A Man in a Cave

For those of you who know your bible you likely assumed this is a post about Elijah’s cave experience: you are correct.

As we follow the story we learn that Elijah is a prophet who moves in dramatic power. He bursts on the scene in 1 Kings 17 declaring to the wicked king Ahab a drought that will last years and not end until Elijah says so, which happens. He raises a dead child back to life. In a public contest with the prophets of Baal he calls upon Yahweh to vindicate him and fire comes down from heaven that consumes the sacrifice and the altar. Elijah then slays the 450 prophets of Baal. Great and dramatic feats!

After all of these dramatic victories Elijah’s life is threatened by Jezebel and he flees (1 Kings 19:1-3). This seems unbelievable. After all of Elijah’s victories he is suddenly afraid for his life and flees when threatened by Jezebel. Clearly, though not from Yahweh, Jezebel had some spiritual power that intimidated Elijah. 

Whatever is happening it puts Elijah into a spiritual funk. He is discouraged and irrational. After being strengthened and fed by an angel he travels forty days on that food, another supernatural experience. Yet, whatever he is thinking about over the forty days does not help as he ends up in a cave on a mountain, feeling emotionally and physically alone. While Elijah is in the cave Yahweh asks him a question and he gives an interesting answer.

9  And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10  So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” 1 Kings 19:9-10 (NKJV)

Is what Elijah says true? Partly. Elijah has been zealous for Yahweh and the children of Israel have for the most part forsaken the covenant. Yet, he is not the only one left. In 1 Kings 18:13 Obadiah explained to Elijah how he had hidden and fed 100 of Yahweh’s prophets; in fact he implies Elijah already knew this to be the case.

It has been well said that when an omniscient God asks a question He isn’t looking for information. Generally Yahweh asks us questions to reveal our hearts, to us – He already knows them. When we are depressed and under spiritual oppression we don’t think rationally. Yet in this state, like Elijah, we can still hear God’s voice. The issue is our response. 

In verse 9 Elijah was in a cave alone. After the first question and response Yahweh directed Elijah to come out of the cave and stand on the mountain before Him. It appears that Yahweh was seeking to shift Elijah’s perspective. He wanted him to move from darkness and isolation out into the open. Yet look at what happens.

We don’t know how Elijah heard in the cave but when he stepped out he saw dramatic supernatural displays but he did not encounter Yahweh in them. It is easy to miss the spiritual looking for the supernatural. We can engage in loud emotional and dramatic events but He is not in them.

When Elijah encounters Yahweh it is in a still small voice. Yet look at Elijah’s response.

13  So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14  And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” 1 Kings 19:13-14 (NKJV)

Elijah heard Yahweh in a quiet voice but it didn’t bring him out of his funk, it didn’t shift his perspective. Elijah remained in a ‘woe is me’ mode. So how does Yahweh respond? He recommissions Elijah to perform significant prophetic acts, one of which is to call and train his successor. The mantle is to be passed.

I believe in this Elijah missed something. I think if he had been able to focus on intimacy over power his perspective would have shifted and his ministry may have remained fruitful for a longer period.

Not unlike Elijah, whose attention was drawn by the dramatic, we live in a busy noisy culture surrounded by marketing hype. One response to coping with seeming endless busyness and urgency is the growth of training opportunities in practices like ‘mindfulness’: learning to quiet our minds and refocus to shut out multiple competing distractions. It is sad that many in the world are turning to these ‘spiritual’ practices that while effective in reducing stress, do not bring spiritual reality. We as the church should be, among other things, a place of refuge where minds and hearts can be quieted and where we can hear His whisper.

At times we do need dramatic displays of power, but even more we need to learn to lean into His heart, to know His voice in intimacy. How are we doing? 

Whisper by Jason Upton

Standing Part 8

To wrap up our understanding of how to stand and be effective wearing our spiritual armour we will look into the following verse.

18  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints Ephesians 6:18 (NKJV)

Paul tells us that after we put our armour on we need to pray ‘in the spirit.’ Jude also has something to say on the subject.

20  But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21  keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. Jude 1:20-21 (NKJV)

Paul and Jude both advise us to ‘pray in the Spirit.’ Great advice but what does it mean? My background is Full Gospel/Pentecostal. The general teaching in those circles is that praying in the Spirit is praying in tongues. This creates a problem. If that interpretation is true then those who do not speak/pray in tongues cannot be effective in spiritual warfare. Neither Paul nor Jude would encourage a practice that was not for all. Below in italics is an excerpt from a teaching article I wrote in 1992 that speaks to praying in the Spirit. The article was about life in the Spirit and the first paragraph provides context for the second. 

True prayer is simply the heart responding to Jesus. When we always respond to Him we are praying without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). To pray without ceasing does not mean to pray 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The phrase ‘without ceasing’ is used three times in 1 Thessalonians (1:3, 2:13, 5:17) and each time is the same Greek word. It basically means to pray without omission and if we look at the context of these passages Paul cannot be saying he is praying 24 hours a day 7 days a week for these things. 

Paul gives the sense of praying without omission or ceasing in Ephesians 6:18 and Colossians 4:2. To pray at all times in the Spirit is simply to respond to Him with prayer as the Spirit leads. To pray in the Spirit is not necessarily praying in tongues. Tongues are praying by, through, or with, the enabling of the Spirit not in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is following His leading in prayer rather than simply praying what we naturally think we should pray. If we are praying at His leading while praying in tongues then we are both praying in and by the Spirit.

So, back to Ephesians 6, using our armour and praying in the Spirit. We need to put on our armour, being mindful that wearing it without using it is like an athlete putting on all his equipment then watching the game. Once clothed we pick up our sword and wield it by turning into prayer the scriptures He stirs in our heart.

For example, if I am facing a significant challenge, I may take up this verse.

13  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

I can obey Jesus injunction to speak to the mountain (Mk. 11:23) and say, “I declare that X shall not have dominion over me. Because Your word says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, Jesus I thank You for Your enabling. I thank You that I am called to victory in this area.” We form our prayers as the Holy Spirit leads. Remember, Paul wrote this from prison. His declaration in Philippians 4:13 didn’t set him free, it enabled him to live in victory in his circumstances.

Now not all prayer needs to be based on a particular verse or passage of scripture, it does however need to align with scripture. For example, here is something I pray regularly from myself and many of you. It ties together the various components of armour from Ephesians 6 with the power of our blood covenant with Jesus.

“I place all you have called me to, my family, life, home, property and purpose – my destiny, under the protection of Your name and blood. Phil. 2:10, Eph. 1:7, Prov. 18:10

Help us to stand in the power of Your might, at rest in Your truth, righteousness and peace as we exercise faith in You, embracing You as our salvation and declaring Your word! Holy Spirit, I embrace Your call to wield my sword, Your word, to be alert and pray at strategic times, at Your prompting, establishing Your will in the earth.

I thank You that Your word is truth and that as I commit to standing on truth and in truth the enemy is defeated. I thank You that You are my righteousness. Through You I come boldly to the throne of grace, drawing on Your mercy and help. I thank You that as in faith I present my requests to You, Your peace guards my heart and mind. I thank You that my faith in You is a shield that quenches all the attacks of the evil one. I thank You that by filtering my thoughts through the reality of Your salvation, my mind is guarded. I thank You that the proper use of Your word is a sword that drives back the enemy! Eph. 6:10-20, 4:21, John 14:6, Phil. 3:9, 4:6-8, Heb. 4:12, 11:1, 6, 12:2, Rom. 1:16, 8:14, Gal. 5:16, 18

Father, I thank You that we are bound to You by the covenant made in Jesus’ blood. I thank You that His blood is continually protecting us and cleansing us from all sin as we walk in the light of Your presence. Luke 22:20, Heb. 10:29, 13:20, Ex. 12:13, 23, 1 Jn. 1:7-10, Eph. 5:8”

So, in relation to spiritual warfare; let’s become familiar with His word, put on our armour, pick up our swords and look to the Holy Spirit.

Standing Part 7

Thus far we have examined everything but the sword. So in coming to our last piece of armour it seems appropriate to see all of them in context.

14  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; Ephesians 6:14-17 (NKJV)

When we reflect on this it is clear that all of the pieces we have examined so far are for stability, like the shoes, and protection. The sword of the spirit is unique in that it can be used for both attack and defense. We see that the sword is the word, the scripture. The best example of someone wielding this sword is found in Matthew 4:1-11 (see also Luke 4:1-12). We should expect Jesus to be a skilled swordsman, which He demonstrated, but He also expects us to develop our skills in the realm of parry and thrust.

As an aid to skill development, let’s see how Jesus used His sword in a portion of this passage.

5  Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6  and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7  Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” Matthew 4:5-7 (NKJV)

While it is important to note that Satan is a liar by nature, he did not misquote this scripture (Ps. 91:11-12). His strategy was to misrepresent scripture to deceive! Psalm 91:11-12 was true, but could be claimed only if one was walking in submission to Yahweh. The Father was not leading Jesus to leap off of the temple so Psalm 91 was not applicable and Jesus knew that. Satan was tempting Jesus to tempt His Father.

In one swift move with His sword Jesus did a parry and thrust and ended this encounter.

Now to us. To effectively wield the word we need to know it and apply it in context. Read through Paul’s letters and see how many promises have a condition attached. Here are a couple of examples.

9  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 (NKJV)

23  if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. Colossians 1:23 (NKJV)

Take the first one. If we want to claim His peace in our lives we need to walk in obedience. If we have our peace disrupted and are being obedient we take up the sword. We can declare His peace (shalom) over our lives and we can receive it. This is taking up the sword of the Spirit.  

So, let’s stay in His word and develop our skills with the sword He provides.

Next week, to wrap all of this up we will look at the following verse.

18  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints Ephesians 6:18 (NKJV)