In the Iroquois tribe of Native Americans, community life revolved around the log house situated in the center of the camp. Extended families would live there, as well as sleep, work, and play around the great fire kept always burning. In order for the log house’s fire to keep burning there needed always to be a fire-keeper. His job was to make sure the flame was never extinguished. When others went out to gather, hunt, or fight, the fire-keeper stayed in the log house keeping the home fires burning.
The church needs fire-keepers, too: those who devote themselves when others may be too busy or distracted and who keep the spiritual fires lit. Christian fire-keepers are otherwise known as prayer warriors. It is through devoted and disciplined prayer that firekeepers uphold the church. In the Old Testament, Elijah was a firekeeper. In a time of idolatry and sin, we read, “Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down to the earth and put his face between his knees” (1 Ki. 18:42). According to the Bible, the faithful prayers of this one godly man made a vital difference in his generation. In the New Testament, James reminds us of Elijah’s prayers: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” He then points out that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Ja. 5:16-17). Notice the emphasis: Elijah was just a person no different from us. But he prayed devotedly in faith and his prayers were used by God to keep faith alive in Israel. The prophets of Baal were trying to stamp out the true worship of God, but Elijah’s prayer kept the flame for Israel. When the people were gathered back to the Lord, it was Elijah’s prayer that reignited their hearts to trust in God once more. We need today the kind of fire-keepers that Elijah was then.
One reason why fire-keepers are so valuable is that most of us lead weak and inconsistent prayer lives. If we are honest, most will admit that we find prayer difficult and even unsatisfying. This is because prayer is a purely spiritual work, and we are not particularly spiritual people. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to find a reason not to join in prayer? There is always someone to talk to or some time-consuming task; how easy it therefore is to stay out of the prayer meeting or skip your personal time of prayer. But, as Philip Ryken writes, “There is no other way to receive the blessings of God. All of the spiritual blessings that God has to give come through a life of prayer. Wisdom for life’s decisions come through prayer. The awesome presence of God in worship comes through prayer. Conversions come through prayer. The revival fire of the Holy Spirit comes through prayer.”
It is because of this truth that we should be so thankful to God for the fire-keepers among us who have kept up the demanding discipline of prayer. How many blessings we presently enjoy as a church are the result of faithful prayers lifted up for God’s work in this place? If you know someone who is fervent and devoted in prayer for you, for our church, and for Christ’s work, make sure to thank them for tending the fires for us all. Even better, we should consider joining them. Ask an older member who has learned the discipline of prayer about how they have kept faithful in prayer. Come to the weekly prayer meeting on Wednesday night and learn how to spend a half-hour or so with your brothers and sisters in prayer. Begin praying for God to protect the blessings that we enjoy: sound doctrine, reverent worship, faithful shepherds, loving fellowship, joyful spiritual vitality and more. These things should not be taken for granted, but should be preserved and promoted in word, speech, and prayer. Then begin praying for God to extend these blessings into more and more lives. Pray that the young people in our church would be inspired with a passion for Christ. Pray that what takes place on Sundays here would extend into our homes during the week. Pray for weary mothers, who are expending their energies in sacrificial love for their families. Pray for burdened fathers, who so often feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. Finally, having prayed for God to protect and extend our current blessings, pray for God to give us new blessings. Pray for a renewing of evangelistic fervor and for new converts in and through our church. Pray for new opportunities of service and gospel outreach. Pray for the resources to expand the potential of our church for ministry in the generation to come. In a church like ours, there is so much to do—but there is nothing more important than for us to pray to God for protection, strength, and blessing.
Like us, Elijah lived in a time when people did not know the Lord. So he prayed, “Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God” (1 Ki. 18:37). After he had prayed this way, the fire of the Lord descended and consumed the sacrifice Elijah had prepared. When the people saw this, “they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God” (1 Ki. 18:39). Our historical setting is different from Elijah’s, but it remains true that if we will commit ourselves to prayer, we may expect to see God’s power at work among us so that people believe that Christ is Lord. In my view, all of us in this church have many reasons to thank the fire-keepers among us and who have gone before us – their prayers are the source in God’s grace for our present blessings. Let’s learn the lesson and be fire-keepers in our families, keeping the home-fires of faith burning on our knees. Let’s be fire-keepers in our church. And as a church, let us be those whose prayers are used by God to shine his light so brightly that many see it and that God’s power will overcome unbelief and lead many to know the Lord in saving faith.
First published in The West End Herald, February 11, 2019