JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) -- In the spring of 2007, more than 215 wildfires ravaged the Florida landscape, polluting the air with thick smoke and smoldering ash. Winds carried smoke and ash from the Bugaboo swamp fire, which raged as the largest wildfire in the history of both Georgia and Florida, as far away as Atlanta and Birmingham where the haze hovered over those cities during April, May and June.
In response to weeks of unrelenting, uncontrollable fires, Florida Baptists called for a Day of Prayer for Rain on the Sunday May 27, 2007, through an e-blast to pastors, a news story in the Florida Baptist Witness, radio spots and word of mouth. Many joined together in prayer.
The very next day, Monday, May 28, a low pressure system began developing south of Key West. By Friday, June 1, tropical storm Barry began dropping moderate to heavy rain across the region. Over the next few days, three to seven inches of rain covered the state from Key West in the south to north of the Florida state line into Georgia and South Carolina. The rains doused wildfires and brought 90 percent containment to the Bugaboo swamp fire. Jacksonville, Fla., reported the wettest June 2 date since 1873. Baptists across the state believe God answered prayer!
Can the weather forecast change so suddenly and dramatically? Can prayer have a part in that? Remember Elijah's prediction to wicked King Ahab? Elijah prophesied, as part of God's judgment on the unrepentant northern kingdom of Israel, that it would not rain in the land except at Elijah's command (1 Kings 17:1). For three years and six months it did not rain (James 5:17). At the end of the drought, Elijah fervently and earnestly prayed for rain from the top of Mount Carmel. As he prayed, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind followed by a downpour of rain (1 Kings 18:42-46). Prayer made a difference with the weather.
Job 37:13 records three ways God works through weather:
-- for a measure of correction (for punishment, v. 13a);
-- for maintenance on earth (for His land, v. 13b -- sun, rain, snow, thick clouds, bright clouds, verses 6-12);
-- for mercy on earth (for His faithful love, v. 13c).
Fast forward a few months to the fall of 2007. Twenty-one of the 50 states were in drought, some extreme. Atlanta was in such severe drought that experts predicted there would be no drinking water for the metropolitan area within 90 days.
With reservoirs drying up and boat docks and lake front property several yards from the water's edge as lakes receded, calls to prayer surfaced once again. The Georgia Baptist Convention issued prayer guides and bulletin inserts to churches across the state and set Sunday, November 4, as a day of prayer for rain. The convention's website carried information about ways to pray for rain.
The governor of the state, a Georgia Baptist, gathered lawmakers and ministers from across the religious and political spectrum for a lunch-hour prayer service in downtown Atlanta on Nov. 13 of that year to pray for rain. Though he faced opposition from special interest groups claiming he violated church-state separation issues, he was undeterred. Demonstrators hoisted signs reading "20% chance of rain today, 100% chance of church-state violation," "Government-sponsored prayer is unconstitutional," and "Nothing fails like prayer."
What happened? The weather changed! God brought rain in answer to prayer! Records show December of 2007 as one of the wettest Decembers in Atlanta's weather history.
Many see this as part of the remedial judgment of God mixed with His mercy and willingness to answer those who call on Him.
Without question, our nation needs spiritual awakening. Too many are saying, "God, will You leave us alone and let us do what we want!" Many in churches seek to do "church life" without earnest, fervent prayer.
When Solomon completed the dedication service for the brand-new temple of God, the Lord responded with this warning: If I close the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). The praying in verse 14 is based on the chastening in verse 13! God is ever at work ready to restore. Are we cooperating?
Could the weather be an intensifying wake-up call to our nation for the need for spiritual awakening? Think about it. Since 2007, we have seen an increase in weather issues. In 2008, the number of disaster events exceeded 150 at a cost of more than $9 billion. In 2009, we had more than 200 disaster events at a total cost of more than $10 billion. The year 2010 set a new record with 247 events, again with more than a $10 billion price-tag. In 2011, we saw the disastrous October snow storm in the Northeast shatter every weather record on the books. Costs were in the billions. The total for 2011 topped $14 billion in disaster events. In 2012, Super Storm Sandy alone cost over 50 billion dollars. And 2013 has begun with an equal vengeance across much of the nation.
The weather issues (droughts, fires, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes) of the past six years were and are signs and symbols of the needs of the churches in America. Far more telling, many churches are experiencing spiritual drought and need the refreshing rains of the Spirit of God. We need to intensify praying together for the physical, material and especially the spiritual needs we see all around us.
Any need we see should serve as a call to prayer; and praying together is a much-needed ministry that often brings deeply longed-for answers and blessings.
God is at work on many levels. While many are intensifying their rebellion against God, many others are turning to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Bottom line for today: We need to rehearse the facts of the past. Moving beyond the past, we need a new fascination with who God is and what He is doing. We then need to join Him in active faith. Whether praying alone and praying together, (Jeremiah 29:7; 33:3; Ephesians 6:17-19; 1 Timothy 2:1-8), we must pour out our souls in earnest, fervent prayer.
Rick Shepherd is the prayer and spiritual awakening team leader with the Florida Baptist Convention. The booklet "Praying about the Weather" is available at www.flbaptist.org/Prayer/PrayerResources.aspx.. Initial articles about the Call to Prayer that Frank Page has issued to Southern Baptists for 2013 can be read here and here. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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