Ravens and the Prophet

In the Power of the Spirit - Chapter Seven

Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill.

He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing.

She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God?

Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
(1 Kings 17:17-18)

In the power of the Spirit, Elijah had predicted the impossible: that the jar of flour and the jug of oil would not run out. The Lord had worked a miracle, and now, in gratitude, the widow invited the prophet to come and live in the house she shared with her son. Thus Elijah entered into a relatively settled existence for the next three years – a far longer ‘sabbatical’ than most Christian workers will ever enjoy.

It says much for Elijah’s character that he was able to adjust to a life of quiet domesticity. There are some who can prosper in the silence and solitude of Cherith, but who find the rigours and demands of home life irksome. Impatient and intolerant responses reveal how wide is the gap between high-faluting professions of faith and the true condition of their heart.

There are many who like nothing better than to be in the midst of the action. They thrive on the challenge of ‘Mount Carmel-esque’ confrontations and power encounters. In the process, however, they become addicted to the glamour and excitement of high-powered ministry, and find little to satisfy their restless spirits in the regular round of everyday life.

Whether we like it or not, constant change is here to stay. Much though we would love good times to last forever, it can not be. Friends move on, we are obliged to change jobs, our pastor leaves, and things can never be quite the same as they were before. May the Lord give us grace and flexibility to adapt to new circumstances!

The Power of Gentleness

There are few things harder to bear than seeing hopes that had been raised being dashed. Before the miracle that had multiplied the oil and the flour, the widow had resigned herself to die. Now, having come to expect a full life-span for herself and her son, her peaceful existence was shattered in the space of a few cruel hours by the tragedy of her only son falling ill and dying. She had poured herself into the boy, and her will to live collapsed. Forgetting all the blessing he had brought, she rounded on Elijah, and accused the prophet who had decreed the famine of being the cause of this tragedy too.

Only those who have experienced the death of a child in the family can fully understand the devastating intensity of her feelings. But Elijah must have felt the loss almost as keenly. Quite apart from his natural grief, the death of the widow’s son posed him an acute threat. Had Satan struck the boy to have him driven out of the home? Where would he go if she threw him out of her house?

Even when the roof over our head is not riding on an issue, it is never easy to be blamed unjustly. To be the target of someone else’s anger exposes our own insecurities. Knowing these things makes us admire Elijah’s response the more. If he had replied to the distraught woman in anger, he would have fallen into the devil’s trap, and would have missed a unique opportunity to experience the power of the Lord. In this moment of extreme crisis, the prophet displayed not only outstanding faith, but also a graciousness which is the hallmark of intimacy with God.

This is, unfortunately, not always true of those who move in prophetic dimensions. Bearing in mind that we pass on to others what we are, rather than merely what we say, we should seek the fruit of gentleness in our lives. Gentleness is used in Scripture in contrast to contentiousness; it by no means implies weakness or woolliness.

When a leader is truly gentle in spirit, then the chances are that the flock will also become mature and settled. Gentleness is the very opposite of that stentorian dragooning and haranguing to which so many leaders subject their precious troops.(1) Gentleness makes us winsome in the sight of God and man.

The Power of the Lord

Elijah could make no more sense of the tragedy than the widow could, but when the test came, his faith sprang into action. In Elijah’s agony we see the fruit of his intimacy with the Lord: a wholehearted identification and a genuine compassion. Here are costly qualities we do well to emulate. The word for ‘compassion’ in Greek, might loosely be translated as a ‘gut ache.’

Whenever it is recorded that the Lord Jesus felt compassion, we see the power of God flowing most freely to help and to heal. Scripture urges us towards such whole-hearted participation in each other’s sufferings.(2)

We have no way of knowing for certain, but the wording of the widow’s outburst makes one suspect that there may have been some guilt attached to the birth of the boy. If this is so, we can imagine how easily she would have been inclined to view her son’s death as a direct punishment from God. It certainly shattered her faith.

Elijah had to overcome not only the widow’s anger, but also the repugnance any Jew would have felt at having to touch a corpse. Taking her son in his arms, he carried him to the upper room and laid him on his bed. Then, stretching himself out on top of the boy’s body, he cried out to God from the depths of his heart: “O Lord my God, have You brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die? O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”(3)

We can feel the intensity of this prayer. Perhaps Elijah himself was feeling distressed and angry that the Lord had allowed this situation to come about. What a blaze of joy he must have felt as the child began to breathe again!(4) How moving that it should be here, far from the Promised Land, that we come across the first recorded instance in Scripture of someone being raised from the dead.

We can imagine the reunion, as he took the child downstairs and presented him alive to his mother. The Lord had restored not only the widow’s son, but her own heart too. From that moment on she would have been able to enjoy much closer fellowship with Elijah; now, at last, she trusted him. More importantly, she trusted his God. Where, before, she may have been little more than a nominal believer, now her heart was convinced. Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”(5)

Elijah spent the next few years with the widow in Zarephath; a pleasant town, with the steep snow-clad slopes of Mount Hermon behind him, and fine views over the blue Mediterranean. After the agony of watching first the shrinking brook and then the dying boy, Elijah was rewarded with a long stretch of calm: quite possibly, the most settled period of his whole life. Such interludes are to be savoured to the full.

Authority in Prayer

It is intriguing to note how many of the prayers Jesus and His disciples prayed took the form of commands. When faced by a sudden storm, the Lord Jesus did not ask His Father for rescue: He commanded the storm to be still. When He found Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever He did not send for a thermometer: He rebuked the fever. The apostles prayed along similar lines.(6)

Smith Wigglesworth, an early Pentecostal leader, declared that ‘an ounce of faith is worth a ton of asking,’ because he rightly saw that so much of our prayer is little more than the vocalising of our unbelief. It certainly falls well short of the confident petition Paul had in mind when he told us that in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, we should let our requests be made known to God.(7)

We need to make our faith comprehensive, to encompass every part of our lives. The prayer of faith mentioned in James 5:15 is both specific and definite. It enables us to exercise the authority of the Lord over Satan, sickness, and other difficult situations. This is less a matter of finding the right words – let alone a formula – than the Holy Spirit within us conferring the authority and anointing to pray in a particular way.

It is hardly to be wondered at that Satan endeavours so strenuously to keep believers from using the authority that is ours in the name of the Lord Jesus. The powers of darkness know only too well that such faith can release the power of the Lord in a way in which months of merely praying about a situation may not succeed in doing. There comes a moment to stop circling the walls of Jericho and to utter the shout which brings them down. Such was the faith Elijah exercised when he cried out for life to return to the widow’s son.

At the end of that momentous day, Elijah and the widow could agree together: God is our refuge, and our strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.’ (8)

The Battle for the Next Generation

Elijah’s struggle to save a child from premature death points us to the intense spiritual battle we are waging today for the next generation. Has there ever been a time before when we have had to pray so hard for protection against the effects of secular and sinister influences in the lives of our children? Worldly stereotypes that embrace amoral and positively anti-Christian values confront our children daily in society and in our schools.(9)

A stable family is a powerful demonstration of the reality of God’s love. The fact that there are so few of them about is a measure of the enemy’s hostility. Most of us go out from home to work and do battle for the Lord. By the time we return home, our thoughts are often centred on the need to rest and recuperate. We are glad to relax, but we often let our defences down too far, and end up hurting those closest to us by our harsh words and thoughtless actions. How important it is to deal promptly with little seeds of resentment and frustration before they develop into suffocating weeds of indifference or intolerance.

The extent to which Christian marriage is under threat today would have been unthinkable a generation or two ago. Yet the problems we experience would be greatly reduced if we would admit our difficulties and temptations and pray for each other more honestly.

Like vintage wines, Christian marriages should improve as the years pass by. It is just as important in marriage to try to be the right sort of person as it was to meet the right partner in the first place. Many of us husbands need to be more imaginative in expressing our love for our wives – just as some women would do well to show that they love their husbands as well as the Lord. Intimacy with God means being at one with our loved ones too.

Because the pressures on family life are so great, it pays to make the effort to get away together before crises develop. The strains that ensue from not doing so may not be apparent at the time, but are cumulative, manifesting themselves at times of heightened tension, or when the children have finally flown the nest.

Times away are an excellent way of restoring both personal intimacy and the habit of praying together. But since the Lord bestows countless answers through those who pray together, we can be sure the enemy will do all he can to deter our life of prayer together. Heart-unity is our vital responsibility, so that nothing will hinder our prayers.(10)

The fact that Elijah was called to lodge with a widow, however, speaks directly to God’s concern for the many single parents of our own day. The Lord does not discard the disadvantaged; rather, He sovereignly chooses them to further the purposes of His Kingdom.

Reflections

How we respond in the face of tragedy depends, to a large extent, on how far we have allowed the power of the Lord to touch our heart. Like Elijah, we too find ourselves subjected to serious tests of faith. The way Elijah handled his sudden crisis is an inspiration to us in at least five ways:

a) Crises in the Family
Perhaps, like the widow, you too, are in need of a miracle of grace for a member of your family. You have prayed and prayed, but nothing appears to have changed. Further discernment may be needed, especially for generational problems, but do not give up praying now. The Lord hears the cry of your heart. You may be well-advised, however, to ask friends who are less emotionally involved to help you carry the weight of the burden. They can often see issues more clearly, and can release the spiritual authority of objective faith into situations which are weighing you down.(11)

b) The Power of Prayer
The more we are seeking to lead an Elijah-style life of truly seeking after God, the more confidently we can expect miraculous answers to prayer. At times of urgent need, however, we need people who will pray with and for us.

I cannot stress too much how important it is to establish lines of communication in prayer before we need to use them. Then, when a crisis develops, we are able to harness prayer straight away. Examine your own ‘lines of communication.’ Is there anything you can do to improve them?

c) Growth in Character
Elijah’s faith-filled response to the tragedy enabled the widow to ‘catch’ his faith. Words are powerful (especially when there is a holy man or woman behind them) but it is ultimately who we are, and what we do, that is the yardstick of our intimacy with God.

To illustrate how important this dimension of our character is, may I invite you to close your eyes and think back to one or two of your earliest teachers. Bless their memory as they come to mind.

Of all the thousands of words these people must have addressed to you, how many can you remember now? Is it not rather the impression of the person that is stamped in the memory banks of your mind? For better or for worse these people helped to shape your life.

Pray to be a man or woman who can respond to crisis with faith, and whose character shows forth the likeness of our Risen Saviour.

d) The Witness of the Church
We can imagine that this miracle made a profound impact on the boy himself as he grew up. Remembering that more than 75% of all conversions happen before a person reaches the age of twenty one, pray for the Church’s efforts to reach a generation that is growing up with so little knowledge of God.

e) The Value of Fellowship
It is impossible to overstate how precious fellowship with the renewed widow would have been for Elijah. Exiled by the Lord in a foreign land, where he had no fellow believers with whom to share his faith, their relationship reminds us that we should never underestimate the blessing our letters and phone calls can be to those who find themselves far from home. Is there anyone the Lord would have you get in contact with now?

Selah

Lord Jesus, help us to move in the power of your Spirit. Grant us faith for every situation that comes our way, and a character that speaks of You.

We cry out to You for protection against all the destructive forces that assail our generation.

We pray particularly for families to grow in the grace of the Lord; for the love of husbands and wives to deepen with the passing of the years, and for their children to be true to You.

May the fruit of gentleness be seen in Your Church, so that many may come to know the grace of God for themselves. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Previous chapter – The Provision of the Lord
Next Chapter – The Stature of Waiting

References

1 I would commend ‘Understanding Leadership,’ (Tom Marshall, Sovereign World) as being the finest book on leadership I have read.
2 Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 18:27, 20:34; Mark 1:41, 6:34, 8:2; Luke 7:13
3 1 Kings 17:20-21
4 1 Kings 17:22
5 1 Kings 17:19-24
6 Eg Matthew 8:26, Luke 4:38-39, Acts 3:1-8, cf Acts 14:10, Revelation 2:26-27
7 Philippians 4:6
8 Psalm 46:1-2
9 Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in most people’s attitude towards abortion.
10 1 Peter 3:7
11 This episode hints at the different realms of public and private prayer. Elijah did not pray for the boy in the widow’s presence, because he needed time to wait on the Lord privately. Public prayer requires shared discernment amongst believers as to what it is we should be praying for. Private prayer is when we cry out the Lord concerning issues that burden us individually. In both cases this seeking of the Lord’s heart and will enables things to come about which would not otherwise have happened.

Chapter Index

Chapter Eighteen - Symbols of His Power
Chapter Nineteen - The Dark Speech of God
Chapter Twenty - The Judgements of God
Chapter Twenty One - When My People are one
Chapter Twenty Two - A Heart of Mourning
Chapter Twenty Three - Three pdfs

The Prophetic Ministry
Part One - May our Hearts be free from idols
Part Two - The Prophetic Calling
Part Three - Prophets and Pastors
Chapter Twenty Four - The Challenging Counterfeit
Chapter Twenty Five - The Schools of the Prophets
Part One
Part Two
Chapter Twenty Six - Translated to Eternity