God hears our prayers even when we are not praying to Him, even when they are not said to Him. That sounds strange, because who else would we pray to?
The Northern Kings are all idolatrous, some worshipping Yahweh through idols; others worshipping strange gods through idols. Ahaziah is the son of the worst, Ahab and Jezebel. When he has an accident, Ahaziah gets worried. Common reaction. Everyone falls. Common malady. Some fall down the stairs, some up the stairs, some off their bikes and others fall over imaginary lines. Ahaziah falls through a lattice window in his upper room, and injures himself. One of my daughters accidently pushed a good friend through a window. Thankfully, it was on the first floor. Worried, the king sends messengers instructing them: “Go inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, if I will recover from this injury” (2 Kings 1.2). Baal-zebub is “Lord of the Flies.” Ekron is in Philistia, the historical enemy of Israel. Gone are David’s days of inquiring of the LORD.
Nonetheless, Yahweh hears the prayer. The Angel of the LORD says to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go and meet the messengers of the King of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? (1.4). God’s answer is not going to tickle the ears: “You will not get up from your sickbed – you will certainly die” (1.4). The messengers return immediately to Ahaziah, surprising him. “Why have you come back?” (1.5). So they tell the king word for word what God’s prophet said. These messengers do a better job of preaching than some modern preachers! No parsing, no twisted interpretation, no theological bias. After asking questions, Ahaziah discovers it is Elijah. Apparently being “a hairy man with a leather belt around his waist” (1.8) gave him away. How would someone describe you in one sentence?
Two loutish captains are sent to Elijah. God doesn’t like their impudence (1.9-15). Because of God’s “fiery” temper, the third captain is more polite. Elijah sends another similar message to the unfaithful king, “Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub…you will certainly die” (1.16). Ahaziah prayed to the wrong god, but the right God heard. If only he’d prayed to The God, he might have received grace to live.
Today some sobriety group members make inanimate objects, like a chair, their “higher power.” Isn’t that as idolatrous and senseless as praying to a nonexistent “Lord of the Flies?” Today, when worried or ill, who are we talking to and trusting instead of God? Do we trust friends, counselors or doctors more than God? There is nothing wrong with seeking help, unless it supplants our prayers. Do we replace God? Do we “pray” to ourselves making us our own god? Whether to a false god, a chair, or friend or expert, God still hears our words and un-prayed thoughts. Is He pleased? “Lattice” Pray!
Prayer Challenge: When we get worried, who do we talk to the most?
Everyone wants to stand on top of the mountain of triumph. No one wants to slide down into the valley of depression. But with every mountain, there is a valley. One of God’s greatest prophets, a man equal in the Jewish mind to Moses, one who appears to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, is Elijah. Needless to say, the man whose name means “My God is Yahweh” is a blessed man. This blessed man gets depressed. Apparently he does not know he is too blessed to get depressed. He prays, “I have had enough! LORD, take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). He prays to die.
Elijah has normal reactions to being depressed: Runs Away From The Problem (v.3); Desires Death (v.4); Sleeps (vv.5, 6); Feels Alone (v.10); Has a False Sense Of Reality; Becomes Forgetful (vv.2,10); Feels Full Of Pity (v.10); and Obsesses (vv.10,14).
Depression, as a natural emotional low (i.e., not “clinical depression”), often comes after an emotional high. Learning to stay balanced during our good times is a key to handling the bad times. Knowing that bad situations do not always mean God’s displeasure is another key. Look at Elijah. Right after the high of Mount Carmel, comes the low of fleeing for his life (19:3). Depression, mixed with worry and fear are emotions that hit all of us – sometimes upside the head. Elijah fears Jezebel the Queen and worries for his safety and consequently becomes depressed. Feeding on his fear, Elijah runs away.
Prayer is such an important reaction to depression and part of the remedy. Notice all the remedies for depression in this narrative: Refresh Yourself (vv.5-8); Start Small And Take Time (v.7); Go to the Mountain of God (v.8); Observe Nature (vv.11-12); Prayer (v.14); The Word of God (vv.15-18); and Work for God (vv.15-16). All of these require us to fight depression, worry and fear. We have to be pro-active and not rely upon others to solve our problems for us. Even when relying upon God, He expects us to do something positive by providing the solutions but without working them for us.
Elijah has the honor of a conversation with God; basically prayer is talking to God. Prayer is profitable when depressed for several reasons:1) We tell our problems to One who can solve them; 2) We tell our problems to One who cares (1 Pet 5.7); 3) We tell our problems to One who understands (Heb 4.15-16). Personally I find praying extremely therapeutic. Because I know I cannot hide anything from God, I find myself even more honest with myself. Elijah was honest with God. He was tired of living. I’ve been there. Honesty is always a good place to begin with prayer, even when we don’t like what we are being honest about.
Prayer Challenge: When depressed do not ignore or blame God. Pray to stay connected and let God lift you up. Then get to work!
One of the most famous American droughts was the Dust Bowl from 1931 to 1939. In 2012, 42% of the country experienced severe, extreme or exceptional drought, the largest such percentage since the mid-1950s. The 2002 drought in Colorado brought the lowest water flow that the state had seen in 300 years. The 1988 North American drought cost an estimated $40 million in damages in the U.S. Remember any of those? Me neither. Except that last one. I remember the Dust Bowl too, but only in history books. I don’t remember the $40 million in damages in 1988, but I do remember watching TV where small towns were having prayer meetings. That Wednesday night, I gently chastised the congregation for not praying for rain. That night we did. That weekend it rained. Almost any farmer knows more about faith than almost any scholar. Faith is not learned from books, it is learned The Book; and from life, hard life, and hard times. A friend of mine, whose father was a pig farmer, said he didn’t have enough faith to be a crop farmer! Waiting on those rains takes faith.
Israel’s famine had lasted 3 ½ years. After the Battle on Mt. Carmel, Elijah prays, and it rains. Ask most people, “Did it rain miraculously?” and they will probably say, “Yes.” If they mean it rained by God’s power, then that is correct. If they mean God suspended the laws of nature to make it rain, check the story again.
Elijah bows down to the ground, and puts his face between his knees to pray (1 Kings 18.42). He commands his servant, “Go up and look toward the sea.” The answer is, “There is nothing.” Seven times Elijah says, “Go back.” Finally, on the seventh try, the servant says, “There’s a cloud as small as a man’s hand coming from the sea” (18.44).
Does the rain fall from a clear blue sky? No. Does it fall immediately after the prayer? Again, no. It begins like rain begins. Clouds form from evaporation, this time over water, starting out small, and becoming bigger until the clouds become too heavy and rain falls. Nothing out of the ordinary, except it is by answered prayer.
Rightly so, people marvel at miracles. Our God is the God of miracles and of nature because He created it by miracle and sustains it by His natural law. He even interferes for His purposes. He caused the drought, and causes the rain. God even gives us a power more wondrous than we know: The right to pray; and the right to be answered.
After asking the congregation to pray for rain, a good brother gently chastised me, “God doesn’t work that way anymore.” Well if God cannot work within His own rules of nature, then why do we pray? Why pray for healing, jobs, rain for crops, or anything? Funny thing happened; it rained and rained and rained. The son of that man, who was at that time unfaithful, said, “Perry, you can stop praying now.”
Prayer Challenge: Be amazed, pray on our knees, at God working within His realm.
Before the Battles of the Bulge, Iwo Jima or Normandy; before Gettysburg, Antietam or Shiloh; there was another famous battle, not between armies, or nations. It was a battle between Gods: Baal and Yahweh.
The false god, Baal, had the One True God, Yahweh, outnumbered. Baal has 450 prophets. How many does Yahweh have? One. Elijah (1 Kings 18.22). With God, one has always been enough. Are you willing to be the one?
Drought has lasted three plus years. Each side of this war is to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. Then each side will call on the name of their God. “The God who answers with fire, He is God” (18.24). Instead of sending out champions, like David and Goliath, each God will be their own champion. Simple enough, especially since Baal is the god of weather.
Baal’s prophets pray morning to noon, “Baal, answer us!” Nothing. Baal’s prophets danced, hobbling around the altar. Nothing. Elijah sarcastically mocks: “Shout loudly, for he’s a god! Maybe he’s thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe he’s on the road. Perhaps he’s sleeping and will wake up!” (18.27). What do Baal’s prophets do? Shout louder, as if Elijah is right. Maybe their god does have ADD, or as some versions say, is busy “relieving himself.” Desperate, they also cut themselves with knives and spears, until blood gushes over them, to get their god’s attention. Nothing.
Elijah’s turn, meaning, it’s Yahweh’s turn. He repairs an old altar. God’s prophet takes 12 stones. Israel is still loved by God, despite their apostasy. Then he makes a trench around the altar large enough to hold 4 gallons. Next he arranges the wood, cuts up the bull, and places it on the altar. As if Baal’s failure was not blatant enough, Elijah commands four water pots be poured on the offering, three different times. This sacrifice will be water-soaked, making it impossible to fake a miraculous fire. When evening comes, Elijah prays, “Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that at Your word I have done all these things. Answer me, LORD! Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back” (18.36-37). You know what happened next? “Then Yahweh’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench” (18.38). All the people fell down on their faces and said, “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!” (18.39). The battle is decisive. God sends the rain.
What gods are fighting in our lives? Are we willing to let God be victorious as His one?
Prayer Challenge: It doesn’t matter if we stand alone or with 1000’s, when we pray what God commands, “Your word I have done,” God will answer.
It has taken untold number of years, and untold deaths, to reach the beginning. The first resurrection story actually contains two resurrection stories – one literal, and the other foreshadowing it through symbolic means…and maybe even a third, and a fourth.
Ahab is the wickedest king of the Northern Kingdom. Hence, the people are cursed with famine, symbolizing death. Even God’s righteous ones suffer alongside the wicked. By God’s command, Elijah leaves to live by the Wadi Cherith which only has water during the rainy season. There he will drink, and be fed bread and meat by ravens by God’s command. God not only commands man, He commands nature. After the wadi runs dry, he flees to Zarephath in Sidon by God’s command, to stay with a widow. Strangely, this is the homeland of Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. As Ahab is searching for God’s prophet, God will hide and protect Elijah right under the nose of Jezebel’s parents. God is full of surprises. This time, God sustains Elijah by never-ending flour and oil jugs. While there, the widow’s son dies. This too is a surprise. After all, she had been saved by God to save Elijah. The prophet takes the dead child to an upper room. While praying, Elijah stretches himself out over the boy three times. The boy lives. The first resurrection.
God uses Elijah to demonstrate the power of God in resurrecting the dead. While Abraham and Isaac typify the resurrection (Romans 4; Hebrews 11), the raising of the widow’s son is the first recorded, actual, physical resurrection. As Elijah stretches himself out over the boy three times praying, Jesus is raised on the third day. This divine power is foreshadowed in the never ending, overflowing, jar of four and jug of oil (1 Kings 17:14). Out of certain death comes continued life. The famine lasts into the third year (1 Kings 18:1; James 5:17). Again we have the number three.
Death is uncleanness. To touch a corpse brings uncleanness. And yet this story is filled with uncleanness. The raven is an unclean bird bringing continued life to Elijah. Israel is a dying nation needing spiritual revival. The widow herself is unclean and lives in an unclean land being a Gentile. The very mention of the story brings wrath upon Jesus in a Jewish synagogue (Lk.4:25-30). Out of so much uncleanness comes life.
When Jesus comes the first time, He will touch the unclean and remain clean. He will resurrect another widow’s son. And He too will walk out of an unclean tomb, clean, new, after three days, resurrected. When Jesus comes again, all will be resurrected. The saints’ unclean bodies will be clean. This is the last resurrection.
Prayer Challenge: Don’t limit our prayers to what we have experienced, or witnessed. Prayer is only limited by God and His will. While God’s will is limited, God is unlimited.
There is grace on every page of the Bible. Jeroboam is such an example. While all sinners do not deserve grace, we still need to examine “the sin of Jeroboam.” That phrase will describe king after king in the Northern Kingdom of Israel; and haunt them into destruction and Assyrian Captivity. And yet, God showed Jeroboam grace.
Sinful Solomon is dead. God predicted He would tear away the kingdom from Solomon’s son in punishment (11.11-13). Jeroboam receives God’s blessings to begin anew; and God promises him a davidian-like dynasty if he follows in the steps of David (11.26-38). Contrary to the promised blessings, Jeroboam reacts out of fear to his newly royal position: “The way things are going now, the kingdom might return to the house of David” (12.26). After seeking advice, receiving and following bad advice as did Rehoboam, “he made two golden calves, and said to the people, ‘Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you. Israel, here is your God who bought you out of the land of Egypt” (12.28). Sound familiar (Ex 32)? This old but new religion of convenience is “the sin of Jeroboam.” The four components to the sin of Jeroboam show followers still today:
1) Same God worshiped in a different manner (12.28). Golden Calves break the 2nd Commandment not to make “graven images.” Today, we should not worship God through images either.
2) Same located worship but with different locations (12.29). As true worship centered on Jerusalem, the Golden Calves were located in Dan and Bethel (12.29). Today we worship in Spirit and Truth (Jn 4.24), and no one should change it to one place being more holy than another.
3) Same priestly office but different qualifications (12.31). Anyone, except those from Levi, could be priests. Today, we should not change the qualifications for God’s servants, whether they are pastors or deacons (1 Tm 3).
4) Same feasting practice but different time (12.33). Jeroboam mimicked the Feast of Tabernacle, keeping the day, but changing the month from the 7th to the 8th (Lv 23.34). Today, we should not change the day the Lord’s Supper is observed or the weekly observance to something different (Acts 20.7).
After this, God sends a servant who condemns Jeroboam’s radical religious practices by prophesying against one of the deviating altars. Jeroboam reacts violently, reaching out his hand to command, “Arrest him!” (13.4). That outstretched hand becomes like false worship – withered. Jeroboam desperately says, “Plead for the favor of the LORD your God and pray for me so that my hand may be restored to me” (13.6). Rightfully the man of God prays for him. Restoration for the hand comes, but no restoration in religion. Nothing changed for this religious renegade even though God showed him grace.
Prayer Challenge: Because God answers prayers doesn’t mean He is satisfied with our worship. Continually examine ourselves and His word, and pray for guidance and grace.
No single verse contains all of God. No single scripture contains all of God’s theology. If this is true, then even “God is love” (1 John 4:8) is not all inclusive of all God is. God is not only love. God is righteous too, which can conflict with His desire that all men be saved (1 Tim.2:3-4). Therefore when we isolate one characteristic of God, or one doctrine, we are too narrow in our own minds and in our theology. How God’s love and righteousness co-exists is beyond us. Sometimes we need to throw up our hands, not out of despair, but out of praise of God’s transcendent immanence or if you prefer, God’s immanent transcendence. God does not always fit into our box, or into our linear thinking. God does not contradict, but God is a paradox. But even that one thought, God is a paradox, does not contain all of God’s theology. No single verse contains all of God.
No single prayer contains all of God either, but one comes closer than most – Solomon’s dedication prayer (1 Kings 8:22-53). Such a prayer comes only from having a deep appreciation of God’s “Otherness.” God is “other” than us, and so different. After reading this brief overview, take the time to read and digest the entire prayer.
- Yahweh is Unique – “There is no God like You” (8.23)
- Yahweh is Relational – “Keeping the gracious covenant with Your servants who walk before You” (8.23)
- Yahweh is Faithful – “You have kept what You promised” (8.24)
- Yahweh is Transcendent – “Even heaven, the highest heaven cannot contain You” (8.27)
- Yahweh is Immanent – “Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant prays before You today” (8.28)
- Yahweh is Protective – “So that Your eyes may watch over this temple night and day” (8.29)
- Yahweh is Forgiving – “May You hear and forgive” (8.30)
- Yahweh is Pure – “May You judge Your servants, condemning the wicked man” (8.32)
- Yahweh is Righteous – “Providing justice for the righteous” (8.32)
- Yahweh is Nature’s God – “May you send rain on Your land” (8.36)
- Yahweh is a Giver – “You gave Your people for an inheritance” (8.36)
- Yahweh is Omniscient – “You alone know every human heart” (8:39)
- Yahweh is Reverent – “So that they may fear You” (8.40)
- Yahweh is Universal – “Even for the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel” (8.41)
Prayer Challenge: There’s more to Solomon’s prayer than space allows, so study it with the goal of studying God. Then allow God’s “Otherness” to fill your prayer with praise.
“Little Big League” is a movie about a 12 year old kid inheriting the Minnesota Twins from his grandfather. He fires the manager but no one else wants to manage under a 12 year old. So he assumes the job on the advice of his friend: “It’s the American League! They have the DH! How hard can it be?” In a fictional move, this is the making for a comedy. If based on real life this would be a disaster film.
The rabbis say 12. Josephus says he is 14. Solomon calls himself “a youth” (1 Kings 3.7). This “youth” inherits a kingdom and probably for political reasons gets married to the daughter of the king of Egypt (3.1). Unsurprisingly, he is overwhelmed and knows it, which is good. Too many, regardless of age, delude themselves into thinking, “I can handle this” emphasis on the “I.”
Yahweh asks Solomon the question of a lifetime: “Ask. What should I give you?” (3.5). Wisely, Solomon asks for wisdom. Already he possesses enough wisdom to know he doesn’t possess enough wisdom. As the saying goes, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Solomon responds, “You have shown great and faithful love to Your servant, my father David, because he walked before You in faithfulness, righteousness, and integrity. You have continued this great faithful love for him by giving him a son to sit on his throne as it is today” (3.6). Again this “youth” shows mature wisdom by knowing he is not “it!” Nothing he has is because of him. Everything he has is because of his father and His God. Solomon continues, “Yet I am just a youth with no experience in leadership…. So give Your servant an obedient heart to judge Your people and to discern between and evil. (3.7,9). Solomon shows such wisdom because he first listened to his father who, on his deathbed, advised, “Be strong and be courageous like a man, and keep your obligation to the LORD your God to walk in His ways … so that you will have success in everything (2.2). Solomon shows wisdom knowing he needs only one thing, God’s wisdom. Because of this, God gives Solomon riches, honor, long life and wisdom. Although possibly just a teenager, Solomon is already wise enough to know, he is not wise enough to know.
If you could inherit millions, or much wisdom, which would you choose? Pretentious Christians “say” wisdom. Pragmatic Christians “think” of all the good money could buy. Many “trust-fund kids,” athletes and lottery winners find themselves instant millionaires, and too soon too broke. To the undiscerning, it is harder to acquire wisdom than riches; and riches without wisdom, corrupt and disappear. It takes wisdom to know you do not have wisdom; and it takes wisdom to know you need it more than money, fame or long life. “How hard can it be?” The wise know it is much harder without God’s wisdom.
Prayer Challenge: Wisdom comes through knowledge of God’s word, life’s experience, and answered prayer. Start reading Proverbs, then pray the proverbs and live wisely.
Certain texts confuse, confound, make us scratch our heads, and become bewildered. Real life though, is just like that; existing in a state of uncertain knowledge, while surviving in a state of certain acceptance in the Divine. Certainty is not always certain in what we know, but in Who we trust. “The LORD’s anger burned against Israel again, and He stirred up David against them to say: ‘Go, count the people of Israel and Judah’” (2 Samuel 24.1). There is much here I do not understand; and much for us to learn.
David orders “register the troops so I can know their number” (24:1). Life lesson #1: Counting our blessings leads to humility; pride leads to counting our accomplishments.
Doubly strange is that rash Joab, that vindictive, murderous general, is the voice of reason. “May the LORD your God multiply the troops 100 times more than they are – while my lord the king looks on! But why does my lord the king want to do this?” (24.3). Life lesson #2: When even “you know who” knows better, we should know better.
Imperfect as anyone; yet a man after God’s own heart, “David’s conscience troubled him after he had taken a census of the troops” (24.10). So he prays, “I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now, LORD, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away Your servant’s guilt” (24.10). Life lesson #3: Always realize it is not too late to repent. Life lesson #4: Only God can remove sin; wishing it away is impossible.
God’s solution came in the form of a revelation from the prophet Gad. Three choices are offered: 1) 3 years of famine; 2) 3 months of fleeing from foes; 3) 3 days of plague (24.13). Three choices, but each the same, death. Life lesson #5: Sin brings death. David wisely responds, “I have great anxiety, Please, let us fall into the LORD’s hands because His mercies are great, but don’t let me fall into human hands” (24.14). Life lesson #6: No matter how bad “bad” gets, it is better to be in God’s hands than man’s.
“So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the appointed time, from Dan to Beersheba” (24.15). Seeing the devastation David petitions, “Look, I am the one who has sinned; I am the one who has done wrong. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and my father’s family” (24.17). Life lesson #7: Take responsibility for yourself by remembering your sins hurt the innocent.
Gad comes again and tells David to “Go up and set up an altar to the LORD” so “David went up in obedience…just as the LORD had commanded” (24.18-19). “Then the LORD answered prayer on behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel ended” (24.25). Life lesson #8: Repentance leads to worship and worship leads to healing.
Prayer Challenge: Pray to not let what we don’t know keep us from what we need to learn.
“Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” Grant is Ulysses S. Grant. And the speaker is William T. Sherman. This statement is believed to have been said when there was a political push to promote Sherman over Grant as Commander of the Union Army. While “war is hell” is Sherman’s most noted quote, this other statement shows an unavoidable positive of war. While Virgil said, “love begets love,” we can also add, “War begets loyalty.” It is inevitable.
In the final pages 2 Samuel, there is listed the exploits of David’s warriors, profiles in courage. “The Thirty” is the name of his special forces, his top solders, the best of the best (2 Samuel 23.13,23). In the middle of war, David says something ill-advised, an exasperation of the body, but not thought through by the mind. The Philistines have stationed a garrison in Bethlehem, David’s home town. In war, “home” is a very powerful metaphor. David is extremely thirsty and says, “If only someone would bring me water to drink from the well at the city gate of Bethlehem” (23.15). Water, that particular water, was a comfort of home in the middle of estrangement. In World War II, Coca Cola sent Coke to soldiers to remind them of home. David spoke. Someone loyal heard.
Forsaking self, three of The Thirty travel 12 miles from the cave of Adullam to the guarded well in Bethlehem: “So three of the warriors broke through the Philistine camp and drew water from the well at the gate of Bethlehem. They brought it back to David” (23.16). The water represented their loyalty, friendship, and devotion. While the three surprised David with their act, he surprises them with his. David refuses to drink it. He pours it out to Yahweh, and then prays, “LORD, I would never do such a thing! Is this not the blood of men who risked their lives?” (23.17). To David, the water represents the lives of his friends and something more. It represents that which belongs only to God – ultimate loyalty. While unbiblical to drink blood, offering blood in sacrifice was commanded. The ultimate sacrifice was when Jesus forsook his life for His friends; and when the solider pierced His side with a spear, out came blood and water (John 19.34). It was crazy for David’s friends to do this, so David would not drink it. And by not drinking the water, he stood by his friends as their loyal equal, all unequal to God.
Christians are at war, with and against Hell. We must stand beside each during dark times. Our loyalty is to one another, even willing to die for one another and “The Cause.” But our loyalty, love, lives, deaths, our service and our shed blood, is really love and loyalty to Another. Love begets loyalty. Let us stand together. And in doing so, we bow together in loyalty to God.
Prayer Challenge: Pray to be loyal to one another. Base this on our loyalty to God. Let us never expect from others what only rightfully belongs to God.