Are These the Days of Elijah?

“These are the Days of Elijah, declaring the Word of the Lord,” goes the first line of a contemporary Christian song. The song is encouraging and challenging. And thought-provoking — especially thought provoking.

That song ran around in my mind as I read several verses from the Epistle of James recently. James 5:17-18 (KJV) says, “Elijah 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. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”

James was using Elijah as an example after exhorting us to pray effectual, fervent prayers that avail much. In the Wuest New Testament version, James 5:16(b) reads “A prayer of a righteous person is able to do much as it operates.” Hmmm. Do much. Operates. Prayer? Interesting.

I turned to the Old Testament, I Kings chapter 17 and 18, the account of Elijah and the rain. I wanted to see exactly what it was he prayed.

I found Elijah’s spectacular statement about rain in I Kings 17:1, but no prayer. “And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” (Ahab was King of Israel and not a good guy. He was married to Jezebel, not a good guy either!)

No prayer about the rain, just that statement. I read on. I found Elijah praying in I Kings 17:20-21, but not about rain. He was praying that God would let a little dead boy’s soul come back to him. God did, of course.

In I Kings 18:36-37, Elijah and 850 fake prophets were having a competition up on Mt. Carmel to see who was the real thing and who wasn’t. All the people of Israel were gathered around the mountainside watching, just like one of our super bowls.

Elijah didn’t actually ask God to do any specific action. He just asked God to make Himself known, and also make it known that Elijah was God’s servant. God did, of course. He sent fire from heaven and burned up Elijah’s water-soaked altar and sacrifice. Then Elijah executed all those fake prophets.

Still, no prayer about rain, just a statement Elijah made to Ahab — get off the mountain, the rain’s coming. He did and it did. I kept on reading I Kings. Maybe there was more about this rain event somewhere else.

I found Elijah praying in I Kings 19:4 — actually more like whining. Jezebel was after him because all her fake prophets were dead and Elijah was having a pity party. “…take away my life…” God didn’t do what Elijah asked this time, he sent an angel to bring him a hot breakfast instead. A 40-days-worth hot breakfast at that.

Other than those verses, I did not find where Elijah prayed for anything, much less rain. He did have conversations with God. God would tell him places to go, people to see, and things to say, and Elijah would obey.

Elijah would say something was going to happen, and it happened. Elijah would command something to happen, and it happened.

I wondered, what was James talking about then, Elijah praying about rain? As far as I could tell Elijah NEVER prayed about rain. He just said something about rain — first, he said it wouldn’t, then he said it would. Both times it happened.

I discovered an interesting thing about the word that Paul used for prayer in James 5:17-18. It’s the Greek word proseuchomai, a word that can also be translated “worship.” I believe what Elijah did was worship, commune, converse with and listen to God. Elijah asked God for something, then God did it? No.

God asked Elijah for something, and then Elijah did it. He said what God told him to say; he spoke God’s word.

Our focus is wrong when we think about prayer. We think of it as our presenting a list of requests to God hoping he’ll stamp Approved, then pestering him until we get it. We plead and we beg, sometimes we pout and we doubt.

What if we worshiped, communed, conversed and listened to God instead? Let him ask us for something, then went out and did it?

Here’s one scenario that may have happened with Elijah and the rain. Elijah is worshiping God. He cries out his adoration and his passion to know God better. He fervently asks God to use him in some way and asks, “How can I be of service to you?” Then instead of saying “Amen” and going away, Elijah listens for God’s reply.

God says, “Okay, here’s what I want you to do. I want to stop it from raining for three and a half years, and stop the dew, too. Go tell Ahab. Go say my words.”

So Elijah went and told Ahab. He spoke God’s words, that there would be no rain or dew for three and a half years. Three and a half years later, Elijah was worshiping and conversing with God again and God says, “I’m going to send rain again now. Go tell Ahab. But first, get rid of all those fake prophets.”

Elijah obeyed, got rid of the fake prophets, spoke God’s words to Ahab again, Rain is coming, and it came!

Many believers ask God to do something, then turn their attention back and forth from God to the problem, waiting for Him to get off his throne and carry out their wishes. Their focus is blurry from all that twisting and turning.

We need Elijah’s focus. It’s not complicated, it’s just different from what we’re used to doing. Focus on God, worship Him, and get his instructions — then focus on the assignment and carry out his instructions.

Go places, see people, speak God’s words into the situation. And get God’s desired results. God’s desired results! Those are the kind of days of Elijah I want.

(First published in 2013.)

Speak the word only

Prayers unanswered?

One reason Christians don’t get answers to their prayers may be that they are only praying and not “speaking the word.”

In Matthew 8, Jesus commended a Roman centurion for his faith. Why? The centurion recognized authority when he saw it.  He acknowledged Jesus’ authority over sickness and disease and he knew the enemy – disease in this case – would also.

He said to Jesus, “speak the word only and my servant will be healed.” So he did – Jesus said “Go, it will be done just as you believed it would.” And it was – “his servant was healed at that very hour.”

James 5:17-18 recounts the story of Elijah, Ahab, drought and rain. These verses talk about prayer and faith. But take look at the original story in I Kings chapters 17 and 18. This shows something unexpected: Elijah didn’t pray for God to stop the rain or to re-start it.

He himself spoke the words that stopped the rain, and three years later re-started it. He said to Ahab “As the Lord God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (17:1) And there wasn’t.

Well then, did Elijah pray at all? Obviously he did, but I think his prayer went something like this: “Oh God, what can I do!” (About the evil king Ahab.)

God answered with a set of odd instructions:  Go see  Ahab.  Speak to him about rain…

Odd or not, Elijah obeyed. Now, did it take a lot of faith to go tell King Ahab there would be no rain – or even dew – for several years, unless he himself, Elijah, said so?

I don’t know about a lot of faith, but it would sure take guts!

Yet James 5:17 says Elijah was a man just like us. Human, not superhuman. His faith was demonstrated by his obedience; by the words that he spoke.

Matthew 28:18-20 is the “Great Commission,” Jesus’ instructions to the apostles to make disciples of all nations. Not just converts – disciples. Students. Followers. Obeyers.  And verse 19 is very specific:  “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

What does everything include? Look at Matthew 10, Mark 6 and Luke 9:  (1) Preach the kingdom. (2) Heal the sick. (3) Raise the dead. (4) Cleanse the lepers. (5) Cast out demons.

Okay, how were they supposed to do all that? He had already showed them how. For three years they had been observing him do those things.  Seventy disciples already had practice (Luke 10).

So they obeyed Jesus and followed his example in doing so.

No matter what else they did, when confronted with people in need they “spoke the word.” They did not ask God to do what Jesus had plainly told them to do. See these examples:

  • Acts 3:6 –  Peter spoke to the crippled man,  commanding him to walk, and he did.
  • Acts 9:34 – Peter spoke to the paralyzed man, commanding him to get up, and he did.
  • Acts 9:40 – Peter spoke to the dead girl, commanding her to get up, and she did.
  • Acts 13:11 – Paul spoke to the sorcerer, saying “you are going to be blind,” and he was.
  • Acts 14:10 – Paul spoke to the lame man, commanding him to stand up, and he did.
  • Acts 28:8 – Paul prayed first, then laid hands on the sick man and healed him.

Many extraordinary signs, wonders and miracles were done when the apostles and disciples obeyed Jesus.  (Stephen – Acts 6:4, Paul and Barnabas  – Acts 15:12.)

Now, we are instructed to pray and most of us have no problem with that – we do pray. But sometimes we only pray about situations when we should also “speak the word.”