WHAT CAN THE RIGHTEOUS DO?
As our nation continues its moral spiral downward, a scripture that is increasingly referred to is Psalm 11:3: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” It is certainly a contemporary question. The problem comes when we try to supply our own answer to this important question. The answers can come fast and furious: vote this way, protest this action, write your congress person, boycott that group…and much more. All of those answers actually might be valid in small ways. The difficulty is that they are all insufficient and fail to address the answer found in scripture.
When we pick one verse, we often do so at the expense of the verses around it. That’s especially true in this case. The answer to the compelling question, “What can the righteous do?” is found in verse 4. “The Lord is in his holy temple; The Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them.” The answer to the question is simple – Look up! God is still in charge.
When seismic changes are taking place in culture, it looks as though everything is falling apart. Our nature is to jump in and try to fix it, or to retreat in despair and discouragement. The command of God’s Word though, is to look to The Lord. It’s time to pray. It’s time to draw near and realize that ultimately God is in charge and nothing is happening of which he is unaware. It doesn’t mean that we might not need other action in addition to prayer. But after we have prayed, our actions will not be acts of desperation but that which emerges from the leadership of the Holy Spirit. God is still on His throne. And we are those who come boldly into His throne room to lay before him our requests for His will to be poured out on earth as it is in heaven. What can the righteous do? We can pray!
JUST LIKE US
JUST LIKE US
James gives us some very important teaching on prayer in James 5:13-18:
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”
We are told that whatever we are facing…good or bad, we should pray. Good advice. The problem in the text is that the example given of a man of prayer is that of Elijah. However, Elijah, in our eyes, seems to be this amazing man of prayer. How can we be like him?
James, inspired by God, says Elijah was a human being, just like us. He was simply a normal person with no special dispensation from God.
So let’s look at a summary of the obedience of Elijah’s prayer life:
- I Kings 17:1: Rain did not fall in Israel for several years – “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.’”
- I Kings 17:7-16: A widow and her son did not starve – “For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah” (v. 16).
- I Kings 17:17-24: The widow’s son was raised from the dead – “The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived” (v. 22).
- I Kings 18:16-40: Elijah called on the Lord and was victorious over the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel – “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire – he is God” (v. 24).
- I Kings 18:41-46: Rain falls from heaven – “And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain’” (v. 41).
Elijah, because of his obedience, had an amazing response to his prayers. And Scripture says that Elijah was a person just like us? How can this be?
We can see the answer to this question when suddenly everything changes for Elijah in I Kings 19:
- He became fearful: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (v. 3).
- He was depressed and discouraged: “…he came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die” (v. 4)
- Elijah, mistaken about what was going on, was filled with self-pity: “I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too” (v. 14).
We can all tend to be like this side of Elijah from time to time – fearful, wanting suffering to end, mistaken about what is happening, and filled with self-pity. We can do that!
Here’s my point. Elijah was a flawed man. He had great successes and some failures too. In spite of some amazing answers to prayer, his life was not easy. The purpose of prayer is not to make life easy.
As Elijah learned, when we commit to obeying God and serving Him in prayer, we become an integral part of the purposes of God on planet earth. Elijah got in on some really good stuff, because he prayed. And we can too! As a matter of fact, I will tell you bluntly that God has made us for this.
To pray like Elijah means:
1. Praying prayers that are focused on God’s purposes.
2. Praying prayers that are filled with faith.
3. Praying prayers that involve acts of obedience.
Our job is to pray as Elijah did…with focus, faith, and obedience so that God will receive glory. The final result always rests in God’s capable hands.
PRAYER AS PILGRIMAGE
PRAYER AS PILGRIMAGE
One of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is stagnation. It happens when we quit moving. There are lots of reasons why we quit moving and growing. Sometimes it just isn’t easy and we decide to stay where we are. It’s easier to stay than go. The press of other issues in life sometimes cause us to stop right we are spiritually. Obstacles from situations or other people often bring our spiritual progress to a halt.
One of the most dangerous reasons is simply lack of vision. We’ve been growing, we are doing things in the Kingdom, we are seeing God move and there can come that moment of feeling we have arrived. The failure to have the spiritual vision that challenges us to keep moving is deadly.
Psalm 84 is a tool God has used to continually challenge me to keep moving – especially in my prayer life. I have used this powerful psalm to keep myself on a prayer pilgrimage. It is interesting that Psalm 84 speaks of pilgrimage (vs 5) because the whole psalm is really about dwelling in God’s house. How do you dwell somewhere, yet still be on a journey to that place?
I think that apparent contradiction is why it appeals so much to me. You see, that’s where I am spiritually. Through Jesus, I now dwell in God’s house. Indeed, it can be said that you and I are God’s house in which He dwells through His Spirit. That is just solid biblical teaching.
But in living this out, I discover that I am on a journey – a journey of awareness of Christ’s presence in me. And like any journey, I must keep moving if I am to arrive at my destination. Without setting my heart on the pilgrimage of continually being attentive to the truth that Jesus lives within me, I will forget the amazing truth that I not only can, but am even now dwelling in the House of God! It is prayer that keeps me walking in this state of alertness.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” (Psalm 84:5-7)
DEAD MEN PRAYING
DEAD MEN PRAYING
“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
Living 60 years gives you enough time to look back on the mistakes of your life with some degree of understanding. It seems to me that virtually every mistake, sin, or mess-up in my life has come from failing to understand and appropriate the truth of Colossians 3:3. It’s really very simple…I died. In responding to the call of Christ, I was crucified with him and it is no longer I who live.
Rather than a morbid thinking of death, in reality this brings astonishing freedom. I don’t have to worry about “me” anymore. Dead men have no worries. Since there is still some degree of strength and energy in this body, I am now free to focus on God and others. What joy it brings to not worry about self, living free to love others!
This dying-to-self life of freedom and joy must carry over into our prayer life. Free from the burden of worrying about self, I am free instead to give myself to intercession for others. Why would I spend the majority of my prayer time praying for myself and my needs? I’m a dead man! I am able to pour out my prayers for others knowing that my life is “hidden with Christ” and totally provided for. God, of course, wants to hear my needs and desires; however, He also wants me to intentionally focus upon His kingdom purposes rather than defaulting always to my own issues. “Dead men praying” should be a good description of our life of prayer.
HAS GOD MOVED YOUR HEART TO BUILD HIS HOUSE?
HAS GOD MOVED YOUR HEART TO BUILD HIS HOUSE?
During the captivity of Israel in Babylon, things became pretty good for many of the Jews. As a matter of fact, after the 70 years were up, not everyone wanted to return to the land of Israel. Homes had been built, businesses were prospering, and families were comfortable. Returning to their ancestral home meant a long, dangerous journey, after which they would face the tough task of rebuilding Jerusalem. To this very day, there are descendants of Israel who have remained in ancient Babylon.
It could be asked, “Why would anyone leave comfort for a dangerous, uncertain future?” As I reread the Book of Ezra, I didn’t have to look far to find the answer. In Ezra 1:5 we find the reason: “Everyone whose heart God had moved….prepared to go up and build the house of The Lord in Jerusalem.” The return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon to the land of their fathers was first and foremost the work of God.
It was The Lord who seventy years earlier had allowed the Temple of Solomon to be destroyed as a result of the continued sin of the people. When He determined that it was time to rebuild, He placed that task upon the hearts of those who were sensitive to His Spirit. It wasn’t going to be easy, but with His help, the House of God would be rebuilt.
You do know, of course, that the Spirit of God is still at work, calling His people to build His House. One of the clearest teachings of scripture is that God’s House is to be a House of Prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17). We are already experiencing this as God breathes upon the generations in such moves of God as the 24-7 prayer movement spreading rapidly across the earth. I believe that when the Church truly becomes that House of Prayer, we will see an amazing movement of the Spirit of God that empowers us to finish the task of world evangelization.
As we consider the task before us of building a House of Prayer, and then look back on the situation in Ezra’s day, dare we ask the question of whether or not the Church today is in a sort of Babylonian captivity? Have we become comfortable with church as it is? Does it seem too daunting a task to leave behind that which is comfortable and truly become a praying people?
Here’s the good news: God’s Spirit is still moving hearts to “go up and build the house of The Lord.” He is at work. The question before you today is: will listen to His voice and allow His Spirit to move your heart? Leaving behind the comfort of the ways you’ve always done it, will you move into uncharted waters and begin to build that which is on the Lord’s heart today?
“For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”(Is.56:7).
(C) Harvest Prayer Ministries