The most powerful force on earth
James 5: The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
One righteous person praying is the most powerful force on earth. It’s true you know. Prayer is the most powerful and most underutilized force available to us. Righteous praying influences the God who’s already inclined to bless us. I think I believe this but tend to not act as though I believe it. Prayer’s more an “add on” to what matters to me. I sometimes do the best I can do and then toss in a prayer for good measure. In doing it that way I do it exactly backwards. What I need to learn to do is pray first and then add my efforts to it. James’ example of a powerful pray-er is Elijah. This righteous man prays for rain, and then, when he sees the first evidence that his prayer is being answered, takes action, preparing for that answer to come. His template, then, is: pray first, then, stop praying and start acting as though that prayer is being answered. I really do believe that Elijah is correct in this but all too often I don’t act like it.
Take Away: Pray first and then act.
2Kings 2: So there — didn’t I tell you?
Even as Elisha seeks the God of Elijah, the disciples of Elijah are still looking for Elijah. I can’t be too hard on these good men, assuming a lack of faith on their part. They’ve literally seen their master picked up by a tornado and carried away. Had I been there I too would have been inclined to view things from a non-spiritual viewpoint. They want to form a search party and try to find Elijah just in case the Lord was merely relocating him and not taking him from earth in a way never seen before or since! Again, I can’t be too hard on these men. Elisha assures them that Elijah is right where God wants him to be, but, when they insist, he agrees that 50 of them go on a search and rescue mission. Three days later they’re back and reporting that Elijah’s nowhere to be found. Elisha says, “Told you so.” Aside from the fact that I would have probably been among those on the search team, I note that sometimes I have to let people do what they want to do. I think I tend to waste energy trying to get people to do things my way when I’d be better off pursuing my vision and letting the Lord straighten them out when he knows they’re ready. Elisha knows without a doubt that the 50 won’t find Elijah. He also knows that they’ll have to find that out for themselves. Understanding that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t ever attempt to influence others. It does mean, though, that I’m free from trying to micromanage the lives of other people.
Take Away: Sometimes leaders have to simply give people permission to find out for themselves what the leader already knows.
The God of Elijah
2Kings2: Now where is the God of Elijah?
I’ve had the privilege of knowing some spiritual giants in my lifetime. These people walked close to God and, like a motor boat crossing a calm lake, leave a broad, expanding wake that influences people far beyond their experience and even their lifetimes. They’ve influenced me. If not for them I wouldn’t be the man I am today. In fact, it would be easy for me to just focus on them and let them be my example and inspiration. If I do that that I’ll be a better person. However, as potentially positive as that might be, I’d be mistaken to do it. Elisha has known a great man, a man overflowing with the power of God. Now, though, that man is gone. Elijah’s disciples want to form a search party to try to find their master. Elisha, though, doesn’t seek Elijah. Instead, he seeks the God of Elijah. He knows that every good thing about Elijah was because of the God he served. He knows that the great need of his life isn’t more of Elijah. Instead, it’s more of the God of Elijah. Today, I thank God for those spiritual giants of my life. Their influence isn’t taken for granted. However, it’s not them that I need as I pursue spiritual excellence. No, it’s not them; it’s the God they served.
Take Away: Seek, not an “Elijah” but, rather, the God of Elijah.
Swing down sweet chariot stop, and let me ride
2Kings2: Elijah went up in a whirlwind to heaven.
As I study the Scriptures I find two accounts of people who leave this world without tasting death. One is Enoch who, the Bible says, is “taken away” by God. The second is Elijah, who’s taken up by a whirlwind into heaven, accompanied by a chariot and horses of fire. I’ve read some interesting explanations of what’s happening on that day including one effort to somehow make this into an alien abduction! While I don’t have the credentials to take this event on from a scholarly point of view it’s clear to me that this entire passage is intended to convince me of the uniqueness and spiritual power of this man of God. On this day Elijah is overflowing with God’s power. Nothing like this has been seen on earth. Any understanding of this passage has to start with my recognizing that the intention of the writer is to convince me of the greatness of Elijah, the man of God. Ultimately though, this, and all Scripture, has to be read as a “God story.” God has done something in Elijah’s life. Earlier, I’m given a sobering picture of his humanity. In that account he’s a discouraged, exhausted, and fear-filled man. Now I see what the Lord has done for him and in him. He’s been transformed into the spiritual dynamo I see in this passage. Now, as Elijah disappears into the sky, I don’t find myself at the end of anything. Instantly God’s power begins to flow through Elisha. This story continues because God continues to work.
Take Away: The Lord uses some people in wonderful, amazing ways but the story of his work continues long after their story has ended.
Marching to the beat of their own drummer
2Kings1: That has to be Elijah the Tishbite!
Elijah has come a long way in the years since he fled from Jezebel. He now has a faithful assistant, Elisha, and a band of disciples. Generally, he stays out of sight. However, he remains a household name in Israel. You might say he’s bigger than life. Now that Ahab is dead, his son, Ahaziah rules Israel. However, things aren’t going well for him. Moab has rebelled against the rule of Israel and, to top it off, Ahaziah has taken a nasty fall and been injured. The ailing king sends messengers to seek a remedy for his injuries, not to Jehovah God, but to the idol Baal. It’s as they travel to Ekron to visit the Baal shrine that they encounter the old man Elijah, shaggy hair, leather belt and all. The Lord, he says, is angry with Ahaziah for turning to Baal as though he doesn’t exist and because of that Ahaziah is on what will become his deathbed. When they return with the message and describe the man who gave it, Ahaziah knows that Elijah has stepped out onto the public stage once again. Repeated attempts to arrest him result in fire falling from heaven. Clearly, it’s unwise to trifle with this man of God! Aside from his unusual appearance (and, come to think of it, the lightning strikes on his enemies), Elijah reminds me of some spiritual giants I’ve known. These are people who don’t make a big deal of themselves, who seem out of step with what most of us think of as “normal,” but spend a lot of time in the presence of God. When they have something to say, we’re wise to listen.
Take Away: Sometimes people who seem out of step with the world are very much in step with the Lord.
It’s easy to miss
1Kings 19: …a gentle and quiet whisper.
After hearing the voice of God Elijah’s told that he’s to prepare himself for a personal encounter with the Lord. As Elijah sits inside the mouth of the cave things start happening outside. There’s a great wind, then an earthquake, and then a fire. We’re told that God isn’t in these things. In other words, while they’re sent by God he doesn’t inhabit them. What the Lord has for Elijah is yet to come and it’s only after the wind, earthquake, and fire that the Lord comes to Elijah in the gentle, quiet whisper. When Moses met God on this same mountain it was the same way. There was thunder and lightning and earthquakes followed by a face to face meeting with the Lord. We see this pattern repeated throughout the Bible. For instance, on the Day of Pentecost it won’t be about the sound of wind, the tongues of fire, or other languages being spoken. Rather, it will be about God, the Holy Spirit, filling their lives with himself. As I see this repeated spiritual fact of life I’m reminded to dial back my love of the spectacular and pay more attention to the “gentle quiet whisper” of God in my life.
Take Away: Ultimately it’s not the fireworks but is, instead, the personal presence of the Lord that counts in my life.
Praying when in pain
1Kings 19: Elijah, what are you doing here?
More than a month has passed since Elijah fled Jezebel and asked God to take his life. During this time the angel of the Lord has ministered to him and he’s traveled 40 days across the wilderness to Horeb which is the mountain range that includes Sinai where Moses met God and was given the Law. In other words, Elijah has retreated to holy ground. Here, even as Moses encountered God, Elijah has an encounter of his own. This meeting though, starts very differently. For Moses, there were earthquakes and thick smoke. For Elijah, things start with God asking him a question, “So, Elijah, what are you doing here?” With that, Elijah begins to state his discouragement, loneliness, and fear. The big stuff is still coming but I’m taken with just this today. I know that prayer should generally start with words of worship and reverence. Sometimes, though, we’re so broken and confused that we can hardly bring ourselves to pray at all. Sometimes we have to travel out into the wilderness for a while possibly ending up at some place that’s significant to us. And then, it isn’t us but God who starts a conversation that doesn’t begin with “Our Father who art in heaven” but instead with words of pain. Know what? That’s okay with God. Take note of just who it is that asks the opening question here.
Take Away: Our prayers are going nowhere if they don’t come from an honest heart.
The sacrifice of spiritual power
1Kings 19: Exhausted, he fell asleep.
Personally, if all I had from Elijah’s story was his confrontation with Ahab, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal I think I’d be impressed with him but he wouldn’t be one of my favorites in the Bible. In fact, he just might scare me a bit as a bigger-than-life prayer warrior and miracle worker. It’s his humanity that draws me to him. This man prays down fire, out-runs chariots, and then, in fear, runs for his life out to the loneliness of the desert. It’s here that he collapses in the shade of a bush and gives notice to God that he’s ready to die. While I’m in awe of his power on Mount Carmel I just feel sorry for him out here past Beersheba, alone in the desert. As I look at him here I see that he isn’t some kind of superman at all. He’s an ordinary man who trusts God with all his heart and, in so doing, gets way out of his comfort zone! Doing all that stuff takes all his energy. Now, with nothing left, he first runs, then cries out to God that he’s had enough. It’s when I see that doing all these impressive things is terribly hard for this man that I more fully appreciate what he does.
Take Away: Spiritual giants are, in the end, ordinary people with an extraordinary trust in the Lord.
Praying to exhaustion
1Kings 19: When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life.
It’s been a banner day for Elijah, the man of God. First, he challenges the prophets of Baal to a “god-contest” and wins a decisive victory when, as a result of his prayer, fire falls from heaven. The people are now convinced that “the Lord is God.” Then, he turns his attention to the three-year drought. He prevails in prayer and, as a result, the rain comes in a great storm. Finally, empowered by the Spirit of God, Elijah outruns the chariot of Ahab, racing down the mountain into the city. Tell you what, I call that a good day’s work! Ahab arrives home in the midst of the welcome storm, but the news for his Baal-worshipping, God-hating wife Jezebel isn’t good. All because of Elijah Baal has been defeated and his prophets executed. Jezebel never hesitates; she sends word to Elijah that he’ll be next. In a surprising twist, her words terrify Elijah! This is the guy who prayed down fire on the altar and rain from the sky. This is the guy who saw to the execution of hundreds of false prophets. Now, because of the threats of one woman he runs for his life. I’d expect Elijah to just pray down a bit more fire and take care of this wicked woman then and there. Why on earth is Elijah scared witless by Jezebel? I think the answer is that he’s simply out of gas. Intense praying, especially intercession requires of us all our energy. Sometimes prayer is pictured as a tranquil respite from the pressures of life, and, happily, sometimes it is. Still, that’s not always the case. Sometimes prayer is the hardest work we’ll ever do. Such prayer is worth doing in spite of its emotional, spiritual, and even physical price. In this, we’re soldiers in the army of God who have an active, demanding assignment.
Take Away: Prayer can be the most rewarding, exhausting work we’ll ever do.