Day 8: Laboring In Prayer - Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools

Day 8: Laboring in Prayer

“Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees.” 1 Kings 18:30–46

It is an undeniable biblical theme that prayer gives birth to new life.

I know how unfashionable it is to talk of following Jesus as being “born again.” Some guy with a fiery sign and a bullhorn in Times Square has made that a bad look for all of us. But biblically speaking, that’s the richest, most consistent metaphor for salvation. And the mysterious, long, and slow process of spiritual birth is seeded by prayer.

This theme is found all over the Bible but is vividly pictured in the life of the prophet Elijah. His story is so epic that it’s too long to recount detail by detail today, but there is one piece of the story I want to zoom in on.

Today’s passage from 1 Kings drops us into the middle of the action in Elijah’s efforts to win back the people of Israel from their worship of the idol Baal. To do this, Elijah has organized a mighty display of God’s power—igniting a sacrifice that has been doused three times with water (read 1 Kings 18:25-40). Immediately after this incredible spectacle, we learn a curious detail about what Elijah does next. The text tells us that he “climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.”

That’s an odd posture for prayer. Frequently in the Bible, we encounter people falling facedown, prostrate in prayer or kneeling in humility. But in this instance—to pray for the collective salvation of the nation of Israel—Elijah gets into the position of a woman in labor, beginning to push.

I know. It’s graphic. Even the New Testament writer James, referring to this event, called it, “fervent” or “effectual” prayer. More recently, this laborious method of prayer is commonly referred to as “travailing” or “contending” prayer.

Whatever you call it, here’s the point: there is a kind of prayer that gives birth to new life. And this is the sort of prayer God loves to answer—prayers for new life, prayers for salvation.

As I did yesterday, though, I must warn you. If you ascend this mountain of prayer, proceed with caution. Because here’s the bit you likely already know by experience: prayer for the lost is slow and unglamorous. It requires us to be persistent and single-minded, to display a stubborn willingness to pray through the waiting. And it sometimes requires labor pains.

But the reward of laboring in prayer for the salvation of your loved ones, friends, and the world at large is the joy of new life. And if you’ve ever held a baby in your arms, you know that’s an unrivaled joy.

To Practice: Pray for a lost friend or family member, asking the Good Shepherd to leave the 99 in pursuit of this one lost person. Ask that God would give you the heart of Jesus, that you might love and live like the Good Shepherd.

From the Book: