“The seventh time the servant reported, ‘A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’” (1 Kings 18:44)
“Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:17-18)
At Sunday’s regional ‘Increase’ Prayer Gathering for Lanarkshire, as in other locations, a connection was made between these two references to Elijah’s prayers: first for rain to be withheld and then for rain to be released. Three and a half years of drought must have left the land parched and hard. Seven times, after praying for rain, Elijah sent his servant to look out to sea. On those first six journeys there was nothing to be seen. How did Elijah feel about this? How did the servant feel about the apparent futility of his journeys? Did they struggle with despondency, with frustration, with discouragement, shaken faith? Did they feel their prayers were pointless and achieving nothing?
Only on the seventh journey could the servant return and report seeing a small cloud. Even before anything more obvious had developed, Elijah had immediately sent his servant out an eighth time: this time to warn King Ahab to be on the move before torrential rain made travel impossible. Nothing about that small cloud spotted far out to sea would seem to have justified such a course of action. Yet Elijah saw that small sign through faith’s eyes.
The Prayer Gathering picked up on the parallels between the Elijah episode and our own times. The ‘drought’ and subsequent fruitlessness that we are experiencing are more spiritual than literal, but the parallel mood of despondency, frustration, discouragement and shaken faith seems pertinent. The encouragements from these texts seem equally pertinent, whether you see these verses through a denominational lens or a personal one: to pray and not to give up praying; to look for the small signs of change; to act in faith. Keep on praying. Keep on keeping on.