Walk of Wisdom

WALKING WITH GOD. No.45

Esther 5:2 When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.

Yesterday we considered the walk of provocation of faith, of Mordecai nudging Esther to speak out, even in a potentially dangerous situation. We also suggested that we too need nudging to step out in faith, but stepping out in faith is not sufficient on its own, we need something else to go with it, so often, because faith is just the starting point of action. It took faith, a belief in God’s leading, to help Esther step out and go to seek the king, but once there that’s when the difficulties start. Esther needs wisdom, she needs to know how to act, what to do and what to say. To catch the full import of this, let’s look at her situation.

The first thing about her situation is that she is married to a king who is incredibly powerful, is known to act hastily and without thought, is self-centred and doesn’t give too much thought to his wife. Now how can we say all this? Well the opening verses of Esther tell us about his might and power, ruler over 127 provinces and having a banquet lasting seven days. At that banquet he had got drunk and boasted about his queen who he casually sent for to show her off. When she refused to come to such a bidding, he allowed his wise men to persuade him to get rid of the queen. It was after this that Esther was made queen. Later on the king had honoured Haman the Agagite (Agagites, descendants of king Agag – see 1 Sam 15 – were traditionally enemies of Israel) and given him a great deal of power. Moreover, just recently the king had not asked for Esther for thirty days, and this was not a king you just turned up on. So, going into his presence without an invite was definitely a hazardous exercise!

If going into his presence wasn’t bad enough, knowing how to broach the subject of the Jews in front of Haman was doubly so. This was definitely going to have to be a walk of wisdom. There are many times in life when we need this knowledge of ‘how-to’, in fact I think it is the thing we need more than anything else. The good news is that God is very willing to give us wisdom when we ask for it: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5). However there is a condition to asking, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.(v.6). In other words, there is no point asking unless you really believe God is there, that He is for you and will do what His word says.

So what does Esther do? First of all she dresses up in her royal robes (Es 5:1). If she’s going into a formal throne room, she needs to be dressed up accordingly. Do you want to impress the world? Well, after you have prayed, dress up to their level. The king welcomes her in (v.2) and asks her what she wants. Obviously the fact that she has come without invitation means she has something on her mind that she wants to communicate. It is at this point she needs tact. She’s asked for wisdom and she gets it. She knows the king likes his food and likes ‘big events’ so she invites him, together with Haman to a special banquet she wants to put on for him. This makes him feel good. At this special intimate banquet again the king asks her what is on her mind. Still she senses the time is not yet ripe for speaking of the edict. She simply asks the king to extend his grace by coming the next day again to a special banquet. He’s enjoyed this one, so why not.

Again he turns up next day and again he anticipates it will be a good experience, but in between the two banquets two things have happened. First, Haman has shown his hand by having a gallows built and has been speaking about having Mordecai hanged on it. The second thing is that the king slept badly and, waking in the night, he feels he needs picking up, and so sends for the books that record what has happened during his reign. There he reads of Mordecai’s saving his life earlier in his reign and realizes he hasn’t rewarded him. Thus next day when he comes to the banquet he comes feeling good towards Esther and towards Mordecai. Thus it is that the circumstances have so changed and we are left wondering how much of this has been of the Lord. So it is that when Esther does share the situation the king is open to her and responds well. This has been one of the classic examples of the exercise of wisdom.

What have we seen? We have seen Esther gaining prayer support, choosing her way of entry carefully, being in no rush to present her petition, doing things that will win over the king’s heart and giving God space to move to make the circumstances even more favourable. Consider your own life. Do you walk a walk of wisdom, seeking the Lord and getting from Him the knowledge how to proceed through life? The request for wisdom is a request that the wise make regularly. Do you?

(We will be taking a break for a while from the meditations on ‘Walking with God’ and so this will be the last one until the New Year)

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Faith Provocation

WALKING WITH GOD. No.44

Esther 4:12-14 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Left to ourselves we would potter through life untouched by anything that would upset the balance of peace in our lives. It is always nicer to walk the quieter path in life that avoids disturbance of any kind. ‘Leave me alone’, would be our motto if we had our way. However, over the years I have often said that God loves us just like we are and He loves us so much that He won’t leave us like we are – because He has something better for us than we have at present. Thus He is in the process of changing us (2 Cor 3:18). When we understand what the Bible is, we read, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.(2 Tim 3:16) which suggests that every time we come to it with open hearts, it teaches us and possibly rebukes and corrects us. Of course it is the Holy Spirit within us who takes it and uses it to convict us so that we do something to change. Thus it is as Christians that we are never left to simply live a placid, untouched life, never changing, never being disturbed, because all of these processes we’ve just referred to, disturb us.

Our verses today from the book of Esther come at a point in history when the Jews were in exile and one of them, Esther, has been made queen, and she has an uncle, Mordecai. One of the king’s counsellors, Haman, hates the Jews and has got the king to foolishly make a decree that later in the year all the Jews will be destroyed. (The king has forgotten or does not know that Esther is a Jew!) Mordecai’s response to this edict was to put on sackcloth and ashes and to fast and pray in the streets as a public demonstration against what had happened. Esther is told what he is doing and so sends clothes out to him – which he refuses to take. Eventually Esther is told about the edict but her response is basically, ‘so what can I do about it?’ She has a legitimate cause for saying this: “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.(Es 4:11). In other words, unless I get called in, I can’t go, otherwise the king in his anger might have me executed!

It is at that point we have our verses for today. Mordecai is walking the path of faith provocation and Esther is on the end of it. What is Mordecai saying? He is saying, you won’t avoid this disaster by staying quiet, you’re going to have to risk it, for who knows, this may be the very reason that God has allowed you to be king. Mordecai is challenging Esther’s preference for peace, and her desire not to be disturbed, which brings us back to what we were saying earlier about our own desire for peace and tranquility. He is challenging her to come into a place of faith. If we had been Esther, we too would have preferred to keep quiet and hope it would work out all right without our intervention. Perhaps someone else will do something might be our hope. That, so often, is our escape clause, or at least the one we use – perhaps someone else will step in and do something, it doesn’t need me.

The only trouble is that it does need you. Someone has said something like, “Evil men prevail only when good men stay quiet.” We are called to be salt and light in our world (Mt 5:13 -16) and we do that passively (living by example) and actively (by speaking out). It’s not one or the other; it’s both. Esther’s fears were laid down as she said she would do it, but only if Mordecai and the other Jews would fast and, by implication, pray for her. Very often we stay quiet because we fear an outcome and so we would do well to follow Esther’s example and pray about it AND, if it is possible, get others to pray about it as well. We need to seek wisdom from God to know what to say, how to say it and when to say it, and we can also ask the Lord to prepare the heart of the one to whom we go to speak. It may be something at home, at school or college, at work or in the community. We know the right thing would be to speak out, yet fear of consequence stops us. If that is so, check it out. Like Esther, this may be your time, the time appointed by God and you are the one chosen by Him to bring change. Seek Him for wisdom, seek others who will pray with and for you. “For such a time as this?

Shadow of Death

WALKING WITH GOD. No.43

Psa 23:3 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Life in this Fallen World is a complete mix. There are mixes of people. There are some who are incredibly rich and have everything the rest of us could dream of. There are some who are poor and don’t know how they will make it from one day to the next. But there are also varieties of experience within an individual life. There are times when we are healthy and everything seems to be going well, times when we are happy and contented with not a worry in the world. Then there are times when our health deteriorates and we feel low and every step of life seems hard and difficult. And then it gets worse and before we know it we are walking in the shadow of death. Illnesses and accidents occur and what makes it worse, they come with no warning. It would be so much easier if we received a letter from heaven that said, “In two weeks time we have seen that you will be having a serious accident but don’t worry you will be over it in a month.” But we don’t and so we didn’t expect it and we don’t know how it will work out or how long it will take. The absence of those things makes serious illnesses or serious accidents such harrowing experiences. The walk through the valley of the shadow of death is not a pleasant one!

The description of this experience that we have just used, and which David uses in this psalm, is very graphic. A valley by definition is a low place with high sides where you can feel shut in. In a valley sometimes the sun is shut out and so there are shadows so that part of it seems in semi-darkness. David speaks of the shadow of death, a shadow of darkness that seems to hang over you, threatening to completely obliterate the light from your life, when death comes.

You may find in your Bible a note next to the phrase, valley of death, indicating an alternative rendering, through the darkest valley. It may not be death that threatens; it may be a variety of other things. In our nation we live in confusing times. The news recently was of a couple who were falsely accused of child abuse and for two years their children were wrongly taken from them. For two years they walked through a very dark valley, a valley filled with the darkness of frustration, anger, fear, anguish and so on. It was a horrible time. A woman can accuse a man of assault at work and before he knows what has happened he is suspended pending an investigation which may take months. Whereas we once had a society where you were innocent until proved guilty, there is now, in these sorts of cases, implied guilt until innocence has been proved, and those waiting times are times of immense darkness.

It may be that we have fallen and society is not forgiving. We have done something wrong, sincerely regretted it, asked forgiveness of offended parties, but still the Law is going to take its long, slow process, and while it does, we walk through a very dark valley. We wonder how we could have been so stupid, we wish it had never been found it, we wonder what will happen to us, and we wonder is there any hope of being ever able to walk an ordinary, good life again? These are some of the dark valleys that we find ourselves walking in, and in them we even despair of life itself. What help is there?

David had one hope, one help, “you are with me.” The presence of the Lord, the knowledge of His love, those were the things that kept David going. The concept behind the whole psalm was what upheld David – The Lord is my shepherd. David saw that in life, it was the Lord who led him and therefore if, in their walk together, it involved walking through a very dark valley, David would not worry because his shepherd was there looking after him, guiding him, providing for him, protecting him. As one of God’s sheep he knew the security that, although the place or circumstances of the walk may be temporarily dark, it was temporary and even while they walked it, it was as they walked it together. He was not alone and the One who walked it with him was much bigger than the circumstances and would see him through them.

Because such a thing is so common to the human experience, it is quite possible that you are going through a ‘dark valley’ time. Key questions! Do you know that you are one of God’s sheep, one of His children? Do you know Him as your shepherd who is there for you, looking after you in the midst of the circumstances, providing for you and protecting you? It is this knowledge that enabled Paul to instruct, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18), but note what he says. It is not give thanks for all circumstances but give thanks in all circumstances. You can give thanks that God is there with you and as you put your life in His hands He will provide all you need in that valley to bring you through until you come out the other end. There will be an end, and until you get there, remember, you are not alone, The Shepherd is there with you in it.

Walk of Assessment (2)

WALKING WITH GOD. No.42

Neh 2:11,12 I went to Jerusalem , and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.

Earlier on in this series we considered a walk of assessment in the light of Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army, but the ‘assessment’ that we now consider is very different. With Ezra’s people we considered the significance of the restoration of the Temple , the place of encounter with God. Years have passed and another phase of restoration is in the Lord’s mind, the restoration of the city of Jerusalem , or to be more precise, its walls.

When Nehemiah had heard of the state of Jerusalem he had felt anguish and had wept (Neh 1:4). Subsequently he prayed (Neh 1:5-11) and then petitioned the king (Neh 2:1-8) and gained his approval to return to Jerusalem to restore the city. The only problem was the presence in Samaria of Sanballat the governor and his Ammonite associate, Tobiah, who were opposed to the Jews returning and re-establishing themselves. They seem to have had a lot of say in what went on in this far flung tiny province of the empire. First of all he checks in with the ‘governors of Trans-Euphrates‘ (2:9), those in overall charge of the whole area, under whom he will work as governor of Judah. Next he makes his way to Jerusalem and, note, he has so far kept the true purpose of his arrival from anyone in the locality, because he is aware of the political setup and doesn’t want to antagonise anyone and create opposition to his plan to rebuild the city walls.

After he has been there three days, he quietly goes out at night to survey the walls. So far he has shown no interest in them, but if he is to do anything about them he has to see the extent of the task. Initially this was a mounted ride but it appears that because of the rubble he probably had to dismount and it turns into a walk of assessment. Now what is significant about this particular walk, why are we considering it at all? Well the Temple was the sign of the permanent establishing of a place of encounter with God, but for there to be encounter and for there to be Temple service, there needs to be people. For there to be people there needs to be a community and for there to be a community there needs to be security – walls and gates! The significance of Nehemiah being there is that he is there to establish a secure community of God’s people in the place of encounter with God. Walls also delineate the edge of the city and the beginning of the world outside. They establish the size and shape of the community. What Nehemiah is doing is assessing the present state of the security of the community so as to be able to formulate a strategy for restoring it. This is all about restoring and establishing the people of God. Yes, they have been there a number of years since Cyrus sent the first ones back to restore the Temple , but no one has taken the trouble of establishing the security of the community.

How can this possibly have any application to us in the twenty first century? Well the people of God, and that may include my own family, are still in a world where there is a spiritual war going on and where Satan seeks to deceive and pull down. There is still a question of security that is both individual and corporate. Ask the question first of all, “How secure am I?” Well first of all am I secure in the certainty of God’s love for me? “For I am convinced that (nothing!) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38 ,39). Paul was so sure that with God being for us (8:31) then no one and nothing can snatch us out of God’s hand. But there is another aspect to this. Remember Jesus told a parable of two house builders (Mt 7:24 -27), the point of which is that you will only stand firm if you obey and do what Jesus says. Oh yes, God will do everything to protect us and make us secure, but our role is to obey all that Jesus says to us through his word and his Spirit.

How about my family? What do we do to ensure they know the Lord and are secure in Him? This is about teaching our children the truths of God’s word, being an example for them, encouraging them into the life of the church where they can encounter that living truth? What about our church? Are we a Bible-based, Spirit-led community of God’s people? It is only as we are fed with the word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and fill us, will we be secure in God. Are we the community of love that Jesus commanded (Jn 13:34 etc.)? Is there such a bond of love between us that it builds us together so that we are secure? If it is so, if one member is attacked the others will be there for them.

Part of our walk with God is to be a walk of awareness – a walk aware of the enemy, our vulnerability and our resources in Christ. But a part of our walk is to be a walk of assessment, to ‘check the walls of security’ to ensure we are doing all we can to be established and secure in Him. Have you walked that walk of assessment recently, have you checked yourself out, you family and your church? Check it out.

Walk to Restoration

WALKING WITH GOD. No.41

Ezra 1:5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites–everyone whose heart God had moved–prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.

We now move from what you might have considered a very negative aspect of walking to a much more positive one. We have now moved on hundreds of years. Nearly seventy years have passed since the Temple was destroyed and Judah and Benjamin had gone into exile. Humanly speaking, it had been the end of the nation of Israel. They now only existed as a people being amalgamated into the life of Babylon. There was however an echo of hope from the past: “This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer 25:11) That prophecy still hung in the air, brought years before by Jeremiah before he was carried off to Egypt.

Indeed there had been, centuries before, an even more amazing prophecy through Isaiah, (I am the Lord) who says of Cyrus, `He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.(Isa 44:28) That had come long before the exile, leaving the listeners wondering what that was all about. Now, the Jews find themselves in Babylon under the reign of a king called Cyrus. Dare they hope? The hope is fulfilled: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing” (Ezra 1:1). Before they knew what was happening Cyrus made this proclamation: “Anyone of his people among you–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD , the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.(v.3)

Now to catch the full significance of this, we have to think about the significance of the Temple in the life of Israel. THE thing that marked Israel out from every other nation in the world, was the fact that God had made His dwelling in their midst. From Sinai onwards He had commanded them to build a Tabernacle: “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Ex 25:8,9). Established in the land, it was Solomon who built the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Lord filled with His glory on completion (1 Kings 8:10,11). The Temple was thus the central point of focus for the Israelites, the place of encounter with God. When it had been utterly destroyed it was as if the Lord had cut off any means of communication with them (though of course He continued to speak through prophets such as Daniel).

When Cyrus made this proclamation to the Jews, it must have appeared beyond their wildest dreams. It wasn’t merely going back to Israel, it was going back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, to re-establish the place of encounter with God. The Exile had been a terrible act of discipline, needed to shake Israel free from their godlessness and unrighteousness, but discipline only lasts for a while. God’s intent is not to pursue pain in His children, but to restore their hearts to Him and to restore the relationship with them. As the Jews prepared to return to Jerusalem this was a major walk of restoration. Their hearts were being restored to the Lord, the place of encounter was being restored and their relationship with the Lord was being restored.

Now how does this apply to us today? Well it happens in small ways and big ways. In small ways it probably happens fairly regularly for some. Every time we sin, we offend God and grieve His Holy Spirit and there is a break in our fellowship with Him. Yet He encourages our speedy return: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Confession is the way back. Indeed Jesus has been praying for that to happen: “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 Jn 2:1). That happens on in the short term, but sometimes there are times when our relationship with the Lord drifts and, in all reality, it is not very real. Then something seems to stir within us. (it is His Holy Spirit) convicting us, nudging us to return. The Lord’s desire is NOT that we have a half-hearted relationship with Him where we simply nod at Him on Sundays. No, He wants a daily, living, vibrant relationship with us. For some of us, we need to make the walk of restoration. It’s time to come home, to come to the place of encounter with God, to pick up a regular and real relationship. Perhaps this page is the equivalent of Cyrus’s proclamation for you. Come home; come back to the place of close encounter of the God kind.

Walk of Despair

WALKING WITH GOD. No.40

1 Kings 19:3,4 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD ,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

We have previously commented along these lines, but it bears repeating, that the idea that the Christian life is always smooth and easy is unreal. Christians have to live in this Fallen World and so things go wrong and people are nasty. To see the reason why Elijah was running for his life, we have to see the previous two verses: “Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” This was a very real threat from a very nasty person! There was a contract out on Elijah’s head! But, you might say, wasn’t Elijah this great prophet of the Lord so he could simply stand up to the Queen? Well actually, no, because that is the problem.

The problem is not only the Queen, it is that Elijah has just been through an amazing spiritual battle and would be feeling exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Please realize that this was all in the service of his Lord. Even Jesus took time out to rest after his busy schedule. The reality is that when you are giving out spiritually, it can leave you drained. Yes, the Lord will be your strength and yes, He will restore you, but for that moment you are empty, needing to be refilled, and it is often that at that moment the enemy attacks, when he sees you are vulnerable. The response? You feel weak and fearful and want to run, escape to a quiet place and fall asleep (v.5). Did the Lord chide him for this? No! Instead He sent an angel who provided supernatural provision for Elijah to enable him to get to the place of meeting with God again. This is a very real experience and we need to really take on board the elements of it.

First note that we live in a state of war with Satan and sometimes he seems to come like a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) and when he comes like that he seeks to create fear in us.

Second, note that he comes to attack like this when we are vulnerable and probably when we have just been giving out a great deal, and even when we have just had a great victory.

Third, the crucial thing here is to be aware of what is going on. When Peter in the verse just referred to warns about Satan coming as a roaring lion, he starts, “ Be alert…..” Very often Christians become casualties simply because they did not realize what was going on and did not take steps to counter it. Emotional responses when you are at this place of attack are fear, doubt, feeling down, worrying and so on. They are all things the enemy seeks to impose upon you. Realise what is happening.

The fourth thing is to get out of the firing line. It was sensible, in the absence of a word from the Lord, to get out of range of the Queen. When you are feeling weak and vulnerable step back from the front line until you can be restored. While you stay there you are simply a target for more blasting from the enemy, and that isn’t necessarily the big obvious things, it can be the subtle temptation that brings your downfall into sin.

The fifth thing is to get with God. Elijah made for Horeb, or Sinai, the known place of encounter with the Lord. Even to get there he needed supernatural help. It may be that you need help from the Lord and that ‘angelic’ help can actually be through others. If you have those who are close to you, ask them to pray and carry on praying for you. (If you don’t find them!) I have a small group of people I confide in who pray for me all the time, but they find it particularly helpful if I share with them what is happening to me. Perhaps we need a retreat – it can be a day or a week. We would like to say that the ‘walk of despair’ should only be temporary, but unless you do some of these things, it can extend. Prov 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” It is the same principle that applies here. If you stand alone you are vulnerable. If you have those who can be made aware of the battle and the subsequent weakness, you are on the way to recovery.

The ‘walk of despair’ is all about resources, or to be more precise, shortage of them. In your daily walk with God, when you are in the midst of the battle, those resources can run low. Listen to the apostle Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (2 Cor 1:8,9). Did you see that? “pressure, far beyond our ability to endure” Why does the Lord allow that? Listen to Paul again, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” (v.10,11). There it is, exactly as we were saying. This happens, share it, get prayer support to get to the Lord and “he will deliver.” Hallelujah!

Walk of Anticipation

WALKING WITH GOD. No.39

1 Kings 18:43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

Sometimes in the Christian life, in our walk with God, we seem to be waiting and waiting and nothing seems to change. At those times it is easy to give up, but that is something we must resist. The writer of the Proverbs understood this: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Prov 13:12). The Message version speaks of ‘unrelenting disappointment’. Hope that keeps on getting put off, disappointment that keeps on and on, these are things that wear us down and perhaps these are the things the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.(Gal 6:9). Perhaps that was also in Jesus’ mind when we find, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Lk 18:1). No, the Bible writers clearly understood the human condition and they knew that when we expect something and it doesn’t happen, and keeps on not happening, there is a strong temptation to give up.

This makes the example of Elijah all the more helpful, so let’s see what is behind our verse above. Elijah has just been through the amazing tussle with the prophets of Baal where God turned up for him and brought fire down on his sacrifice to confirm His presence with Elijah. The Lord has stood up for His man, and that must have felt good to Elijah. After the prophets of Baal have been disposed of, Elijah turns to King Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” (1 Kings 18:41). Now that is an amazing prophetic command because there has been no rain for three years and the sky is still perfectly clear. For there to be rain there needs to be clouds – and there are none! Elijah is saying to the king, it’s all right, you can go and celebrate now, the drought is over. Elijah has just stood in faith against the prophets of Baal and now he stands in faith against the drought. So what does he do? “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” (v.42). He prays! There is an interesting example to follow here. It is all very well to know the will of God (the drought is ending) but we are still to be part of the process of bringing it about by praying for that will to come into being. Elijah knows rain is coming, but he now needs to pray it into being. It’s just how it works.

But Elijah needs to know how long to pray, so he sends his servant to go to look for the clouds. There are none. Now I wonder why Elijah did this? Why couldn’t he have just looked himself? There may be two answers. First he may have been too burdened and felt he needed to totally immerse himself in prayer and, second, he may have felt he wanted to involve his servant and teach him something about spiritual realities. This servant would remember what happened because he was involved in it. His part was to walk the walk of faith, or the walk of obedience, or the walk of anticipation; we can call it a number of things. This servant could have just sat round the corner and not bothered to go. He could have thought, “This is crazy, Elijah has finally flipped after all his exertions with the false prophets,” and not bothered to go. After all, where he was standing he could see around him that there were no clouds!

But this servant doesn’t do that. The man of God has spoken the word from God and so his role is to follow through as requested. He hadn’t had the word but he knew the man who had had it. That was enough. So he goes to the lookout point where he can see across the sea, but there is no cloud. He returns and tells his master. Seven times at his master’s bidding he goes to look and six times he sees nothing. Humanly speaking, with every additional time he would be thinking, “This is a waste of time!” but there is a spiritual dimension to all this – God has spoken, the man of God has spoken, and so ‘sometime’ it IS going to happen. Eventually the word IS fulfilled: “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.” (v.44,45)

Prophetic people are notorious for getting the timing wrong, but that need not put us off. For decades now we had heard prophetic words saying ‘revival is coming’, and it hasn’t. It’s all right, don’t be put off when dates were attached that didn’t work out, it will happen, in God’s time. Just keep walking the walk of anticipation. He’s said it, so it will come – eventually.

Listen to how Jesus finished off his parable in Luke 18 about persisting in prayer: “And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?(v.6-8). Keep on praying, he taught, because the answer will come, and by the way, when I come back and you’ve been waiting and waiting for me, will you still be faithful? Will you still be walking the walk of anticipation, knowing it’s just a matter of time? Hang on in there! Walk the walk!