Ravens and the Prophet

A Heart of Mourning - Chapter twenty two

 

 

Elisha stared at Hazael with a fixed gaze until he felt ashamed.

Then the man of God began to weep.(1)
(2 Kings 8:11)

Looking beyond Elijah’s lifetime, we find Elisha continuing his prophetic mission, both in guiding the leaders of the nation, and in declaring what God was saying about kings and nations alike. When Benhadad, the king of Aram fell ill, he sent Hazael to consult the Lord through Elisha as to whether or not he would recover, the Lord showed Elisha that Benhadad’s illness was not, of itself, fatal, but that Hazael would take advantage of it to kill the king and seize the throne for himself. To Elisha’s deep distress he also foresaw how cruelly Hazael would persecute the Israelites.(2)

Developing an ‘Elijah heart’ means allowing the things which grieve God to touch our hearts.

Like all true prophets, Elijah and Elisha were allowed into the courts of the Lord to hear the thoughts and decrees of heaven.

God shares with His friends not only the joys of heaven, but also His sadnesses.

It is not as simple as it sounds to find a spiritual way to express our concern. The sheer amount of evil and suffering in the world can easily crush our spirit. If our awareness of these things does not lead us to mourn, however, we are likely to do one of three things: to bury our heads and focus only on our own immediate world; to fall prey to fear because of the threats that they pose, or just to moan! How much better if we can identify with what the Lord Himself is feeling, and allow Him to highlight just the issues that He would have us take up in prayer and in whatever other form of action He indicates.

As we encounter unspiritual practices in the Church, and tragedies in the world, we will often experience the Lord’s grief. In the book of Jeremiah, the Lord’s lament centred on the fact that the false prophets had not stood in the council of the Lord to understand His will.(3) As Paul experienced, there is a cost involved in suffering in our spirits for the sake of the Church, ‘filling up in the flesh what is still lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the Church.’(4)

In Ezekiel’s day, God sovereignly spared those who grieved over the detestable sins of those around them. This is not melancholia – and it is a thousand times more precious in God’s sight than idle hand wringing. We can mourn in prayer, precisely because we are secure in the love of God – and He listens and hears.

Over a period of time, our hearts become filled with repentance because we have not made Him Lord of our lives, and Lord of our land.

God hears the prayers of those who care.(5)

The Prayer of Identification

In a good novel it is easy to identify with the characters as we see them interacting in varying situations. They become so much a part of our lives that we may even come to regard them as having a ‘real’ life outside the pages of their book. How much more, then, should we be able to identify with the people we are called to pray for!

It is the nature of God to be one with those on whom He has set His love.(6) Just as Jesus fully identified with mankind by dwelling among us as a man, so today, as the Christmas hymn puts it, ‘He feeleth for our sadness and He shareth in our gladness.’

There can be no greater pain than that of love which is refused and rejected. Something of this anguish was made clear to us one day, when Rosalind and I saw the Lord on the cross in a vision. We were together with Him looking out over the city of Jerusalem. Although we could neither see nor hear the mocking crowds, what affected us most was the sense of utter desolation and loneliness. The very people He had come to save had nailed Him to the cross, and He was unable now to reach out and help them, because they had refused to respond to His love. In one sense, it is as though the Lord is still on the cross because, as a nation, we have refused to let Him accomplish His saving work in our lives. What joy it gives the Lord when people recognise His saving work and begin to share His heart concerns!

The Lord suffers because so few are prepared to share their lives with Him. If Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it rejected Him, how can we too not weep too over the indifference so many have towards Him? Real prayer, as we have seen, is born of the same compassion which moved the Lord Jesus to ‘offer up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears.’(7) Such weeping is often the prelude to effective action.

Jesus said that we are blessed when we mourn.(8) Such intense times of prayer can come on us at completely unexpected moments. We may be about our business or on our travels when the Spirit stirs within us, and we find ourselves pouring out our hearts in prayer, as we see the emptiness in people’s lives.

 At a time when so many of God’s children are suffering for their faith, or struggling to make ends meet, God is giving us the opportunity to lighten their oppression by our prayers.(9) True, this is by no means everyone’s primary calling, but as we meet in the joy of His Presence, and in the freedom He has given us as a nation, it is good to remember those who are suffering for the sake of righteousness. If we are never for sighted or willing enough to do this, may it not be a sign that we are fundamentally self-centred?

From Head to Heart

Part of the fruit of being close to the Lord is to experience in prayer what others far away may be going through, or in need of. As members of one body, what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Africa, China, and other parts of the world should be of immediate concern to us. It is important to take the trouble to find out what is going on, so that we can pray informedly for God’s mercy to triumph over the powers of darkness.

God can baptise our imaginations so that we know in our spirit what is going on, and what needs to be released by faith. Purely in terms of praying for believers who are oppressed or imprisoned for their faith, they may well need more than just physical and mental strength: they need our prayers not only to hold fast to the faith, but to be spared agonies of anxiety at being separated from their loved ones.

For nearly three years I tried to pray for a man in a concentration camp. When I saw a photograph of him on his release, and heard his testimony of how God had kept and blessed him during those long years of imprisonment, I was ashamed at how unfaithful I had been in supporting him. I had so often forgotten him, and allowed the distance between us to be a hindrance to my faith.

Brother Andrew relates an occasion when he was with his local prayer group, methodically praying his way through of people who were being persecuted. News suddenly arrived that a young girl, who they all knew personally, had been taken seriously ill.

The prayer meeting changed gear immediately, as everybody poured their hearts out for her to be healed.

The Lord restored the girl, but He used the episode to challenge them. They were so concerned because they knew – but He wanted them to be concerned for these people who He knew about.

Liquid Prayer

Judgement is always shown in the Bible to be according to opportunity. The Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it had failed to acknowledge the hour of its visitation.(10) Already He could see in His spirit the terrible disasters that would come on the city some forty years later when it was so cruelly sacked by the Roman army.

Jesus grieved, likewise, over the cities in which so many of His miracles had been performed. There are consequences for rejecting Him. Jesus Himself warned that it would be worse for Bethsaida and Capernaum than for the pagan towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, precisely because these places had never been exposed to the Truth.(11)

 Perhaps there are, at the end of the day, only two kinds of nations: those that say ‘It’ (meaning trouble and spiritual blindness) can’t happen here,’ and those which say, ‘We thought it couldn’t happen here.’ Does the history of the world not consist very largely of empires that have been raised up, only to collapse under the weight of their own sinfulness. This, again, is why it is time to pray for the backslidden West to embrace the glorious inheritance that Christ is offering them.(12)

But how we are to respond? Biographies of prayer warriors alternately inspire us with the vision of what our prayer life could be like, and discourage us because they are so far removed from our own experience.

Our spirits stir (even though our flesh may quail!) when we read of Jeremiah, who so longed for his people to return to God that he cried out, ‘O that my head were a spring of water, my eyes a fountain of tears.’(13) It is the same when we hear of John Knox kneeling in the snow, to plead for God’s mercy to fall on his beloved Scotland, and a host of other mighty men and women of faith.

The wonderful truth is that all of us can be used to pray prayers that count. The Jewish rabbis regarded tears as the highest form of prayer. Spurgeon described tears as ‘liquid prayer.’ When Luke records that Jesus prayed ‘more earnestly’ in the Garden of Gethsemane, the English translation barely hints at the intensity of the real meaning of the Greek word, which might more accurately be translated: ‘with greater stretched-outedness.’(14)

The devil dampens our willingness to pray either by making us suppose that our prayers won’t do any good, or by playing on our fear of suffering. He is, after all, the author of so much of it. I believe that almost everyone who has suffered for the Lord once doubted whether they would be able to remain faithful to Him during times of pressure.

A story which has helped many to come to terms with the prospect of suffering concerns the young Corrie Ten Boom. At the age of four she had a great fear of dying, and she asked her father what it would be like. That saintly man, who later met a brutal death at the hands of the Nazis, asked her a question by way of a reply: ‘When we go to Amsterdam, when do I buy the ticket?’ ‘Just before we get on the train, of course,’ she answered him. ‘Then in just the same way,’ her father went on, ‘God will give us grace when we need it – not in advance!’

In later years, Corrie was to prove the truth of these words. Sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp for sheltering Jewish families, she experienced all the horrors which the perverted Nazi regime was capable of devising. She was finally released – by a clerical error(!) – on the day before all women of her age were put to death. Corrie toured the world for a further forty years, proclaiming wherever she went that there is no pit so deep that Jesus is not deeper still. The tears shed in Ravensbruck released a harvest around the world.

Sharing the Lord’s Heart

In a Roman penal colony on the island of Patmos, whence he had been exiled for his faith, an angel gave John a scroll to eat. It tasted as sweet as honey in his mouth, but it turned his stomach sour.

Ezekiel had had a similar experience, centuries before.(15) John and Ezekiel both discovered that eating the scroll was the outward sign of an inward call, to take a hard message to a people who did not want to hear it. But the Lord did not leave Ezekiel and John to struggle on their own. He is generous to those He calls to embrace such a message, and He draws them further in to the glorious intimacy of His presence.(16)

God may have a scroll prepared for some of us, too, which is at once sweet, but difficult in its outworkings. I remember one night lying awake, feeling acutely God’s grief concerning the violent events of the Crystal Night, which marked the start of the Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people. For the Lord it was as though the pain of that terrible pre-war night were as yesterday.

Some five months before hostilities broke out, I felt a great sense of grief, as the Lord showed me the many Iraqis who would needlessly lose their lives in the First Gulf War because of Saddam Hussein’s stubborn intransigence. On another occasion, we were praying at one of our prayer conferences for children who had been abused. We experienced an almost overwhelming sense of the Lord’s grief over all that had happened. One of the group was given an exquisitely moving lament, in which the Lord was promising that He will reveal His heart to those who seek His face – and that may often involve tears as well as joy.

Yes, He is the God of joy and gladness, but He is also a God of mourning, who wants us to share in all of His heart. Do not be afraid to let Him mould and shape your heart so you are able to share His pain. He will lead you gently, never asking more of you than He knows that you can bear. But where are the intercessors? Where are those who are willing to learn to mourn with Him?

Many years ago a group of us were praying in the New Year. It was one of those frustrating evenings, when it felt for all the world as though our prayers were hitting the roof and coming straight back down again. One of us was given a picture of a drum-skin stretched tight across the ceiling. When we asked the Lord what was wrong, He showed us that it was our lack of honesty with each other which was holding His Spirit back.

It was repentance which is the key to a fuller flow of the Spirit. (It so often is!) ‘From heaviness to heavenlyness’, we became aware of the Lord’s close presence, and found ourselves worshipping in a completely new dimension, until finally one girl was left singing a beautiful melody that she was hearing in the courts of heaven.

Out of this most intimate time of prayer the Lord spoke to us: ‘It is not for your sakes alone that you come into My courts in this way, My children, but for Mine. For when you worship Me in holiness, then is My power released in your land.’

The Lord hears the prayers that come from the heart, and He responds to them in power. Our tears are precious to Him.

As we seek His face, we may well find ourselves reaching out in love for many aspects of our national life as well as purely personal circumstances. Then we too will experience the mercy of the Cross drawing close, until ‘the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts?’(17)

Reflections

Are we willing to mourn in prayer over things we know to be wrong – or do we merely moan about them?

Selah

Lord, make our hearts as soft as Yours, so that we can share more of Your heart.

Let us feel as You do, even when You mourn, so that You can release Your power through our prayers.

We pray this for the extension of Your kingdom.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Previous chapter – When My people are one
Next Chapter – May our Hearts be free from idols

References

1 Cf 1 Samuel 15:11, Exodus 32; Ezekiel 8:6; Revelation chapters 2-3. It is not that the Lord despairs over the state of the world – but He does grieve over it.
2 Read 2 Kings 8:7-15
3 Jeremiah 18:22, cf 23:18. How can our compassion not be mixed with grief and anger when we pray for our land? The Church’s task, in speaking to the nation with a clear prophetic voice, has been made infinitely harder by the faltering voices which deride sound doctrine and undermine biblical wisdom.
4 Colossians 1:24, cf Ezekiel 4:4-17, Gal 4:19. Our Lord was grieved at the hardness of heart of the Scribes and Pharisees, who refused to repent when they witnessed the miracles of the kingdom. These men not only excluded themselves from the purpose of God for their generation, but hindered others from discovering it, too, and so brought double judgement on themselves.
5 cf Jeremiah 12:11,
6 John 17:20-24; Luke 22:31-32
7 Luke 19:41, cf Matthew 23:37; Hebrews 5:7
8 Matthew 5:4
9 Cf Hebrews 13:3
10 Luke 19:41-44, cf 13:44
11 Matthew 11:20-24
12 Cf Amos 3:2-3; Ezekiel 16:49 The nature of this sinfulness revolves around its self-centredness – and corresponding unwillingness to reach out to share what God has given with others. I believe this is a key reason why our own nation is in such peril.
13 Jeremiah 9:1
14 Luke 22:44
15 Ezekiel 2:9-3:5
16 Ezekiel 1:26-28, cf Revelation chapters 1 and 4
17 2 Peter 1:19

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