The prophet Elijah had been sent by God to the wicked king Ahab to announce a drought in the land, and three years later was sent again to proclaim that God would mercifully “send rain on the earth” (18:1). It would be on Mount Carmel after the encounter with the priests of Baal that the prophet would bow down in prayer with his face between his knees to petition God to fulfill His promise of rain.
But there apparently was no answer at first. And while Elijah continued to wrestle with God in prayer, he would repeatedly send his servant to look out toward the sea to look for signs of the promised rain. Six times there was nothing to be seen, but each time Elijah told him to “Go again”. Finally, on the seventh time his servant would exclaim, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea… now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was heavy rain” (verses 44,45).
Elijah never doubted that God would keep his word. Rather than becoming discouraged or put off by having no evidence of an answer after repeated petitions, Elijah instead became even more fervent and determined in his pleadings with God. Like Jacob in his wrestling with the Angel, Elijah would not let go until what had been promised had come to pass. And indeed his faith was rewarded with the appearance of a small cloud which was a token of the soon to come promised rain.
As believers we like quick answer to our prayers. We’re sometimes like the one who said, “I want patience, and I want it now!” But God has purpose in causing us to wait. He teaches us submission to His will and timing such that we come “to find it good to wait for as well as upon God”, as C. H. Spurgeon put it. When we have to wait for answers, we’re stirred up to examine ourselves, to see if our hearts are right in our petitions. In this way, we come to see that our motives are often selfish, seeking our own ends instead of God’s glory. James warned, “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). God’s delayed answers help us “to put off the old man” as we’re progressively led into humble repentance and spiritual transformation.
Elijah was a “righteous man”, but we’re reminded that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). He was not immune from impatient fervor. He too needed to learn humility and submission and to search himself as regards his motives. And when his prayer was ultimately answered, it was not because of any merit of his. The power he enjoyed in prayer was the result of his persistent conviction that God would keep His word. He was not deterred by delay; it only caused him to pray even more earnestly.
But we must also observe that for Elijah to be termed a “righteous man” in Scripture means that he was not only saved by grace through Jesus Christ, but that he was also pursuing a godly life, seeking to conform his thoughts, words and deeds to God’s revealed will. This godly pursuit was not to achieve merit, but was the result of a changed heart giving expressions of love, praise and thanksgiving to his God whom he sought to glorify. Elijah’s example therefore should encourage every true believer who is diligently seeking to live a godly life to expect answers to sincere prayers which have to do with God’s glory.
Believer, true faith is a persevering faith. It keeps on keeping on. The danger comes in succumbing to doubt, in giving way to “an evil heart of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:12). Faith grabs hold of what has been promised. It sees what can’t be seen by the physical eye. Faith is the means by which one is thoroughly persuaded that God is trustworthy.
Britain’s prime minister during World War II, Winston Churchill, once encouraged his fellow countrymen to “Never, never, never, never give up!” So too with the prayers of the saints… never give up, go again!