The envelope was thicker than usual this time. I took that as a good sign.
Once the dust of bookbag, lunchbox, shoes, purse, key detritus had settled on the living room floor, I ripped the envelope open. On top was a letter from sweet Paul telling me of planting and helping mom in the field, asking for prayer for good health and underneath his letter was a packet, yes, five pages stapled together of responses to each letter that I had written to Martin last year. Thanking me for pictures, and for the encouragement of the verses I had sent. He asked about Allister often, told me how much his family missed me and wished us well.
When I hadn’t heard from him in close to a year, I wasn’t worried that he was in danger, I knew I would hear something from Children’s HopeChest if anything had happened. But I was worried that he was outgrowing me, becoming too cool/too busy/too distracted to respond. Because that is what kids do, right? I was concerned that he had grown up and away, that he didn’t need my silly words with terrible drawings of the mountains I had climbed or the ocean I had seen, or the race I had run. But, I continued to write and then to pray for him every day knowing, that this, at least, brought us together.
I thought of these letters as our prayers, prayers that stack up, that seem to go unheard, unanswered, until finally you think, “Did I stop praying for that?”– as if they got caught up in the mail for lack of a zip code and unfortunately returned to sender. But there comes a day, when the phone rings, the e-mail slides into your in-box, the car pulls into the driveway…
My mom, on more than one occasion told me that she prayed this prayer when my sister, then 19, had run away from home, left a note explaining why and went to live life the way she saw fit. She returned broken with a little baby, my now 24-year-old niece, in her belly. My mother would pray: “Lord Jesus, let this be the day that she comes back home and if today is not the day, give me the strength to wait until the next.”
Distractions and disappointments abound, we feel as if the prayers are ignored, and so we might protect ourselves with an excuse or push it down.
Richard Foster speaks of radical prayer as a kind of act of spiritual defiance and quotes Walter Wink, “Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of the churches.”* We do not relent. I thought of Elijah this morning, and looked up these words in I Kings 18:24 “Then you will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire–he is god.”
The god who answers by fire–he is god.
There is a God who answers and consumes us. He consumes our longings, our desires, our strivings because he is good. He consumes our efforts and our posturing because He is good. He consumes our sacrifice because He is good. He consumes everything else so his purposes will be accomplished in our lives: the doors shut–firmly. We cannot push or struggle, oh, maybe we can, but it will be no use. We can slash our wrists and dance and cry out as the false prophets did, but it will be no use. Until the God of fire decides to act, it will be no use.
What was going through his mind as they poured four large jars of water over the bull and the wood underneath, not once but four times? This precious commodity over a land that not seen rain for three years, what was this to accomplish?
And so Elijah prayed he prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and—do you see that? Israel–the one who struggled, who wrestled so hard with the angel of the Lord that we was renamed from Jacob to Israel:
“Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again. ” I Kings 18:37
And he did, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. You will see them, I assure you, big or little you will see the requests answered one by one by one like stacked up letters waiting for a response. When the God of Abrahm, Isaac and Israel, the God of fire responds, there will be no more questions.
*Foster, Richard J. (1992). Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. New York, NY. HarperCollins Publishers