Ravens and the ProphetThe Ministry of Heaven - Chapter Eleven
And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go and eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain’.
So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel,
bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
‘Go and look towards the sea,’ Elijah told his servant.
And he went up and looked. ‘There is nothing there,’ he said.
Seven times Elijah said, ‘Go back.’
The seventh time the servant reported,
‘A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’
So Elijah said, ‘Go and tell Ahab,
“Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.”‘
Meanwhile the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose,
a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.
(1 Kings 18:41-45)
Two thousand nine hundred years ago Elijah stood on the top of Mount Carmel and cried out to God for fire to come from heaven. It was a triumph of faith, and a mighty testimony to the power of prayer. Had the contest on Mount Carmel taken a less miraculous turn, Elijah would undoubtedly have perished.
Now that the fire of God had fallen, Elijah longed to see the rains released. One hundred years earlier, the Lord had appeared to Solomon in a dream. He promised the king that if the annual rains were withheld because of sin, then His people must humble themselves, pray and turn from their wicked ways, so that He would hear from heaven and heal their land.(1)
This is an important word for us today. God loves to hear our prayers, and He has made us to be a praying people. Elijah was able to triumph so spectacularly on Mount Carmel because of the earlier spiritual battles he had fought and won. He did not begin praying on the day of the contest itself: he won the victory in the heavenly places while the people were still making their way to the mountain.
There are many in the body of Christ who are prophesying days of revival ahead. There are equally as many who are declaring that God’s judgements are coming on us. Which of them is right? Who has stood in the council of the Lord to receive His word?(2)
I believe both messages are true. God is warning us most solemnly that judgement is coming – has indeed already begun in our midst – but that in His mercy, He will still pour out His Spirit on us in abundance.
Perhaps we could say that God is looking for reasons by which He may send the grace of revival, rather than the fires of judgement. This is where the concentrated prayers of God’s people are vital.(3)
Limitless Power through Prayer
Mark Twain once quipped that he could think of no foreign product which entered his country untaxed except answers to prayer! Unlike any other power in the universe, prayer can cross any distance and release any blockage. There is, quite simply, no limit to what God can accomplish through prayer.
Norman Grubb’s biography of the Welsh intercessor, Rees Howells, has helped many to enter new dimensions of prayer. During the Second World War, the Bible College of Wales, which this former miner founded, became a dedicated centre of intercession, exercising a crucial influence over the bearing of world events.
While many books give a brief uplift, the Lord used this one to touch the deepest chords in my heart. It was the most stunning confirmation of everything I had already come to believe the Scriptures taught about prayer, for it showed how prayer can affect the lives not only of individuals but also of nations. It was the starting point for many adventures in prayer.(4)
If we are to move in the spirit and power of Elijah, the Church must learn to pray together. Without prayer our life together is shallow. A Chinese preacher declared, ‘Without prayer, I am like a sea diver cut off from his supply of air; I am a fireman without a hose.’ We have so much to learn in this respect.(5)
Elijah knew that the king’s heart had not been truly changed by the demonstration of power he had witnessed. He also knew that God was more concerned right then to send rain to the nation than to deal with Ahab. He therefore urged the king to go and attend to his creature comforts, while he himself climbed again to the summit of Mount Carmel, and prayed for the fulfilment of all that God had promised. While others may be looking for entertainment, the intercessor knows that he, or she, cannot afford to relax until the work is done.
The Power of Compassion
I believe the Church today urgently needs to heed this call to pray. Scripture affords us plenty of examples of urgent prayer, the Lord Jesus Himself being our supreme example.
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.(6) ‘Cries’ translates the Greek ‘krauge’. It is a very strong word which expresses the cry that is wrung from a man under extreme mental or physical distress – such as torture.
Here we sound the depths of the compassion of God. No wishy-washy sentimentalized emotion this, but rather a heart-searing, sin-hating, gut-rending plea for mercy to flow where darkness rules, lest judgement and disaster otherwise ensue.
Many of the theological intricacies of prayer will remain forever hidden from us. It is enough for us to know that if the Lord Jesus cried out so often and so loudly in prayer, then we must follow Him along the same path – even if it takes a measure of desperation to drive us to pray in¸ this way. It is when we seek Him with all our hearts that we will find Him.(7)
The Call to Wider Prayer
Elijah’s life is a reminder that we are called to share the Lord’s wider burdens. As a prophet of the Lord, Elijah had to trust the Lord both for major international issues, and for daily guidance in his own life. The same is true in the ministry of his successor. Just as Elijah had known that he could call down both fire and rain from heaven, so the prophet Elisha would likewise know when his servant Gehazi fell into temptation – not to mention the times when enemies were planning to attack Israel.(8) These men were not psychic; they were simply in close touch with the Lord, who reveals such details to His friends.
There are seasons in the life of prayer just as there are in nature. Elijah was not usually called to the intense degree of spiritual warfare that he experienced on Mount Carmel. Since wrestling is one of the most strenuous forms of exercise known to man, it stands to reason that God will refresh us from our bouts in the wrestling ring by giving us lighter burdens to bear, and times of greater peace and intimacy.(9)
I am left, however, with the uncomfortable impression that many of us have shortened Paul’s teaching that we wrestle not against flesh and blood to the more convenient, ‘We wrestle not!’ Such would certainly appear to be the conclusion of a survey which revealed that the average evangelical spent a dismal three minutes a day in prayer.
I sometimes wonder if much of our busyness is not perilously close to what the New Testament would call worldliness. Which of us would be happy to spend a mere three minutes a day in the company of our dearest friend? Do the interests and priorities of the Kingdom really mean that much to people who ignore them for all but a few seconds a day?
We will be far more fruitful if we can learn to harness information, and convert it quickly into prayer. Almost every time we meet together as Christians we share matters that are worthy of prayer. Times without number we have found that it is when we say, ‘Let’s pray together!’ (even in the course of telephone conversations) that what had hitherto been an ordinary time of fellowship is transformed into an encounter with the Lord.
Someone once wrote that ‘prayer is not conquering God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.’ It requires courage and determination to overcome our inner reluctance and to pray together. There are barriers to overcome, both of enemy opposition and of human embarrassment. But the Lord honours those who develop the habit of prayer.
Persistence in Prayer
From the summit of Mount Carmel, a lofty watch-tower, Elijah could survey both sea and land. With his head between his knees, his whole demeanour expresses the attitude of a man aware of his continuing dependency. Elijah may have stood boldly before the people, but in the presence of his Maker he could only kneel.(10)
It had required the miracle on Mount Carmel to bring the Israelites to a point where God could again move on their behalf. Now, after three years of longing, Elijah sensed the release in his spirit to pray for God to send the rains and spare the nation.
Tradition has it that the boy who Elijah had raised from the dead grew up to become Elijah’s servant: effectively, his adopted son. He would therefore have been the one who ran to the top of Mount Carmel to see if he could see any sign of the promised rain clouds. It is a pleasing and a fitting thought. But put yourself in Elijah’s shoes, when this same servant brought him back a negative report six times in a row. Would you not have found it easy to fall into the expectation that nothing was ever going to change?
I consider it highly significant that Elijah had to send his servant back no fewer than seven times. Just as his stay by Cherith and Zarephath had been a prolonged one, so there would be no instant victory even now. The best things in life do not come easily.
Failing to understand this, many have allowed delays and disappointments to discourage them from going further along the intercessory path. But why should the Lord always answer our prayers the first time round? Do not His delays teach us to look even more fervently to Him? Surely the Lord waits to be gracious to us!(11)
If we did not need to persevere in prayer we would soon become self-sufficient. A great deal depends, therefore, on our willingness to refuse the pangs of discouragement that come our way, and to keep praying until the power of God breaks through.
Shortly after my conversion I felt a burden to pray for an old school friend. My clumsy and ineffective attempts to witness to her met with no success, and for the next twelve years I lost all contact with her. Indeed, I often wondered how much my prayers really were the leading of the Lord, and how much they were just my own desire to see her come to the Lord.
Over the years, however, the burden regularly returned, so I continued to pour out my heart to God. One night, I dreamt that she had committed her life to Christ. I shared this with Rosalind, hoping, but by no means convinced, that it might be true. The very next day we received a letter from her (the first in over twelve years) letting me know she had recently been converted, and had already led several people in her village to the Lord!
How good God is, not only to answer our prayers, but even to let us know that they have been answered. One of the great surprises of prayer is that we never know what God will accomplish through it. I had thought I was praying for one person, little suspecting that she herself would become a fervent soul-winner. The destiny of many other people is bound up in the prayers we pray.
Revivals are less the fruit of good techniques than of groups of people covenanting with the Lord and with each other to pray, and to keep laying hold of God until the heavens open and souls are saved.
In 1858 a great revival broke out on both sides of the Atlantic. It is, perhaps, less talked about today than the earlier one in John Wesley’s day, but it added a million people to the Kingdom in Great Britain within the space of a year, and revived a further million within the Church. There were no big-name speakers; it was a ‘grass-roots’ movement which began with groups of people coming together to pray.
The powerful work of Teen Challenge, that David Wilkerson pioneered among drug addicts, likewise owes its origins to prayer. This simple country pastor made a crucial decision to turn his television set off, and to spend the final two hours of the day instead in prayer.
Or take the example of a missionary called James Fraser. Despite the repeated discouragement of seeing not a single soul attending his meetings, Fraser kept on praying, year after year, for the Lisu tribe. His astonishing determination ‘not just to rest in the faithfulness of God’ (the armchair mentality) but to take hold of the faithfulness of God to secure big results for God kept him believing the specific promises of God’s word. And how his faithfulness was rewarded! The power of God broke through and a wonderful and far-reaching revival touched the Lisu tribe.(12)
The chances are that we ourselves have come to know the Lord Jesus because someone prayed for us. I know that I owe my own salvation in no small measure to the power of intercession. The Lord told the people leading the student mission in which I became a Christian that they would reap a great harvest if they would rise in the night to pray for souls. Over one hundred and fifty of us committed our lives to the Lord during that week. Many are now in full-time service for the Lord.
I think of another friend, who has long exercised a world-wide ministry. While he was still a boy, a missionary visited his school and felt led to promise that he would pray for him every day. Through a ‘chance’ meeting eighteen years later the missionary was able to see at first hand the ministry he had been so instrumental in praying into being.
Though he could have had no way of knowing it, his prayers for one obscure school boy would one day lead thousands of people, in places as far apart as America and Indonesia, to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus. The missionary was faithful to his call, and he will have his reward. So too will we, as we give ourselves to the ministry of prayer.
Burden Bearing in Prayer
The life of prayer requires perspective as well as persistence. If we feel as though we are not getting through on some particular issue, it is often helpful to try approaching it from some other angle. For example, if you have been getting to the prayer, ‘Shall I do such and such, Lord?’ why not try phrasing it the other way round? ‘Lord, is there any reason why I should not do this?’ He will not fail to warn us if we are in serious danger of going off course. The change of angle often makes all the difference.(13)
As a man of like passions to ourselves, we can imagine that Elijah must have wrestled with all sorts of misgivings as he looked up at the cloudless sky. Just as he had faced and conquered the temptation to worry about whether the ravens would come to feed him, now he had to trust the Lord to send rain from a cloudless sky. What a fool he would look in Ahab’s eyes if nothing happened!
Resolute against these plaguing thoughts, Elijah laid hold of God’s Word with that peculiar combination of boldness and urgency that is the hallmark of the true intercessor. The sight of the merest wisp of cloud far out to sea was enough to convince him that God was about to answer his prayers and fulfil His word. He promptly sent his servant to warn Ahab to set out before he was stranded by the flash-floods that would soon be on them. The proud monarch, who clearly trusted Elijah’s insight more than he feared Elijah’s God, obeyed without hesitation.
The Lord is looking for His people to come forward and offer themselves to stand in the gap for the welfare of this land.(14) He has granted us the immense privilege of being able to win God’s blessing for others through prayer, and so extend His kingdom. The Lord wants this to be a living adventure for us, and to give us joy in His house of prayer.
‘The Lord Jesus ‘is at the right hand of God, interceding for us.’(15) Through prayer we are permitted to share in the ministry of heaven. Amin Gesswein wrote, ‘Our generation has yet to see prayer as a ministry, and to take God at His word on this subject. It is while we pray that God works, not merely before or after prayer . . . Prayer is our real work.’
Talk to the Lord about the quality of your prayer life. What specific burdens has He given you? Have you been faithful to them? Pray to make your own home, and church, ‘a house of prayer for all nations.’(16)
Lord, I want to take this call to prayer seriously.
Forgive me for putting other pursuits and concerns ahead of seeking You.
Forgive me too for not wanting to pay the cost involved in seeking You.
I cannot change myself, but I am willing to be changed.
Here and now I ask for the gift of faith-filled intercession.
Grant that my authority and anointing in prayer may increase from one year to the next.
May I pray the prayers You most desire me to pray, and take the opportunities You send to pray with others.
I ask this for the glory of God, and in Jesus’ name. Amen.
1 2 Chronicles 7:12-15
2 Jeremiah 23:18
3 Cf Isaiah 56:7; Joel 2:15-18; 2 Chronicles 20:4; Ezra 10:7; Acts 4:23-31; 12:12
4 ‘Rees Howells, Intercessor,’ by Norman Grubb (Lutterworth Press). Another book I would recommend on the subject is ‘Prayer’ by Oles Hallesby (IVP).
5 I wrote ‘Praying Together’ (Sovereign World) to help Christians understand more of the dynamics, as well as the possibilities, that are available to us through corporate prayer.
6 Hebrews 5:7
7 Jeremiah 29:12-13
8 See 2 Kings 5:25-27 and 2 Kings 6:8-12 for examples of the Lord making Elisha dramatically aware of the enemy’s plans.
9 It is also worth saying that people’s capacity to bear burdens is very different, and that it varies from one phase of our life to another. A right understanding of this will help to avoid overloading either ourselves or each other.
10 It has been pointed out that this is a classic birthing position. Elijah was giving birth to the rains that would save the nation. Cf Galatians 4:19
11 Isaiah 30:18
12 See ‘The Prayer of Faith’, by James Fraser (OMF).
13 Isaiah 30:21
14 Ezekiel 22:30-31
15 Romans 8:34, cf Hebrews 7:25
16 Isaiah 56:7
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Chapter One - The Courts of the Lord
Chapter Two - The Hidden Life
Chapter Three - By the Brook Cherith
Chapter Four - The Shrinking Brook
Chapter Five - Strange Guidance
Chapter Six - The Provision of the Lord
Chapter Seven - In the Power of the Spirit
Chapter Eight - The Stature of Waiting
Chapter Nine - Interfacing with the World
Chapter Ten - Fire on Mount Carmel
Chapter Eleven - The Ministry of Heaven
Chapter Twelve - The Importance of Rest
Chapter Thirteen - Strategic Retreat or Headlong Flight
Chapter Fourteen - Shock and Shame
Chapter Fifteen - The Temptation to Despair
Chapter Sixteen - Angelic Restoration
Chapter Seventeen - Confronted with God's Challenge
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
Chapter Twenty Six - Translated to Eternity