I prayed and God started the airplane motors. This is prayer, this is what it is supposed to be. —Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City (1969)
Thus, Christian faith is a religion primarily of submission, not of stimulation. —James Jordan, Judges (1985)
Does Prayer Change Things?
Materialists don’t believe in prayer. Christians are supposed to because Scripture reveals a personal, covenant-keeping God who hears the prayers of His people and responds with Fatherly love and divine power. His answers, of course, are of different sorts. Sometimes His answers lie in the realm of the heart or soul. We pray for forgiveness or peace or spiritual growth, and He answers. Sometimes His answers lie in His everyday providences. We pray for our daily bread, for safety along the road, or for good health, and He answers. But these things come to us with such regularity that we can easily forget that they are answers to prayer.
And then again sometimes God’s answers stand out from the regularities of our daily lives. We ask God to heal incurable cancer. We ask Him to start the stalled engine of a plummeting plane. We ask Him to send rain when even Doppler radar shows a clear horizon. And God answers. Or does He?
Predictable Providence, Natural Law, and Baalism
After the Flood, God promised to maintain regularity in His government of creation (Gen. 8:22). He promised a generally predictable sort of providence. In fact, God’s providential government of the world is so faithful and complete that we can describe it with mathematical formulas. We can think here of Newton’s second law of motion (S F = ma) or his law of universal gravitation (F = Gm1m2/r2).
The accuracy of such formulas or “laws” has contributed to the secular and pagan notion that the universe is actually run by natural laws. But this of course, is unbiblical. Scripture teaches that God runs the universe and that He does so immediately and personally. He makes the sun shine (Matt. 5:45). He makes the rains fall and the grass grow (Ps. 104:13-14). Jeremiah actually scoffs at the ideas that the heavens—or any other power but Yahweh—can send rain: “Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers?” (14:22a).
Scripture teaches that God sustains life directly, not indirectly. There is no such thing as Nature. God has not given any inherent power of development to the universe as such. God created the universe and all life by immediate actions, not by mediate processes… The idea that God wound up the universe and then let it run its course, so that there is such a thing as Nature which has an intrinsic power, is Deism, not Christianity… To the extent which the processes of Nature replace the acts of God in any system, to that extent the system has become Baalistic. (Jordan, 37ff)
Baalism considers the universe as natural process occasionally interrupted by the purely contingent and irrational. Man is part of the system that is Nature, and he may, by ritual and technique, bend Nature to his best interests. He may stimulate Nature and get what he wants. But there are no ethical considerations here whatsoever. No love for God or man is required. “Worship” isn’t humility before God; it’s only the stimulation and manipulation of impersonal forces. It’s always a purely secular proposition.
Baalism does allow for “miracles,” however, but only as hiccup in Nature– as an irrational computer blip of the weird and bizarre set against the wholly rational and mechanical. It’s National Enquirer stuff, hardly revelation from God.
Signs, Wonders, and the Power of God in History
Scripture’s definition of miracles is a lot different. God does powerful acts in history, acts that fall outside His normal providential ordering of the world, in order to credential His inspired messengers and their inspired message. God performed such signs and wonders by His prophets and apostles to authenticate their ministry as well as to authenticate their words (Ex. 4:9; Mark 16:17-20; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4). Of course, Jesus, the divine Son of God, did more miracles than anyone else who has ever lived (John 21:25).
None of these miracles were violations of natural law since, ontologically speaking, there is no such thing as natural law. But they were extraordinary and amazing things, works that demanded “the awed attention of men.” Now, because the canon of Scripture is complete, God no longer does this type of “authentication miracles.” Even before the close of the New Testament, such signs were beginning to fade (2 Tim. 4:20; Heb. 2:3-4).
But having said all this, we must be careful not to limit God (Ps. 78:41). Just because God has promised a general regularity in creation, He has nowhere promised to restrict His actions to those patterns and parameters described by Newtonian physics. He continues to rule the world personally and immediately, and He has promised to hear His people when they pray according to His will. In the context of physical healing, James tells us that, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). He holds up Elijah as an example. James reminds us that Elijah was a man “subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months” (5:17).
The Prayers of Elijah
Elijah knew God’s covenant law. He knew the consequences God had laid down for disobedience and apostasy. He knew Deuteronomy 28:23: “And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.” In other words, no rain. And so Elijah began to pray diligently. He prayed in terms of the revealed will of God. He prayed that God would honor the threats contained in His covenant law. He didn’t ask for the weird or bizarre. He asked God to be faithful to His Word.
God heard Elijah. He shut up the heavens for three and half years (1 Kings 17-18). During that time, the streams dried up and the fields turned brown. The cattle and horses died. The judgment was severe. When God had made His point, He sent Elijah back to confront the prophets of Baal before all Israel. And when that was over, Elijah prayed again. He prayed for rain. God sent it in great abundance.
These are the prayers that James holds up as examples for us, prayers that call upon God to alter the world around us in striking ways. Here are two more recent accounts of answered prayer that fit this description.
Prayers That Start Engines
Francis Schaeffer describes a flight he made across the North Atlantic in 1947. The plane was a DC-4, a four-engine airliner. Somewhere near the middle of the ocean, two of those engines quit. The co-pilot made the announcement: “Hurry and put on your life jackets!” Dr. Schaeffer writes: “So down we went, and we fell and fell, until in the middle of the night with no moon we could actually see the water breaking under us in the darkness. And as we were coming down, I prayed.”
The plane’s SOS was picked up stateside and broadcast as a newsflash across the country. In St. Louis, Missouri, Edith Schaeffer heard the broadcast and quickly gathered her three small girls together. They all knelt and prayed. And still the plane fell.
Then, when the crew and passengers could see the waves breaking beneath them and everyone was ready for a crash, the engines restarted and the plane recovered. It flew safely on to Gander in Canada. After the plane landed, Dr. Schaeffer was able to speak briefly with the pilot. The pilot said the whole thing was odd. He said that only rarely would two engines go out on the same wing, but if they did, it was an absolute rule that they wouldn’t restart. Dr. Schaeffer offered an explanation: “My Father in heaven started it because I was praying.” Schaeffer writes, “That man got the strangest look on his face and he turned away” (Death in the City, 132ff).
Prayers That Still Bring Rain
A missionary to the Yagba people in Nigeria gives this account:
The drought was severe. The first corn withered; the second planting didn’t come up at all. Something had to be done. Pagans, Muslims, and Christians alike understood that.
And so the pagans appealed to their idol, Shango. The witch doctor climbed a palm tree and began to shout to his god. Below, the people beat on drums, blew horns, shouted, and screamed. They cut their bodies with stones and knives. This went on for four days. On the fifth day, the witch doctor came down from the tree and sacrificed a bull to Shango. They drank its blood and ate the whole animal. But there was no rain.
Next the Muslims appealed to Allah. They were confident of their success since they had no idols. They called for a week of fasting. Day and night they cried out the traditional creed: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” At the end of the week they sacrificed a ram at the river. But there was no rain.
Finally, the Christians decided to pray. The native pastor made the suggestion during Sunday worship and claimed James 5:17 as a basis for this sort of prayer. The resident missionary announced the pastor’s decision to the congregation and called for corporate prayer. The drums carried the message: “Now we are going to see the power of the God who lives. The Christians are going to pray for rain.”
Monday was hot. As evening came on and the bell tolled the call to prayer, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. In the large church building, the pagans were on one side and the Muslims on the other. They had come to see the power of the God who lives.
The local Yagba believers had come with their wide-brimmed umbrella hats. “What are you doing with these things in church?” the missionary asked.
“Oh, white man, haven’t we come to pray for rain? We’ll need those when we go out.”
The missionary read James 5:17-18, and then all the believers got down on their knees. One by one they began to pray: “Lord, we need rain. Glorify your name among the pagans and the Muslims in our Yagba country.”
The Christians prayed. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Then twenty. After twenty-five minutes, they heard a few drops of rain plop against the iron sheeting that made up the church roof. After five more minutes they gave up praying, because they could no longer hear each other. Torrents of rain were falling from heaven. It rained for four days and four nights. (See Kelly, James, 267ff).
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
I could multiply examples, but all to no avail if we won’t believe the promises of God (Matt. 21:22; John 16:24). God commands us to pray for all things necessary for body and soul. He calls us to pray in terms of His law and according to His will. He says He will answer. Sometimes those answers will be amazing. Don’t be afraid to “go big or go home” in your prayer life in 2013. Our nation needs help. Our nation needs rain, physical and spiritual. We need good leaders and much, much more. Our engines have failed and the aircraft is spiraling downward. Would you join me in prayer… that God would bring us to our senses in 2013?
For Further Reading:
James B. Jordan, Judges, God’s War Against Humanism (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1985).
Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City (Downers Gove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1969).
Earl Kelly, James, A Primer for Christian Living (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1974).
Walter J. Chantry, Signs of the Apostles, Observations on Pentecostalism Old and New (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976).
John F. MacArthur, Jr., Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992).
©2012 Off the Grid News