In my last perspective entitled Aftermath of Mt Carmel part 2 (29 May 2016), I addressed the first of two incidents in which Elijah prayed and God answered his prophet. What about the second incident? It happened after the great battle at Mt Carmel when Elijah told Ahab to go, eat and drink because rain would be coming. So the king went as told while the prophet went up to the peak of the mountain to pray and sent his servant to go and look at the sea. The servant came back with nothing and this scene repeated seven times before the servant finally came back with something. And so a question was asked: Why was there a need for Elijah to pray persistently when it was clearly God’s will after all? Does it mean that I should persist in praying when I also know it is God’s will until it is done? Am I not showing a lack of faith in God in persisting?
Two things need to be addressed concerning such questions before we look into Elijah’s story. First, when we talk about persistence in prayer, we usually think of Luke 11:5-8 where Jesus told the parable of a man who persists in asking a friend for loaves of bread until he gives in. And so we may hear people insist that if we persist in praying, we can change God’s mind. Though this isn’t really what Jesus is teaching here, nevertheless some may therefore get the idea that persistent prayer has to do with changing God’s mind or will. But if it is already God’s will, then we shouldn’t persist, for we are showing a lack of faith in doing so. Second, how did this idea of lacking faith come about? My guess is the charismatic preachers of today who pack tons of faith in their well-articulated prayers. Why? I have heard one or two who said that if one has faith, he only needs to say the word, claim it in Jesus’ name and the mountain will move accordingly. Those who have to keep praying and hoping that it may be God’s will lack faith.
With these in mind, let us revisit the mountain top. First, when Elijah told the king to go, eat and drink, there was no sign of rain yet. So he had faith and could have joined the king to celebrate the victory that God had granted while trusting the Almighty to send the rain. I have this hunch that charismatic preachers of today would love to do so as a display of their faith. But Elijah went to the mountain top to pray because he had told the king at the beginning that there would neither be dew nor rain except by his word (1 Kings 17:1). And so he prayed and sent his servant to go and check. But why did he not say the word and then come back down in faith that it would surely be done? In remaining up there until there was sign of rain, it might lead some to think that the prophet’s faith was lacking. For if he had the faith, it would have been answered immediately as in the first incident when the widow’s son was revived. In sending his servant seven times, it also gives the impression that he was persisting in prayer until it came to pass.
Well, I believe Elijah remained up there until there was sign of rain because the king was feasting down below. If he had gone down right after praying and asked the king to pack and leave, he would have spoil the king’s party when the rain was still far from coming. And if he had joined him instead, they might be caught by the rain. So he waited until the rain was about to come before asking the king to leave. So the king really had his prophet to thank for having the most of time to feast and not be caught by the rain. But why did he send his servant seven times? Well, if only he had told his servant to wait until he saw rain. It was the servant who didn’t persist. Elijah did not demand that God sent the rain supernaturally like how he sent the fire. He had the patience to wait and let God be God while he acted like the watchman at the gate of the city, praying and keeping watch so that he might bring timely news promptly to the king. Watch and pray as Jesus said to Peter, James and John so that we too may not be caught, not by rain but by temptation because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. And sometimes we need to do so for others’ sake.
Nevertheless, the question remains, i.e. should I persist in praying when it is clearly God’s will after all? Or if it is not God’s will, can I still persist until God changes his mind? This can take up another perspective altogether, especially in dealing with Luke 11:5-8 that seems to suggest so. But let me keep it short and simple here. When we know God and love him for who he is and what he has done for us, we will delight in seeking his will and praying for it to be done even if it calls for fasting and perseverance.
Rev Ronnie Ang
July 10, 2016