Living as a child in the plains of Western Oklahoma, I could often watch from a safe distance as a line of storms approached. Especially at night, I could see the flash and hear the crack of recurrent thunderbolts. Even after so many years, as I recall watching those nighttime storms, I’m amazed by such power and immediacy. Within milliseconds, 15 million volts of electricity cut across the sky and reach up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit—that is, five times the sun’s surface temperature.
With this in mind, I’m awestruck by a metaphor used by 17th-century pastor and poet George Herbert to describe prayer: “reversed thunder.” The metaphor not only captures the power of prayer, but also its reliance on Scripture. Like a return stroke of lightening—that is, a powerful flash that travels upward, from earth to heaven, only after a previous stroke proceeds downward, from heaven to earth—even so, a thunderbolt of prayer draws its power from God’s Word. Scripture portrays, throughout its pages, this dynamic relationship between God’s Word, faith, and the believer’s prayer.
Consider, for example, the foundational passage about Abram’s faith in Genesis 15. In previous chapters, God had called Abram out of his homeland, promised him a land and an inheritance, and said that his offspring would both bless and be blessed. But, in this passage, Abram remains childless. Then God speaks: “Look toward the heaven and number the stars, if you are able to number them. … So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5). Then, in a well-known verse, we’re told of Abram’s response: “And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). According to some biblical scholars, this verse suggests—by the Hebrew word for “believe,” which is related to the term “Amen”—that Abram verbally expressed his faith in God’s promise. Thus, we see the pattern: God speaks to Abram, who then calls back to God, verbally expressing his faith.
The apostle Paul elaborates upon this pattern in Romans 10. In this passage, he first suggests that people don’t have to search high and low to find “righteousness based on faith;" rather, they need only look to the Word, which “is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Rom. 10:5-8). For, he explains, those who believe in the resurrection and confess Christ’s Lordship will be saved. “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:10). He insists that those who call on the Lord’s name will be saved, but—then again—how can they do this if they’ve never heard the Word? He concludes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Again, we see the pattern: God calls us through His Word, and in faith we call upon Him for salvation.
As the classic authority on prayer, E.M. Bounds, has written, “The Word of God is the fulcrum upon which the lever of prayer is placed, and by which things are mightily moved.” The righteous man who, according to James, prays fervently is the same man who “looks intently into the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25). He meditates upon God’s Word and abides by it, and his prayer “has great power as it is working” (James 3:16)—power greater than a thunderbolt.