Those who lived during the really cold war might recall that there was a red phone in the White House connected directly to one in the Kremlin.
You might also have heard someone compare the red phone scenario to prayer. Every Christian has a direct hot line to heaven and can beseech, thank, and praise God whenever and whatever the situation.
But has prayer ever been likened to shooting arrows? Consider the perplexing case of King Jehoash of Israel–a man who misplayed his opportunities. Though Holy Scripture describes him as a king who “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 13:11), yet Jehoash recognized Elisha as God’s prophet and Israel’s spiritual father. When Elisha lay dying, the king came to him weeping and quoted the very words Elisha had uttered when God took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind: “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” (v. 14).
In response Elisha instructed the king to take a bow and shoot an arrow out the east window of the room. Therein Elisha announced the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from Syria and predicted Jehoash’s victory at Aphek (13:17). Elisha then instructed Jehoash to take further arrows and strike the ground with them.
This is where it turns disappointing. Perhaps the king became timid or tired. Perhaps he was struck with discouragement and loss of enthusiasm when he realized he would have to actively fight against the Syrian enemy. For whatever reason, Jehoash struck the ground with his arrows only three times when he should have doubled the number of strikes at the very least. By not doing so he forfeited a complete and total victory.
We all have our needs and enemies. But God has given us plenty of arrows in our quivers. There is first and foremost the arrow shot toward heaven. And what an arrow it is – ‘the Christ alone arrow.’ It is actually shot by God Himself who through His Son promises and gives overall victory: the complete forgiveness of all sin, the perfect righteousness that justifies and avails, resurrection life, and eternal glory. These are the blessings that are given completely by heavenly grace and without our active participation in achieving them.
But on Earth we still have our great enemies, and arrows enough.
We pray God for help and victory over our Old Adam. God answers with encouragement and strength, but not without our participation in the battle. We remember the dictum of Dr. Martin Luther: “God does not work in us without us.” Therefore, daily victory over Mr. Old Adam is achieved only through struggle–we ourselves drowning him with contrition and repentance.
We beseech God for victory over the world. God surely answers prayer, but again we are involved, for John wrote that “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Jesus overcame the world by His suffering and death. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior shares in that victory. Our faith connects us to Jesus, and obedience follows faith as an exercise of it. Our prayer is answered when through the Spirit we recognize that we “are not of this world” (John 17:16) and when we flee temptation. As Joseph said, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)
We implore God for victory over the devil. Jesus has already defeated him yet points us to battle. In our personal struggle we have great weapons to be used against the wiles of the evil one. Paul urged us to put on the whole armor of God and use it: the waist belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the combat boots of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (see Ephesians 6:10-17).
We also have many needs. Far too often “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Are there arrows left unshot? Are we in need of the daily basics? God answers and provides, but He also points to our involvement. “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). We might pray for success in evangelism and the spread of the gospel. God is ready to answer and directs us, “Go therefore and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19); “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).
Native American shamans used ‘prayer sticks’ in their quest to invoke healing and protecting spirits. Those born of God by the Holy Spirit have prayer arrows. The apostle exhorts Christians to “pray without ceasing!” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
The experience of King Jehoash also teaches us to use those arrows faithfully and repeatedly—every one of them.