James, is the Greek word energeó. It’s the word that the English language gets dynamite from. What James is literally saying is when a godly woman, when a righteous man, prays, there is dynamite power in that prayer. It’s like the atom that’s sitting there and doing nothing. But if you can unleash that power, it can change the world. 

What we see today in James chapter 6 is what happens when God’s people pray. In fact, if you read on just one more verse in the book of James, James says, “Let me tell you about an ordinary dude. His name was Elijah, and Elijah was an ordinary guy just like you. Elijah prayed, and God stopped the rains from heaven for three and a half years. And then Elijah prayed again. And the rains started. Elijah, because of his prayer, God did something that presidents have no control over. Prime ministers can’t control it. Priests, generals have no control over the heavens. But when Elijah prayed, the heavens stopped sending rain. And when Elijah prayed again, the rain started to fall.”

Well, I want you to understand something from Amos chapter 7 about the power of prayer. And here’s what I need you to know: Prayer moves the heart of God. And the power isn’t in the prayer; please don’t make this mistake. The power is with God. When earnest, godly men and women pray, it moves the heart of God, and then pretty soon it starts to move the hand of God. So I want you to understand what you’re going to hear from Amos chapter 7 today. And here it is:

Evil is helpless where the power of God and the prayers of his children collide.

Now you have heavy elements like uranium and plutonium colliding together to create a nuclear explosion of power. This is what we’re reading about in the book of Amos today.

What I want you to do when this sermon is over with is, I don’t want you to forget to add prayer to the problems and the challenges of life. Instead of saying, “I was struggling. I was working on my problems, and then I prayed…” I want you to start with prayer. I want your vocabulary to change from, “And then I prayed,” to, “when I prayed… And let me tell you what happened when I prayed.” 

Prayer has the power to…

…touch the heart of Jesus (Ch 7, V. 1-3)

So, every time today you hear the word power, I want you to think mushroom cloud. Are you ready? Amos, chapter 7. We’re going to take a look at the entire chapter, and what you’re going to see from Amos chapter seven is the power of God put on display when an honest, regular dude like me or you starts to pray, because prayer has the power to touch the heart of Jesus. 

Amos is just a regular guy, just like you. And when Amos prays, something happens. Amos is humble. Amos just petitions the heart of God, and God hears this humble businessman’s prayer. And it changes quite literally an entire nation. Here’s how Amos chapter 7 begins. Are you ready? Amos 7, starting in verse 1. I want you to hear what happens when Amos prays:

The Lord God showed me this: He was forming a swarm of locusts at the time the spring crop first began to sprout—after the cutting of the king’s hay. When the locusts finished eating the vegetation of the land, I said, “Lord God, please forgive! How will Jacob survive since he is so small?” The Lord relented concerning this. “It will not happen,” he said.

Amos record five visions, and these five visions are given by God to Amos. If you’re not sure what the word vision means, if you don’t understand how these things work, go back this week and watch our midweek worship broadcast where I describe how God speaks through visions.

God gives Amos first a vision of locusts. Now, you need to understand something about locusts in Amos’s day, because this was terrifying. People understood that when locusts attacked, there was nothing that anyone could do to stop the locusts from attacking. Usually the locusts came in massive swarms, and usually they ate everything green on the vine, everything green in the field, which means when the locusts came, you were going to go hungry for the rest of the year. 

But in this case, Amos is very clear about when these locusts were going to come to Israel. They were going to come right after the first harvest. You cut the grain in the field, and the very first bit of grain went to pay your taxes. It went to the king. The first bit of grain goes to someone else. You got all of the grain that came after the second cutting.

Imagine it this way: like the government took your taxes out once a year. They took it out for the first part of the year. Once you reach that part of the year, and you paid the government, everything else after that is yours, except for right after you paid the government, you lost your job. That’s what Amos is saying today. The locusts come, and it gets worse. The locusts come right after the king’s got his grain. And now the people are starting to cut their grain to feed their families, and the locusts come at the time of harvest, and they strip the fields completely bare. 

Do you know what just happened? Your family is going to starve, get this, not for one year. You’re going to starve for two years because not only did that grain feed your family, but in that harvest was the seeds for next year’s grain, and the locusts just took them both.

Amos sees this picture, and he cries, “God, please forgive. Because if something like this happens, the nation of Israel is too small to recover from this. We would be totally desperate, God.” 

I want you to notice something about Amos and about Israel. Amos is not from the nation of Israel. Amos at this point is from the nation of Judah. And what he sees is God’s hand of judgment against his cousins in Israel. And Amos’ heart is breaking because of what God is about to do to people that he doesn’t know in a land where he doesn’t live. I want you to hear what Amos says next. Amos doesn’t try to negotiate. Amos doesn’t point the finger at those people. Amos just simply says, “God, we messed up. God, I’m sorry; we’re sorry. God, will you forgive us for what we just did?” 

Amos is a man with this burden, this heart for people who are far from Jesus, and I hope that you are a man or a woman with this burden, this heart for people far from Jesus. In fact, I hope that it is such a part of your heart and so much a part of your life, that this year on Easter, just a few weeks from now, you’re going to reach out to somebody on social media, maybe you’ll reach out to a friend that lives halfway around the world, and you know that they’re far from Jesus. And you’ll just ask them to tune in. Ask them to tune in to 2 Cities Church’s broadcast, because you care about people who are far from Jesus. 

That’s what you’re seeing first from this humble servant, Amos, when he sees this first vision from the Lord.

…hold back the fires of judgment   (V. 4-6)

I want you to notice the second vision. In the second vision, it goes from bad to worse. It quite literally goes from the frying pan to the fire in the second vision. In the second vision we learn that prayer not only touches the heart of Jesus, but it can hold back the fires of judgment. 

2 Cities Church is a church that is committed to our King to push back darkness. Darkness is sweeping across the land of Israel, and Amos gets a vision of what’s about to happen. “Okay, I’m not going to send the locusts, Amos. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to send fire.” Amos chapter 7 picks up in verse 4, it says:

The Lord God showed me this: The Lord God was calling for a judgment by fire. It consumed the great deep and devoured the land. Then I said, “Lord God, please stop! How will Jacob survive since he is so small?” The Lord relented concerning this. “This will not happen either,” said the Lord God.

Every time Amos humbly bows and begs God for His forgiveness, God hears the voice of this prophet. Now, back at the time of the harvest. This is late in the season, and the rains are long gone, which means the land is usually dry, and the grain has dried out enough that now we can bring it in. And Amos sees that there’s a drought. It’s just natural during this time of the year, and God’s going to release a fire.

If you live in our community, by the way, and you’re within a hundred kilometers of here, you can see the fires that are burning on Fort Benning right now, the controlled burn that Fort Benning, Georgia and Alabama does to cut back on the vegetation so that it doesn’t become overgrown later on in the year.

This isn’t a normal, natural wildfire because what Amos chapter 7 describes is the kind of fire that doesn’t just sweep across the top of the land, but it consumes the great deep. These are the water reservoirs that run below the land, the rivers that run below earth’s surface. This fire will be so severe that it will destroy everything on top of the earth and suck up all the water below the earth. And Amos says, “God, if you release a fire like that, Israel can’t possibly survive. God, will you forgive us? We deserve the judgment by fire, but we’re asking you, would you forgive us? And God, would you hear my prayer?” 

And this simple sheepherder touches the heart of God. And because he’s touched the heart of Jesus, he’s holding back now the fires of judgment, and God says, “Okay Amos, I heard your prayer, and I’m not going to do this either.”

Do you know why those fires on Fort Benning don’t sweep across the Chattahoochee Valley? Do you know why that they don’t consume the entire state of Georgia? If they got out of control, they literally would consume the entire southern portion of the state of Georgia. When they control burn these huge tracks of land, they start a fire that goes all the way around the outside of the land first, and the fire starts to consume everything in its path. It’s just burning in on itself. And eventually it gets to itself, and the fire puts itself out. If it were to burn out, there would be no stopping it. 

…straighten the paths of men   (V. 7-9)

Amos sees God’s judgment of fire spreading across the land, and he knows if this happens, there’s nothing that anyone can do to stop it. And so now God gives Amos his third vision. And I should be honest with you before we even look at what we read in Amos chapter 7 next, the fires of God are terrifying. The locusts of God should cause you to shake in your boots. But what you read next is far worse. In fact, I really believe this is the passage that the entire book of Amos hangs on, because what Amos shows us next is that prayer has the power to straighten out the crooked paths of men and women. 

Amos sees a plumb line, and this is God’s plumb line. And I believe it makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Amos chapter 7, starting in verse 7:

He showed me this: The Lord was standing there by a vertical wall with a plumb line in his hand. The Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” I replied, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will no longer spare them: Isaac’s high places will be deserted, and Israel’s sanctuaries will be in ruins; I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with a sword.”

Now, I was going to try to bring in a plumb line because builders have used this for centuries. Today, we rarely use plumb lines anymore. Now, basically what we do is we use a level, but when you build something, and you’re stacking bricks or you’re cutting wood, if you were to stand back and look at it from a distance, you would say, “Yeah, that looks pretty good. Yeah, that looks pretty straight,” because your eye is just making measurements. A plumb line is a weight hanging off of a string, and gravity makes that line perfectly straight. When you hold a plumb line next to a vertical object, it’s unmistakable whether or not that object is straight or crooked.

Here’s what I’m saying: a plumb line is a test that nobody cheats on. You can stand back from a distance and you can say, “Yeah, that looks pretty straight to me,” but when you hang a plumb line next to it, you know exactly whether or not it’s straight. 

God said, “I’m going to hang a standard. I’m going to place a level against my people Israel. I’m going to put a plumb line in Israel. We’re going to see just how straight these people are or just how crooked these people are.” And when Amos sees this, he says, “Oh no, we’re in trouble,” because you can’t cheat with God. God has seen all of these sins that his people have committed, the people of Israel.

And again, Amos isn’t from this land. Amos isn’t at fault for all of these sins that they’re doing in Israel. He’s from miles away to the south. But Amos sees the plumb line, and Amos realizes, “Uh-oh. Israel is in trouble,” because God has seen all of their idol worship. God has seen all of their mistakes and all of their failures. God knows just how crooked they have become. 

What’s outside of you is dangerous, and it’s scary. I’m talking about natural disasters. I’m talking about disease right now. What’s outside of you is dangerous, and it’s scary. But it’s not nearly as dangerous as what’s inside you.

Jesus didn’t come to stop disease or to fix natural disasters. He said, “The poor are always going to be with you. You will have wars and rumors of war. I didn’t come to stop the COVID virus from spreading. I care about my people, and I care about the COVID virus, but that’s not why I came. I didn’t come to fix what’s wrong outside of you. I came to fix something much more important. I came to fix what’s inside of you.”

The only way to get straight on the inside is to just get real honest with God about how crooked you are. You see, as long as you try to compare yourself to something else, you are standing at a distance and you’re saying, “It may be a little bit crooked, God, but look at the guy next to me. His life is a lot more crooked than mine. So I’m not doing that bad, right?” 

And when God hangs the plumb line, and you see straight, and you see your life, all of a sudden you’re saying, “Oh no! This is bad. This is really bad. Yeah, the guy next to me is worse, but my life is nowhere close to where it should be.”

And Amos is seeing God hold this straight as an arrow line that he is going to use as, “This is my measure for justice. This is my standard for perfection. And if you don’t live up to it, you are now crooked, and the only way to get that crooked wall straight is to recognize that it needs work.” 

I’m talking about your heart right now, and I’m talking about my soul right now. Only when I admit to Jesus, “My soul is crooked, Jesus, and I need Your help,” is he able to say, “Yeah, I know. You’re not hiding anything from me, Jeff. And now that you admit it, I can start to do some work on your soul to get it back to where it’s supposed to be.”

You see, as long as you start comparing yourself to other people, you’re using the wrong tape measure, because the real standard, the real measure that gives you the honest answer is not giving you the answer that you want. So now you start to look for a different measure. And as long as you do that, you can never really get arrow straight with your life. I really believe Jesus is just calling his people, even if you have been a Christian for many decades, to run back to him and admit when there are some struggles, when there are some mistakes, when there are some problems in your life.

In Amos chapter 8, we’ll look at the fourth vision that God gives Amos. Amos chapter 9 ends the book of Amos, the fifth vision that God gives Amos. But now we’re going to take a brief detour because when Amos starts to make these kind of declarations, people don’t like what they’re hearing. And so Amos is going to tell us how the crowds, and specifically how some of the religious leaders, get mad at him for what they’re hearing and really they don’t like the truth. They want to hear what’s not true, what’s going to make them feel good. Instead of hearing the hard truth, they want to hear an easy lie.

 …confront the lies of the enemy   (V. 10-17)

The fourth and the final thing that I want you to know from Amos chapter 7 today is prayer has the power to confront the lies that you and I are challenged with, the lies that you and I are inundated with in an evil society. Prayer has the power to confront the lies of the enemy. Listen to how bold this brother is. Amos chapter 7, starting in verse 10. I love this exchange in the Bible. In fact, this is probably the only reason why we’re looking at the book of Amos, because of this story right now:

Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent word to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you right here in the house of Israel. The land cannot endure all his words, for Amos has said this: ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will certainly go into exile from its homeland.’ ” Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go away, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. Earn your living and give your prophecies there, but don’t ever prophesy at Bethel again, for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.” So Amos answered Amaziah, “I was not a prophet or the son of a prophet; rather, I was a herdsman, and I took care of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ ” Now hear the word of the Lord. You say: Do not prophesy against Israel; do not preach against the house of Isaac. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: Your wife will be a prostitute in the city, your sons and daughters will fall by the sword, and your land will be divided up with a measuring line. You yourself will die on pagan soil, and Israel will certainly go into exile from its homeland.

Basically, what Amaziah, the priest, who’s supposed to be this super spiritual dude who only hears from God and speaks the truth of God, is saying is, “Hey, King, do you know what this guy from Judah is saying about you? It’s not good. Why don’t you make him stop talking, because if people listen to Amos’s message, they’re going to give up hope, and our nation is going to be overrun.” 

And what Amaziah the priest is saying is, “Amos is telling a lie.” Now let me just pause for a second before I show you what happens next. If Amos is hearing the truth from God, if Amos really is getting a vision from God, and what Amos is speaking is the truth from God, and Amaziah is saying, “No, that’s not the case. No, what he’s saying is wrong,” then where is Amaziah hearing from? Who is he hearing from? And what is he speaking? He’s hearing the lies of the enemy, and he’s telling the king what the king wants to hear, instead of telling the king the truth.

You hear the lies of the enemy all day long, and so do I. It may not be in spoken words. It may be in the subtle messages of our mass media, but you’re hearing lies every day, all day long. And you’re going to become really susceptible to those lies if you’re not spending time with your King in prayer, hearing how he feels about you, or what he thinks about you. So now we’ve got a showdown between Amos, this average dude and Amaziah, who’s a high roller, a religious leader, a very powerful man in Israel. 

What he’s saying is, “Nobody likes you. Nobody wants to hear what you have to say, Amos. Everybody hates you. Even your mama hates you. Go home, Amos.” And then he said, “Go back to earning a living, go back to your prophecies there, but don’t ever prophesy in Bethel again, for it’s the king’s sanctuary, and it’s a royal temple.” 

It really was a sanctuary city. It was supposed to be a holy city. This is the place where Abraham met with God. This is the spot on Earth where Jacob saw a vision from God and saw God descending from heaven to Earth. It’s a special city. And what Amaziah is reminding Amos is, “Amos, you’re nothing special. You’re not even a professional religious leader. You’re just a businessman. So go back to your business in your hometown. Nobody wants to hear from you anymore.”

Does this sound harsh to you what Amos said back? This brother is just like, “Oh no, he didn’t. I didn’t ask for this. I’m just saying what God told me to say. And if you’re going to stand there and confront me, if you’re going to stand there and lie, if you’re going to spout the words of the evil one, let me tell you what God’s going to do to you, Amaziah. You’re going to die, your wife is going to become a prostitute, all your kids are going to get wiped off the face of the Earth, and your land is going to be taken away from you. And this is God’s judgment against you for daring to speak on behalf of God, but what you’re saying are the lies of the enemy.”

Church, I need you to hear this. You are inundated and I am inundated with lies that tell you your only worth is if you’re smart. You’re valuable if you’re pretty, if you’re strong, or if you can make lots of money. Only if you’re powerful, then you have some worth or you have some value in society. That is a lie from Hell. 

What God says, “If you really want to know how I feel about you, all you have to do is go and look at the cross. Let me show you how much you mean to me. Let me show you how far I was willing to go to make you clean and straight and acceptable in my sight.”

When you want to stop hearing the lies of the enemy, you’ll spend time talking to your Father in Heaven, and you’ll let him tell you what he thinks about you. You’ll let him describe your worth. You’ll let him show you your value to him and to his society. And you will live different, just because you’re spending some time with your Father and hearing from him how he thinks about you instead of inundated with the messages of a society that say you’re only good if you do good, instead of hearing a God who says, “I love you, and I’ll make you good. And you can do good after I make you good, but it’s just because I love you that I want to shower my grace on you.”