In his epistle, James observes that Elijah, the prophet, was just a human being, like us (5.17). For some people, this is hard to accept. I can understand them. How we could be identified with someone who challenged a king, raised a child from the dead, prayed for no rain and for fire from heaven and was heard, and also was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire! But remember, there is another side to Elijah.
That Elijah who feels alone, runs to the desert, sits down under a Juniper tree and asks for his “promotion”. I can identify myself with him. Those who can’t understand why James wrote that in his epistle do not observe this point of view about the prophet. Moreover, maybe they think that it’s hard to accept that God uses broken and cracked vases, and that sometimes they spill. But this is the way God acts.
In spite of Elijah having been used in an extraordinary way, or having reacted depressively, he cannot be considered more or less spiritual than us. This makes him more human. This is what James wants to tell us: God uses common people, who dare to trust him. Through them, he does extraordinary things.
In the same way James did, through the example of Elijah, I have found some precious teachings that motivate our prayers. They can be useful for you and for me, but I believe that they are helpful mainly in praying for pastors and missionaries, those who are today Lord’s prophets, maybe laying under a Juniper, somewhere in Africa, West Timor… or even here, in Brazil.
Elijah was faithful in his mission. He lived it intensely. There were years of solitude, of being supported by faith (ravens, a poor foreign widow), of struggling on Mount Carmel, of false prophets dying. We do identify ourselves with Elijah. We live our mission 100%, against our own generation, even though this generation could be called the evangelical Brazilian church.
But even the 100% intensity of Elijah – and our 100% intensity – sometimes is not sufficient. Even with our efforts, victories and God’s miracles, probably, there will be a Jezebel yet to win. I can identify myself with Elijah. He expected a total victory and, when he was almost there, he broke.
Oh yes, he really did. He went to the desert not only because he was afraid of the Queen, but to abandon the mission “ring”. Probably, Elijah, just like I would, in relation to my “Jezebels”, asked himself: “Oh man, what is the matter with what I have done?
I can understand Elijah. I can imagine him under the Juniper tree with that feeling of defeat, with his heart breaking, and his deception of his strengths being drained in a project that, despite of the extraordinary victory at Carmel, it was not sufficient to convince Jezebel. And she curses, swears death, and sends him a messenger.
It is this messenger of Jezebel who revealed to Elijah (and to us) the wickedness and fragility of our best efforts, dreams, and plans. He exposes our humanity, the clay that we are made of. He forces us to perceive the cracks in the vase. It reveals the insistent, cruel and inexorable spiritual struggle that we are in.
However, most importantly, Jezebel’s messenger shows that God’s ways are different than ours. He acts in his own way, with incomprehensible logic, which confuses us! For instance, God is more interested in making us “dependent saints” then “successful self-sufficient people”. This is a very hard lesson to learn, for me, José, and even for a prophet, like Elijah.
But if Jezebel has a messenger, our God also does. Halleluiah! It’s God’s messenger who meets the prophet in his pain and failure, right there, under the Juniper tree. Yes, I am writing under a Juniper tree here in Brazil. But by faith, I trust that the Lord will hear my cry and also will send his messenger. I am looking forward to hear his voice.
With me, here, under the Juniper tree, there are also many pastors and missionaries. They are silent, vulnerable and too hopeless to move around. People who need to be visited, touched, and ministered to the angel of God, just like Elijah. But not only have we expected him.
If in the first Christmas, the visit of the angel made it special and brought hope to a few pastors, today, millions people are still waiting to hear the same “Do not be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2.10). My deep anguish (you can call my “Jezebel”) is the knowledge that those who could proclaim the good news are just here with me, under the Juniper tree!
But I trust God that He will make it! And I know how he will make it: He decided to act in response to the cry of his own people. It is not very hard to imagine that God sent his angel to Elijah as a prayer answer to the 100 prophets saved by Obadiah and to those seven thousand people who did not adore Baal.
And it is why I am writing to you from a Juniper tree: I believe that God will act in response to your prayers! And James would agree with me: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”! I hope that in some way, these lines motivate your interceding for us. PRAY FOR US!
José RM Prado