Running Out of Prayers
By Jill Briscoe
Have you ever run out of prayers? I’m sure you have. Was it after failure or success? We can understand our prayer life being affected when we are in trouble, but what about it being affected by achievement?
After Elijah ran to Jezreel, toward victory and acclamation, God vindicated him by fire. But suddenly Elijah turns and runs in the opposite direction.
When Ahab got home, he told Jezebel that Elijah had slaughtered the prophets of Baal. So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: “May the gods also kill me if by this time tomorrow I have failed to take your life like those whom you killed.”
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, and on alone into the desert. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19:1-4).
Elijah runs away from Jezreel and into the jaws of defeat. He was just like us, human and afraid. Yes, he was afraid! (1 Kings 19:3).
This particular verse of Scripture is an amazing verse. I could imagine the Bible saying that Elijah was exhausted or angry or lonely, but not “Elijah was afraid!” Yet, that particular verse of Scripture encourages me to keep hoping, because I, too, am often afraid.
What happens when we run out of faith and run into fear? Do we end up like Elijah, flat on our faces under the proverbial broom tree? (v. 4). It has been my experience that when you run into fear you can run out of faith in a hurry. Fear paralyzes you. I have always been a fearful person. When I was a child, I feared I wouldn’t ever grow up. When I did grow up, I feared I would never live long enough to get married. When I got married, I was frightened I would never have children. When I had three, I worried that they would never get married and have children. And so on and so forth.
I am very familiar with the fear that chases faith away. And it can all happen in a moment! It might feel final, as I’m sure it did to Elijah, but as we shall see, this fear would lead to a whole new dimension of ministry and experience in prayer.
What Fear Does To Faith
Stuart and I live in Wisconsin, where snow and ice are a big part of our lives during the long winter months. Sometimes we get a blizzard. You can be inching along, and all of a sudden you run into what is called a “whiteout.” You literally go blind for a moment and become disoriented as the snow swirls around the windshield.
We can experience whiteouts in our faith life too. We could call these experiences whiteouts, or “doubt outs.” You see perfectly clearly one moment, and the next you are blinded by the storm. Doubt is faith in distress, and it is very hard to pray when you are doubting God. The Bible says, “Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that there is a God and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Elijah was experiencing a mammoth “doubt out.” He couldn’t see God anymore, but he could see Jezebel. And she looked so much bigger than God.
It’s funny what things people are afraid of, isn’t it? Here is Elijah, who has taken on an entire nation, running away from a woman! But then, doubt and exhaustion do strange things to you. It’s easy to lose perspective.
What God’s Presence Does For Us
The first thing to do when you arrive under the broom tree is to quit everything. Elijah didn’t pretend. He simply said, “God, I’ve had it!” Elijah was experiencing serious burnout. Be encouraged to be this honest when your turn comes. God wants us to say whatever we want to say.
If we are talking about intercession, we must believe that God is a rewarder of “those who sincerely seek Him.” When you’re under the broom tree, your prayers are not intercessory prayers but rather prayers of desperation. Yet Hallesby encourages us to pray on, even when we are driving through a blizzard of unbelief! He says:
Many have had most remarkable answers to prayer when they had no clear or definite assurance that they would be heard. It has seemed to them that God has given the most remarkable answers to prayer at times when they had no faith whatsoever!
So keep talking to the Lord even if you are mad at Him or doubting His very existence. Jesus promised that a sparrow would never fall without the Father knowing it. Note, He never promised that a sparrow would not fall, but He did promise the sparrow would not fall without the Father’s knowledge of it. God is never surprised by our visits to the broom tree.
So let’s see what happened to the humbled prophet under his trauma tree.
God Deals With Our Disappointment
I find that when I’m checking into the Broom Tree Inn, I lose my perspective of God. All I can think about is how disappointed God must be with me. I become convinced that He is telling me to get my act together and share the Four Spiritual Laws with Jezebel!
I have to remind myself that I can never surprise God. In fact, all that God expects from us is failure of one kind or another along our spiritual road. The good news is, He waits around the corner of our failure. He has a plan – a plan of renewal and refreshment – and He waits at the reception desk of Broom Tree Inn, ready and eager to check us in! What we need to do is cooperate. We should lie down and sleep again (1 Kings 19:5-7).
Whatever medicine God the Healer prescribes, we should take it. And we should rest long enough for the loving treatment to take effect. Elijah waited until he was strong enough to go on before he went on.
What brought you to this point? Was it a church that hurt you or a spouse that abandoned you? Maybe you are under the broom tree because of things you cannot change. Perhaps you are the victim of a cruel circumstance.Wrong choices that others made have had severe consequences for you. Perhaps, like Elijah, you are mostly disappointed with yourself. It is only a matter of time before you decide that God can do without you and so can everyone else!
I can remember getting into that state of mind only once. My husband was out of town and my father was sick. Things were not going well in the youth work I was responsible for, and then our daughter broke her arm. Stuart was in America making plans for us to immigrate and I was supposed to be wrapping up our work and packing up the house.
One day I couldn’t ignore the gnawing pain in my stomach anymore, so I went to the doctor. He told me I was suffering from an ulcer, and he put me in the hospital. Suffering from a great imagination as well as a bleeding ulcer, I was quite sure that I was going to die and that this would be a lot better for all concerned. God would give Stuart an American wife who could do the job in the States a whole lot better than I could, and everyone would benefit.
As I think back to how the Lord lifted me out of my deep despondency, I realize that God may have allowed me to go through it so I could encourage others. Looking back I can see that my experience was not unlike Elijah’s.
The first thing both of us received was physical help. If you are in this predicament, have yourself checked out. It isn’t unspiritual to look after your body. People helped me practically, and I had to learn to let them. God brought Elijah breakfast; friends brought my family supper!
And then I found lots of help in the Word about God’s great concern for me. “The journey is too great for you,” I read over and over again. God was not mad at me for being in the state I was in; He was loving and caring and infinitely patient. Above all, I became convinced that God was not finished with me yet. Failure is never final.
God “touched” His servant Elijah at the lowest point of his life, and God touched me as well. I continued on my way, strengthened by the nourishment He provided through the Bible, Christian friends, and above all, prayer. God will find a way to touch you if you give Him a chance to minister grace to you.
What The Broom Tree Gives To Us
The broom tree experiences in our lives introduce us to a new way of praying. It’s not verbal praying but rather a total abandonment of ourselves in despair at God’s feet. It is a wordless praying, a silent scream for help. Sometimes we cannot even shout at God. We are spent.
When you run out of prayers, God can still hear you! Even though no words are formed or spoken, God looks at you and reads the language of your longing. At that moment, you see, you are the prayer! So be content to just be a desperate prayer under your particular broom tree, and wait and see what happens!
You may wonder how long you will be there. You’ll remain there as long as it takes for you to be strengthened. Try not to take on anything extra until things begin to be resolved. Once Elijah was off and running again, God went ahead of him, preparing his future. That is definitely what happened to me.
Stuart said that I had to stay put in England until I was well enough to face the immigration process, and I gradually regained my health and began to pack for the journey to the States. God went ahead of me every step of the way.
How will you know God has touched you and that it is time to move on? You will know if you sense God’s love and acceptance. You will feel this sense of inner well-being far deeper than at the emotional level. The Holy Spirit does not come into our hearts to do His deepest work in the shallowest part of us. He works His healing grace at the mind level first. Once you hear Him saying something kind and sweet, believe it, get up from under your broom tree and go on to Horeb, the mountain of God.
If Elijah had not believed that “God was not finished with him yet,” he would have died of a broken heart under the broom tree. If I had not believed that I was redeemable, I would have tried to persuade my husband to stay home and not immigrate to America. As I lay miserably alone in that hospital bed, I remember giving a desperate glance heavenward. It was all I could manage, but it was enough. I am a prayer, Lord, I said without words. Read me. Words are nice, but words are not needed when you are under the broom tree. Just be content to know that every word you would have said, if you could have said it, is heard loud and clear among the angels and by the Lord. His ears are especially tuned to those sorts of prayers – to the solitary, silent scream!
So where does this leave our hero? Sadder and wiser, certainly. Elijah came to terms with his fallen humanity. The expert on the subject of prayer learned that there are some times when you run out. You run out of faith, out of energy, out of friends, and out of hope. You run out of the human resources to function anymore. You run out of belief, and you run out of ideas, and you even run out of prayers. When that happens, God has only just begun! As Elijah was to find out, God gives more grace, more help, more joy, more hope, and more strength to all of us in our weakness than He ever does when we are strong. We just need to bank on it.