Last we left Elijah, he was a long-term guest in the widow’s house, God having provided food for her and her household to see them through the drought. So life was pretty good at this point. I’m guessing Elijah had found his comfort zone and was just waiting to ride the next few years of drought out and see what was next for him. He’d probably become fast friends with the widow, playing catch with her son in the front yard and teaching him all the things that his own father would have if he had still been alive. They didn’t have meat or any delicacies, but they were well-fed. They were happy. They were alive.
Then one day, the unexpected happens: the widow’s son became gravely ill, and eventually died.
Some time later the woman’s son became sick. He grew worse and worse, and finally he died. Then she said to Elijah, “O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?”
I can’t imagine how Elijah felt at this point. The woman who had taken him in and had been so hospitable to him in his time of need now yelled at him with murderous accusations. How could God have let this happen? As if the drought wasn’t bad enough, as if this widow hadn’t endured enough, she now had to watch her son who had managed to escape the wrath of the drought die from some sickness or the other.
So Elijah grabs the child and carries him upstairs to his own room. Then he begins to pray:
And Elijah cried to the Lord and said, O Lord my God, have You brought further calamity upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?
Now, I don’t think we ever stop to think very much about this scene. Elijah was one of the most powerful men of God to have ever walked the earth. All he needed to do was say the word and rain stopped falling. He spoke and it came to pass. And yet here he was, crying out to God. The Bible goes on to tell us that Elijah stretched himself out on the boy three times and kept crying out to God for the boy’s spirit to return to him.
Theologians will try to explain the act of him laying on the boy, but what strikes me personally is the tone of sheer desperation in the text. Elijah locked himself and the corpse in his room and started calling out to God to do something, repeatedly, until something changed – until the boy’s life came back to him.
The most obvious thing to do when we face hard times is to pray… and yet I find it’s the thing we do the least. We worry, we fret, we ask for advice and seek out our own solutions, and prayer is usually something we leave to well-meaning family members and pastors. I think the reason we find it so hard to pray in tough times – or at least the reason I do – is that not only do I have to face my problems and the fact that they are reality by acknowledging them out loud, but also the fact that I have no power whatsoever to solve them on my own. A large part of prayer is recognizing our own weakness and how out of our control our lives actually are, and feeling helpless isn’t something we like to do.
It is in season’s of drought – when God seems farthest off and the situation seems most dead – that we must pray all the harder. In seasons of drought, things die – our faith, our dreams, our hope, our peace, our relationships and security. And it’s easy in those situations to respond like the widow and to think that God has allowed calamity to come upon us and devour us instead of safeguarding us.
But Elijah knew better. Elijah knew that desperate times call for desperate measures. He was willing to lock himself away in solitude with what was dead, and pray desperately until it came back to life. I think Elijah was desperate enough to have stayed locked up in that room until the situation turned around.
Prayer has ended up becoming a pastime for us when it really is a lifeline. Are you willing to pray, to cry out desperately as you lay out all the dead things in your life before God, and ask Him to bring them back to life? When the drought hits and things die all around you and dreams die on the inside of you, do you retreat in defeat, or do you press in with prayer?
There are some things – some droughts – that will not shift without prayer. So when in drought, pray like your life depended on it.
Because it does.