Friday, 17 October 2008

Dare you pray like Elijah?

Wrote this two years ago after a cell meeting (a Christian mid-week house group thing - not a terrorist network). Thought I'd post, a mildly reworked version of the original email, given the current climate:


For those of you who weren’t at cell tonight we considered (amongst many other things) the bit in James 5:17 about Elijah being held up as the example of persevering and believing prayer. He prayed that it would not rain and it didn’t... for three years.

Have you ever wondered about the context of that prayer? Doesn’t it seem odd to you? I mean think about it, when was the last time you attended a prayer meeting in which you all prayed for God to send famine and drought upon the whole of Britain? But this is the kind of prayer that Elijah was praying. James holds this up as an example of the expectant prayer of faith that pleases God! Should we follow, and if so, how?

The context was that the nation of Israel was deeply set in idolatry of Baal. Baal was a fertility god who was supposed to bring crops and abundant harvests. Huge swathes of the population were steeped in Baal worship and had forsaken the Living God. In this context, Elijah prays to God that God would withhold the rain from the nation so that the people would realise that Baal was no god at all and return to the LORD. Elijah didn’t ask God to mollycoddle them or to tell them how much he loved them, he prayed for the nation to suffer so that they would be brought to their knees, snapped out of their rebellious idolatry and deluded thinking, realise they had been worshipping false gods and so return to the living God of Israel!

The whole thing ends with a big contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, (see 1 Kings 17-18), and of course the true God of Israel wins.

Three reasons immediately spring to mind for me as to why Elijah prayed this prayer and not one of abundant blessing:

1. Elijah knew that God created a moral universe where there are blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. This covenant nation of Israel had walked away from God’s laws, it did not deserve blessing or mollycoddling, it deserved judgement. In the same way that a parent would pray for a wayward son to turn from his evil ways by spending time in prison having received the due penalty for his crime; Elijah prayed that through the just affliction of a national drought, Israel would see sense and return to the LORD.
2. Elijah desired that the hearts of the people repent and return to God. See the parallel in Luke 1:17 between Elijah and John the Baptist. Out of that deep love of God and and concern for the eternal welfare of the people, he prayed whatever it took to get them to a safe place, i.e. Saved even if the route that got them there was painful!
3. Elijah knew just how full the people were of pride and delusion in their idolatry, and that it would take them not just 1, but 3 years of famine to get to the point where they knew they needed a Messiah, not Baal.  What and how long would it take us, if at all I wonder?

My question is do you ever dare to pray like that? That God would bring our nation to its knees so that it might see its need for mercy from Him? What would that look like?
  • Would you pray for our economy to collapse so that people would realise that material possessions are no god like the God of the Bible?
  • Would you pray for the schools to self-destruct through pupil violence so that people would realise that a “good education” is no god like the God of the Bible? 
  • Would you pray for celebrities to suffer many and varied tragedies so that people would realise that fame is no god like the God of the Bible?
  • Would you pray for people to start contracting all kinds of diseases so that they would realise that surgery and medicine are no God like the God of the Bible?
  • Would you pray for or nation to be successfully invaded by a foreign power so that people would realise that our military might is no god like the God of the Bible?
  • Would you pray for the nation to descend into anarchy through crime and political apathy so that people would realise that liberal democracy is no god like the God of the Bible?

How long would you be prepared to pray these kinds of prayers for? 2secs? 2mins? 2hrs? 2 weeks? 2yrs?

Of course some will rebuke me with Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles: Jer 29 esp. v7, but the fact remains that James uses Elijah as his example, not Jeremiah or even Moses who had some pretty incredible moments of prayer! Whilst we need to get everything in balance, I submit this to you and ask you not just to ignore it, but to consider it as you pray for our nation.

Don’t shy away from daring to pray that our nation is brought to it’s knees, not because you despise her, but because you love her and want to see her turn honestly to the only God, Jesus Christ who can do her any good, both in this life and the next.

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