While I have heard missionary stories of people praying for rain in countries far away where they experienced prolonged droughts, I have till now not experienced the need to pray for physical rain. Living in Norway, rain is taken for granted. Especially the two years I lived in Bergen, known as one of the wettest cities in the world. I can assure you that we prayed for sunny days, as they seemed very rare. But there was absolutely no need to pray for rain. It just happened. Seemingly all the time!
However, the summer of 2018 will undoubtedly go down in history as an extremely hot and dry Norwegian summer, breaking records of many decades. The brook streaming next to my house has completely dried up, and last week my well ran dry meaning we have no water in our house at the moment. Luckily, we are close to a large lake and so we have been able to fetch water like they did for centuries prior to indoor plumbing. Somehow our modern luxuries have at times made us oblivious to the basic necessities of life. With this little inconvenience I am reminded of the blessing of water! As a family we have actually started to pray for rain. Even my 3-year-old son is praying for rain several times a day. Interesting enough his name is Elias.
In the Bible (1 Kings 17-18) there is another Elias who prayed for rain. Israel had turned its back on God and a great famine had come upon the land. God raised up the prophet Elias who prophesied it would not rain for three and a half years. To talk about an inconvenience is a huge understatement! Without water everything dies. This was the case as the entire country suffered the consequences of this deadly famine.
Elias confronted the king and the people with their sins that had led to this disaster. The time for a final showdown had come. Throngs of people gathered on Mount Carmel where Elias challenged the people. They had turned from the living creator God to worship a false god called Baal.
Two alters were erected and Elias asked the Baal priests to ask their god to send fire after which he would ask his God to send fire. The God who answered by fire would be the true God. At this point one could wonder if it would not be better to ask for rain. After all, it had not rained for several years! However, before rain returned something had to be settled once and for all. God in His mercy was going to display His power, not only through rain but also through fire.
In vain the Baal priests danced and frantically shouted on their gods for fire. Nothing happened as hours upon hours went by. As the sun gently set upon the horizon a long day had come to an end. But this day was going to end with a victory. Elias prays a simple but heartfelt prayer and immediately fire comes down from heaven. All the people fall on their faces in amazement acknowledging the true God of heaven!
But this was not the end of the story. Elias kneels down and prays for rain and then asks his servant to look towards the sea. His servant comes back with the report that there is nothing. Not a cloud in the skies! Elias continues to pray and continues to send his servant up the hill to look out over the horizon in the hope of spotting a cloud. Seven times this repeats itself, but then a cloud is spotted! Soon the whole land is drenched by rain!
Centuries later the apostle James writes about this instance saying;
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah (Elias) was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced fruit.” – James 5:16-18.
In many ways we are living in a time of spiritual drought. God’s law has been laid aside by the world and sadly by a large portion of the professing Christian church. The drought is felt when prayer meetings are no longer attended, church attendance drops, young people leave, and worldly entertainment grips the masses. The drought is felt when the church starts to look more like the world and the world starts to look more like the church. The drought is felt when deep Bible study is replaced for whatever amuses and stimulates the senses. The drought is felt when church becomes a social club and is relegated to a mere activity once a week or less. The drought is felt when the Holy Spirits power is replaced for human accomplishments and strategies.
And yet at a time like this God is looking for modern day Elijah’s. Men and women who will pray like they never prayed before. A gathering of people who confess their sins to God and one another in order to see healing rivers of water flow through the church. God is looking for men and women who will cling to His promises though the horizon looks dry and no clouds are seen. When all hope seems lost these will see with eyes of faith, knowing that the cloud will soon appear. As the apostle James admonishes us to pray for the rain of God’s Holy Spirit he reminds us how desperately we need this. In the same chapter he writes;
“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” – James 5:7-8.
Just like the seeds need early rain to sprout and a latter rain to ripen, so we as believers and followers of Jesus need the early and latter rain of God’s Spirit. When the early followers of Jesus were gathered together in prayer in the upper room in Jerusalem, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon them. Just like in the days of Elias God manifested His power through fire and rain, now He did so again. This early rain resulted in the spreading of the gospel in ways that would be humanly impossible.
Towards the end of worlds history, we are to again expect an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to ripen the harvest of souls for the second coming of Jesus. This is what we need more than anything else! But with the rain comes a fire. The fire is to burn the dross of sin in our lives. The fire is to warm our affections to God and His Word. The fire is to show the world who we belong to. With this follows the refreshing rain of the Holy Spirit, which ripens our character for the final harvest and empowers us to give the final message of mercy to a dying world. Now is the time to plead for these showers of blessing!
“Ask the Lord for rain in the time of the latter rain. The Lord will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone.” – Zechariah 10:1.