“And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying” (1 Kings 17:2).
In the book of James, we read about the prophet Elijah and the power of his prayers. “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months (James 5:17). The reason why this prayer of the prophet was answered is that he was a righteous man. James 5:16 tells us that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Not every man has power with God; only the righteous man. A righteous man is one who is right with God in a practical way.
His conduct is commendable.
His language is seasoned with grace.
His heart is pleasing to heaven.
A righteous man is one who keeps the Lord’s commandments. 1 John 3:22 “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
Elijah had great power with God because he kept the Lord’s commandments. When he made his requests, the Lord listened. What Elijah requested appears surprising, because of the terrible consequences of the request. Elijah prayed that it would not rain. But the absence of rain would bring drought, that would be followed by famine and death. Does the prophet not know what he is asking?
Sometimes the implications of our prayers are not thought through. In 1904 Mark Twain tried to make this point in an essay called, The War Prayer.
The War Prayer
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.
It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
Sunday morning came – next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams-visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! – then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation – “God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!”
Then came the “long” prayer.
None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever – merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory.
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there, waiting.
With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,
“Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside – which the startled minister did – and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said
“I come from the Throne – bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of – except he pause and think.
“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two – one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
“You have heard your servant’s prayer – the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it – that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
(After a pause)
“Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.”
When we pray, we must understand what we are asking. Elijah was asking for something shocking, and even terrible, but wholly spiritual. Elijah rose above sentimentality to ask God to demonstrate His great power.
Elijah was not being cruel or unkind. He simply loved God more than sin. The prophet loved the people of God so much that he would do anything to cause them to come back to the Lord, and be dependent upon Him. Elijah witnessed what material prosperity, and good physical health, was doing to the people of Israel. Because of their security and comforts, individuals were forgetting the Lord.
The spiritual eyes of Elijah saw the sin of the nation of Israel and knew that something drastic had to happen in order to shock people into remembering that they needed the Lord. When Elijah looked at Israel, he saw a nation that had crossed a very real but invisible spiritual line so that it could be said that Israel had abandoned God. The evidence was everywhere in the statues of the god Baal. “Daily the tide of evil rose higher and higher, until it had now swept practically everything before it” (A.W. Pink).
Elijah wanted to see the name of God vindicated. Elijah also longed to see the people restored to fellowship. The heart of Elijah had the glory of God. He had true love for the church of the Old Testament, called Israel.
Had Elijah not cared for the ultimate welfare of Israel, he would have simply left the ministry. The ministry is not a place for the uncaring because it is a thankless sphere of existence. Read the biography of any minister in the Bible, or in Church history and you will hear the same theme repeated of misunderstanding, hostility, anger and opposition.
A man would be very foolish to think that he can challenge people’s behavior, and erroneous beliefs, and be blessed by them. Only a call from God can put a man into the ministry for life, and only a divine love for the church will keep a person in the arena of spiritual conflict. When Timothy wanted to leave the ministry, the Apostle Paul had to write him a word of exhortation to fight the good fight of faith to which he had been called (1 Tim. 6:12).
Elijah wept, prayed, and preached because he had the best interest of the nation in his heart, and the glory of God upon his mind. Perhaps he remembers that God had said, “them that honor Me I will honor” (1 Sam. 2:30)
The man who honors God, is a righteous man.
The righteous man is concerned, not only for his own holiness, but for the holiness of others.
The righteous man will make a serious effort to bring the people of God back to the God of their Fathers.
However, in order to do this, there must be a sense of divine calling. Elijah boldly confronted King Ahab and denounced his reign only because Elijah was conscious of a call. Such a sense of destiny allows individuals to have courage that goes beyond human understanding when moral courage is needed. We see this concept in the lives of others.
Moses was bold before Pharaoh, but only because he saw God in a burning bush.
David faced Goliath, but only because he knew the Lord was his Shepherd.
Paul was given unusual spiritual strength to testify, as he did before Agrippa, but only because he had met the resurrected Lord.
Luther was able to resolve that though every tile on the roofs were a devil he would continue his mission, and go to the Diet of Worms, but only because he finally understood, “The just shall live by faith.”
The prophet Isaiah said (40:29-31), “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: 31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Those who stand in the ministry must wait until they have a calling from on high. Peter Marshall called it, “The Tap on the Shoulder”. Such men will then have power with God.
Elijah learned to have power with God in the solitude of Gilead.
Elijah learned to have power with God by waiting upon Him just as Moses learned the great lesson
of life on the ‘backside of the desert’ (Ex. 3:1).
When we wait upon God for spiritual power, the time will come when the Living Lord will say, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10).
Upheld by the LORD, Elijah spoke with great assurance to King Ahab and then he left the palace. Soon after God spoke to His servant again. He wanted Elijah to go and hide himself. The purpose of hiding Elijah was not for reasons of safety. At this point, King Ahab was not out to hurt the prophet or he would have had him arrested when they met again (1 Kings 18:17-20).
Elijah did not need personal protection, but he did need to learn to endure the consequences of his own prayer life. Elijah had prayed that it not rain. Without rain there would be limited resources of water. Without water, animals would die and crops would be destroyed. What then would people do? The spiritual answer is that God’s people would trust in Him for alternative resources. God’s people would come back to Him, confess their sins, and turn from their inappropriate ways.
Elijah had to learn to depend solely upon the Lord, just like everyone else. By going through the ordeal of utter dependency, Elijah would be a better example to others to trust in the Lord.
While Elijah was learning to depend upon God, the Lord was also teaching the nation of Israel something and that is how easy it is for Him to hide His precious Word.
When the Word of God is made easily available, there is the tendency for people to lose respect for it, or at least to take the Bible for granted. Week after week, time after time, the opportunity is given to partake of the study of the Word.
Suddenly, God withdraws His messenger. He hides His prophets and thereby conceals His word. God does this as a form of divine judgment. A.W. Pink has written, “There is no surer and more solemn proof that God is hiding His face from a people, or nation than for Him to deprive them of the inestimable blessings of those who faithfully minister His holy Word to them.”
David lamented the removal of the sign of God’s favor in the prophets. “We see not our signs,” cried David. “There is no more any prophets… (Psalm 74:9).” It is a wonderful thing when we heard God’s Word because we want it, and will honor it. The challenge for the Church in every generation is to desire more of God’s message, not less.
When God’s Word is not precious, the Lord will hide it, until it becomes valuable once more. The brook Cherith, that is beyond Jordan, is a lasting symbol of how the Lord will hide His Word.
Within this awesome volume lies,
“The mystery of mysteries.
Happiest they of the human race
To whom God has granted grace
To read, to fear, to hope, to pray,
To lift the latch and force the way.
And better had they ne’er been born
Who read to doubt, or read to scorn.”
Sir Walter Scott