When I was 27, three years into our family-wait, and on that side of our Jordan, I tripped faith-first, right into a waiting-wall. What’s the use in praying? I wrote the words in my prayer journal one Wednesday afternoon in early spring. If Your will is going to be done anyway, does my praying really affect Your timeline?
My eyes Wednesday-wandered to Psalm 25 and David’s waiting-words:
Show me Your ways, O LORD: Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on
YouI wait all the day. (Psalm 25:4-5)
Adam Clarke’s commentary sat on a bookshelf across the room and soon joined me on my lunch break, imparting his previously published thoughts on David’s long-ago, ancient ones.
“Many lose the benefit of their earnest prayers because they do not persevere in them,” he wrote. “The pray for a time; get remiss or discouraged; restrain prayer; and thus lose all that was already wrought for and in them.”
It’s an interesting idea, I thought. But if we can lose the benefit of prayer by not praying, it begs the question: What is the benefit of prayer?
I wasn’t sure which was hurting more – my brain from the question or my heart from the waiting. And I quietly tucked my things away, the words hanging there unanswered.
The next morning, I found myself reading a New Testament story about an Old Testament prophet and still thinking about whether or not it was really all that important to keep praying for a family after three years without one.
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours,” James wrote in chapter five, “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 heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”
I found the story that James was referring to in 1 Kings 18. Sure enough, after a years-long drought, Elijah told the King of Israel to eat and drink and celebrate because a mighty rainstorm was on the way. And as the king celebrated, Elijah went up to the top of the nearby mountain, bowed down deeply to the ground with his face between his knees, and prayed down rain.
But here’s the thing: it didn’t rain right away. With his body still down and his face still between his knees, Elijah told his servant to go look out to the sea, full of faith that the rain he was praying down was coming. But the servant saw nothing.
Seven times, he sent him back. And each time the servant strained his eyes, searching desperately for the earliest indication of a rain cloud, but saw nothing. Can you imagine if Elijah gave up? He could have gotten frustrated after the third return-with-nothing. Persevering in prayer isn’t the easiest thing to do – especially when the thing you’re persevering in prayer for is typically close to your heart. And disappointed hope is not only discouraging, it can also be embarrassing when other people are watching. When they are also straining their eyes, looking for that miracle you’re convinced that God would do.
Elijah’s servant strained his eyes, looking for the rain that the prophet was praying for over three years into a drought. And there I sat, straining my eyes, looking for the miracle-babe that I had been praying for over three years into our wait. My faith wavered when I saw no visible results of God moving, stirring, or even barely beginning to answer my prayer. Elijah’s didn’t.
Seven times, his servant returned with news of clear blue skies. And seven times, Elijah sent him back to look again. Quietly. Confidently. And patiently. Persevering in prayer.
“Go again,” Elijah said.
“There is nothing,” his servant reported, breathless.
“… there is nothing.”
“… still nothing.”
“Sir, there still isn’t anything there.”
“I’m sorry … nothing.”
“Elijah … it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain today.”
And finally, with one last look, his servant did a double take. There it was, out on the horizon – a cloud so small it was hardly larger than his own hand. But it was there. The rain was coming. And Elijah had prayed it down.
If either of them had given up – if Elijah had stopped praying, or his servant had grown tired of looking, they wouldn’t have experienced the power of God manifested before their eyes. Or the wonder of watching a miracle unfold in real time that they, at God’s prompting, had prayed into existence.
That morning, though my eyes saw nothing, my spirit felt His Spirit prompting me: Keep praying. Keep asking. Keep coming to Me.