When God Answers Prayer

An Annual Day of Prayer was observed on March 9. A prolonged drought in various areas makes this article on prayer especially timely as another season of sowing the seed is at hand. This article first appeared in The Sioux Center News. Rev. Henry Vanden Heuvel is pastor of the Bethel Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, Iowa.

Last summer turned out to be the driest on record. The resulting damage to crops and livestock will not be known fully until this year. This drought, together with the declining markets has caused a great many people to wonder what is the meaning of it all. Most of us believe that there is a reason and a purpose behind everything that happens. But when something like last summer and the things that have happened take place, we arc at a loss to understand what may possibly be the reason.

We who believe that God hears and answers praver are especially hard pressed to give an answer to these puzzling things. During the course of last summer, there were special prayer services held throughout our area, prayer services for rain. But it seemed as if God was not hearing those prayers. Or if He heard, He was not answering with rain.

There is an event in Scripture which is similar to what has been happening during last summer. That event took place in the life of Elijah the great prophet of the Lord. It concerned one of the strangest things that ever was recorded in Scripture. To us and I suppose to the people of Elijah‘s day, it was very difficult to understand. What happened was that Elijah prayed that it might not rain. And he prayed that it might not rain, not just for a summer or every for a year, but for three years and six months. It seems to liS as agricultural people almost unbelievable that a person would pray that it might not rain. The people in Elijah‘s day were also agricultural people. That everyone depended upon the farm was even more true then, than it is now. And in such a situation, to have a man pray that it might not rain is indeed difficult to understand.

And yet the Bible tells us Elijah prayed that it might not rain for the most important reason. Indeed, the reason for not having rain was a much more important one than the reason for having rain. For the situation in Israel was desperate, and not because of lack of rain. It was desperate because of the spiritual depression that had existed in Israel since Ahab and Jezebel had taken over the government. The spiritual situation was so desperate, that only a prolonged drought of threeand-a-half years could possibly save the nation. And that was the reason for Elijah‘s prayer that it might not rain.

However the story of Elijah and his prayer docs not end there. The Bible describes the tremendous confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. The showdown as to whether God would send rain or not was taking place before the people. For the final result of three-and-a-half years of drought was about to be seen: would the people finally confess that the Lord God of Israel controls whether there is rain and harvest, or would they continue in their idolatry to believe that the god Baal was in control of the forces of nature? That was the question. You remember that Elijah suggested that the prophets of Baal would erect an altar, and kill a bullock and place it on the altar, but not put fire on it. And he, the prophet of the Lord, would do the same. Then the God who would answer with fire, that God would be the true God. Everyone agreed to that contest. The result, of course, was that the Lord answered with fire. But the result for the people was that they finally got off the fence, and came out on the side of the Lord, shouting, Jehovah, He is God!

The final result of that great contest on Carmel, however, is seen in the picture of Elijah who is again at prayer. But this time he is not praying that it may not rain. Now he is praying that it will rain. Why the difference? The difference is, of course, what took place at Carmel. The difference is that now Israel has acknowledged that the Lord, He is God, and not Baal. The difference is that the people killed the prophets of Baal, thus effectively cutting the relationship that had existed between the people and Baal. The difference was that they were returning unto the Lord. Granted, it was only temporary. The people of Israel were a horribly fickle lot. Their repentance was not very genuine. It was certainly not very lasting. But there was a repentance and a return to the Lord, and that was the reason for the change in Elijah’s prayer.

But you see that is still not the end of the story. The story does not begin or end with Elijah, or with the people of Israel, or with the prophets of Baal. The story always begins and ends with the Lord. And therefore the final word came from the Lord in that He heard the prayer of Elijah for rain, and He answered it wonderfully. The heavens grew dark, the Bible tells us, and the rain came. After three and a half years of drought, the Lord sent rain. The reason was the prayer of Elijah, to be sure. But it was more than that. It was the repentance, such as it was, of Israel which motivated the prayer of Elijah. And God is so merciful and so gracious that even though He knew how fickle and temporary their repentance was, He still answered the prayer of Elijah by sending rain.

The events of I Kings 18 happened a long time ago. But the situation is still the same. The cry of Elisha the prophet at the time of Elijah’s being taken up into the heaven, Where is the God of Elijah? is still being raised today. But the answer to that anxious question is still the same today as it was then. For God answered Elisha’s cry by parting the Jordan River so he could cross on dry land. And God can still answer the prayers of His people as He did when Elijah prayed for rain. However, we may not merely look at Elijah’s prayer, and wonder why God answered that prayer: We must look behind the scenes as to the reason why God answered his prayers. And the reason, both for not giving rain, and again for giving rain, was the same. It has to do with Israel’s relationship to the Lord. And that relationship, that situation of where we stand before the Lord, is still the difference between blessing and curse. When the Lord withholds the rain, then surely we had better ask if the reason is that we have not honored the Lord, have not placed Him as the Only Lord of our lives. For we then would be doing exactly what Israel had done in their worship of Baal. But if we turn back to the Lord, give Him the only place in our hearts and our lives, then He will be true to His promises too. His Word still stands which He spoke to Solomon at the dedication of the temple, If my people who are called by my Name will humble themselves and turn from their evil ways and pray, then will I hear from heaven, and forgive their sins and heal their land. God has done it before, and He will do it again. In 1942 when long drought threatened Central Missouri crops, John Blenton, editor of the Monroe County Appeal published an article with this headline: “Lord, we confess our sins. We ask for forgiveness. We pray for rain.” Within an hour after the paper came off the press, the rain fell. God still hears and answers prayer. But He still requires repentance and a return to Him as Lord of lords and King of kings.