The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. 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 5:16, 17
Elijah the Tishbite. How is it that James compares Elijah to us? Is it more than just a model for us to follow? When we look at Elijah, we think of him facing all the prophets of Baal, and a wicked king and queen, alone, and yet with the majority—for God was on his side. How precious it is that we should be compared in any sense to the one who is considered the head of all the prophets, save Christ only! How precious it is to me to think of comparing myself to Elijah, being translated out of this world by a whirlwind sent from God. Perhaps we will be the generation, like unto Elijah, who will be translated while we are yet living, because the hour of our Christ has finally come!
We are in our second year of severe drought, and I think that has me thinking a lot about Elijah, wishing that California had its own prophet that might challenge us to come back to God. I guess that we are alike him in that respect also. We do see our nation pulling further away from God than perhaps ever before, and we see many people forsaking the very roots that made our country possible. How exactly was Elijah like us?
It is in the failures of Elijah that perhaps we come the closest to him. It is easy to forget that after Elijah's dramatic confrontation with the false prophets, he became fearful and ran for his very life. I remember being told about the armor that Paul says we are equipped with, that there is no back piece for protection when we are running from, rather than facing our foes. That may be well and good, as they say, but I note that God is with Elijah, even in the midst of his failure. He sends an angel to strengthen Elijah in his run, when Elijah despaired of his very life. “Take my life,” he prays as he exhaustedly falls asleep. Instead of taking his life, God reveals a different plan, sending an angel to feed him, not one meal, but two, and on the strength of those two meals, Elijah was able to travel forty days and forty nights, thus giving us a type of Christ, who later was to fast for this incredible length of time.
His fear of Jezebel was warranted, for Jezebel had been killing the prophets of God (1 Kings 18:4), and now had sworn to get Elijah. But his fear was also groundless, for God was with him. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” asks the Lord, implying that Elijah had a better place to be. Elijah replies that he has been very zealous for the Lord, and that all the other prophets have been killed, with him the only one left. Isolated by his problems, Elijah acts like many of us do—we despair of victory, even when it is right at hand, and we attempt to flee the problem. God sends him back the way that he came, but this time there is no record of an angel sustaining him, and this time Elijah is told to finish a few things in his ministry, and appoint one to succeed him. If Elijah is indeed like me, he must have felt dejected, thinking it is all over. Yet, the Bible records the best was yet to come, for the chariots of God separate Elisha from his master, and a whirlwind takes Elijah directly to the God whom he has served all his life.
I find it dramatic in the extreme to see Elijah turning about so much, wavering between being the hero bringing Israel back to God, and a criminal running for his life. He prays but once for the fire from heaven, but he returns to prayer not less than seven times for the rain needed so badly for the land. He was a man like you, like me. Afraid and brave, walking with God and running away, victorious in his ministry and yet defeated in his perseverance—Elijah was like you, like me. In his prayer, he petitioned to a God whom he knew was above all else, and when the time came, he knew that one simple prayer would bring the answer of God winging from heaven. But in the matter of the rain, perhaps he, like you and me, was not so certain of God, and he prayed through seven times, each time looking to God for an answer.
That teaches me. Sometimes I can expect the quick and immediate answer, but other times I need to pray through with expectation that God will answer. And I think that is the difference between some of us in going to God in prayer. Some of us pray, expecting no answer, and we receive all of our expectations. Others of us pray, knowing the God who answers prayer, and we expect an answer, and we receive all of our expectations. We are indeed a people of like passions, and perhaps we also are like Elijah in another way. If the coming of the Lord is as soon as many in the church feel, perhaps like Elijah, we shall be carried up in a whirlwind also, and so we shall ever be with the Lord.
I note that James tells us that Elijah prayed first that it might not rain, something that is not in the story in Kings, but which James tells us through revelation. That, at least, is not at all like the drought in California that we are experiencing now, for I know of no one that has come before the governor, and then gone away to pray. Isn’t the plan of God grand? He uses Elijah’s prayers to bring revival to his people, and all the while Elijah thinks he is praying on his own. Alas, for we have no such prophet today, and this is the United States, not Israel. Still, our God is as sovereign as he was in Elijah’s day, and when Elijah thought he was all alone, did not God tell him that he had reserved seven thousands? We are not alone in facing the wickedness of our day, and, I cannot help but wonder, if we direct our prayers for revival, what might be the answer of our God? Isn’t the plan of God grand? He might yet use our prayers, a people of like passions, to bring about his sovereign grace in revival. And that is something to contemplate!
A final thought. There are prayer warriors so far ahead of me that it would be as far as the sunrise is from the sunset. What if those prayer warriors have been praying all along for the revival of God? What if the needs of rain during this drought might bring his people together in prayer? It may well be that the Lord is already sending his fires of revival from heaven. Should we not be looking already to see what answer he may give?