I have a vivid memory of my early days as a believer. I was at summer camp and I was probably 15 years old. Camp Menno Haven was on a small pond, had a two story central lodge and had cabins scattered back in the woods.
There was a young man from our church at camp named Sam. He was from a pretty rough background but he had become interested in our church. On this particular day it was raining pretty hard and Sam was pretty disgruntled. He was mad at God for the rain. For some reason, I said to Sam, “Look, I believe God controls the weather. I am going to pray that the rain stops by this afternoon.” Sam scoffed and went on.
That night I was the speaker for the camp devotional talk. I have no idea what I said but I do remember that I looked at Sam and then looked outside and said, “God hears our prayers” The rain had stopped by the afternoon and the day had been spectacular.
At the end of the meeting, since I didn’t know what else to do, I asked my fellow campers to follow Jesus Christ as their Savior. I was probably guilty of playing for an emotional moment. Regardless, I invited anyone who wanted to trust Jesus to come forward. Sam was the first one to the front. Lot’s of others came (and of course I had no plan at all for those who came forward. . . I guess I never really expected anyone to come forward). I don’t know whether Sam’s profession of faith was genuine but I do know that he understood my point.
As I’ve gotten older and more “experienced” in life. I know that the odds of the rain passing by that afternoon were probably pretty good whether I prayed or not. However, I still believe God answered my prayer in a dramatic way as He has done many other times.
I want you to know that I really believe in prayer. I honestly don’t know how prayer “works”. I don’t believe prayer changes God’s mind, but I do believe prayer changes circumstances. I know that God knows what we need before we ask, but I also believe that He will not give us what we need unless we ask. Prayer is a powerful weapon that I still feel a little uncomfortable holding in my hand. I feel (to continue the metaphor) like I’m not a very skilled marksman and yet, by God’s grace, I have witnessed many answers to prayer.
Over the years as a Pastor I have preached scores of times on prayer, yet, I still feel much more like the student than the teacher. I am fascinated by passages such as this passage in 1 Kings 18: 42-46. It is a picture of a prayer-warrior. I read this account and find myself saying, “I’d like to be able to pray like that!”
This morning as we look at this brief account of Elijah’s prayer for rain I want to spotlight four lessons that will help us as we try to learn how to pray with power.
The setting I hope is familiar to you. Elijah had just had a giant face-off with the prophets of Baal and Asherah. It was a contest to see once and for all who the true God really was. The Lord God proved Himself to be the Almighty God and the false prophets were executed. It was a glorious victory but there was still a problem. The country was still in a horrible drought.
Elijah Withdrew from the Crowds
You would have thought that after a great victory in the face-off recorded earlier in the contest people would have flocked around Elijah. This is human nature. After some great experience people tend to focus on the human vessel rather than the divine messenger. Elijah wasn’t sucked into this personal adulation. Instead, he separated himself. He found a quiet place where he could pray.
This simple fact is a valuable lesson for us. If we want to commune with God, if we want to see His power evidenced in our lives, we must set time aside to be with him privately. It’s a simple formula: No personal and private time with God = no public evidence of God’s power.
A.W. Pink wrote,
Separation from the godless, and the shutting out of all sights and sounds which take the mind off God is absolutely indispensable. But the entering of the closet and the shutting of its door denotes more than physical isolation: it also signifies the calming of our spirit, the quieting of our feverish flesh, the gathering in of all wandering thoughts, that we may be in a fit frame to draw nigh unto and address the Holy One. The atmosphere of the world is fatal to the spirit of devotion and we must get alone if communion with God is to be enjoyed. [Elijah p. 161]
Elijah Prayed With Confidence
Elijah could have said many things to Ahab after the victory on Mt. Carmel. He could have condemned him for the idolatry. He could have done a little dance and said, “Told you so! Told you so!” But there is no record of such activity. Instead, Elijah told Ahab to go eat and drink because the drought was about to end. Elijah told him, “There was a sound of a heavy rain.” That’s confidence!
While Ahab hit the buffet line, Elijah hit his knees. He put his face between his knees and sought the Lord. We are not given the words of his prayer but we do know what he was praying about because he kept telling his servant to go and look toward the sea for rain clouds.
Perhaps we aren’t told Elijah’s word because God knows that the human tendency is to take the words and make them into some kind of magic key to effective praying. Some will look at Elijah’s posture and believe that the posture was the key to getting an answer to prayer. But these things are minor. What is key is the attitude of the heart. Elijah prayed expectantly. He was confident that God would answer him.
In James we are told,
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
The point is clear, if we pray (for wisdom or anything else) and doubt our prayer will be ineffective. But this is where we have trouble isn’t it? We seem to believe we shouldn’t pray for anything that we can’t see ourselves being able to accomplish on our own. We don’t want to pray for a healing because the Doctors have said, “nothing can be done”. We don’t want to pray for God to provide for a new venture because we don’t think we can afford it. We want a “sure thing”. Truth be told, part of the problem we have is that we are afraid to really have to trust God.
Another problem is that we don’t want to ask for what really isn’t right for us. God had told Elijah that the drought was about to end. Elijah was claiming the Word of God. He was standing on God’s character and promise. What a good principle! If you want to pray effectively, hold on to the principles and promises of God’s Word.
Notice one more thing about Elijah’s confidence. When his servant reported that there was a cloud about the size of a man’s fist on the horizon Elijah didn’t say, “O good . . . maybe it’s working.” No, he sent a message to Ahab to head for home (because the roads might wash out) and then Elijah ran in front of the chariot the entire 20 miles or so. He was confident and took action based on that confidence.
Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of Elijah’s sprinting ability. Was this another sign that the God of Israel was superior to the pagan gods? Was this Elijah running ahead of the chariot as a courtesy and honor to the King? Did Elijah hope that Ahab was going to repent? I have no idea. What we need to see is that Elijah showed confidence in the Lord by his actions. We should learn from Elijah that we must act on the faith that we say we have.
- If we pray for an open door, we must be willing to walk through that door
- If we ask for an opportunity to share our faith we must be willing to avail ourselves of that opportunity when it is granted.
- If we ask God to help us meet expenses we should apply extra money that comes in to those expenses.
- If we ask God to forgive we should act like one who has been forgiven.
- If we believe God wants us to do something we should go ahead and trust Him to provide.
- If we pray for healing we must hold on to the promise even when our circumstances seem to be otherwise.
The person of faith acts in accordance with that faith.
Elijah Was Specific in Prayer
Elijah wasn’t praying, “Lord, make it rain sometime.” He was praying, “Lord, bring the rain NOW!” He held God’s promise and was very specific as to what he was looking for. He knew that when the clouds formed, his prayers were about to be answered.
I’m reminded of the man who stood up to pray. He talked in beautiful words and great images. His prayer was a masterpiece that went on and on. Finally, someone whispered, “For crying out loud, Ask Him for something!” We are often guilty of praying in that same kind of aimless way. We don’t have to be demanding but we should be specific.
Here’s a question: how would you know if God answered the prayers you have prayed this morning? Could you point to something and say, “God answered my prayer?” We need to pray specifically so we know what to look for. We might pray,
- Please bring a person to commit their life to you
- Heal the person from this illness
- Provide a specific amount for a specific need
- Turn a person from an addiction
- Open or close a specific door for guidance
- Enable two people to be friends again.
Elijah Was Willing to Persevere
Elijah applied himself to prayer and then kept praying until the Lord answered. Seven times Elijah sent his servant to check the skies for a sign of a coming storm.
How different this is from the way we often pray! We ask God for something and then we either never think of it again (which would indicate we didn’t really desire what we asked but were merely mouthing words) or we give up and conclude that God is not going to answer our prayer (which seems to show little true confidence in God’s love or ability.) Persistence in prayer is a sign of faith. Remember this parable of Jesus from Luke 18?
He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:1-8]
The point of the parable is not that God will answer us if we “bug” Him enough. The point of the parable is that if this man who doesn’t fear God or care about men will get up and give the widow what she wants, HOW MUCH MORE will God, who loves us greatly, give good gifts to those who ask?
If we are serious about answered prayer we won’t give up. I wonder how many people will be in Heaven because someone prayed for them for 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years? Good things happen in response to persevering prayer.
Let me draw one further contrast by way of conclusion. After the big contest on Mt. Carmel note the contrast between the reactions of Elijah and Ahab. Ahab, who should have been on his face seeking God’s forgiveness was eating and drinking. Elijah, who we might have expected to be rejoicing over the great victory of God, was on his face seeking God in prayer. This stark contrast shows the true character of these men.
In like fashion, our prayer lives serve as a barometer of our spiritual life. The person who prays with intimacy, confidence, and persistence reveals a healthy and strong relationship with God. A person who prays only as a last resort reveals a superficial dimension to their spiritual life.
Perhaps Elijah didn’t encourage Ahab to pray because he understood that Ahab’s heart was still hard. Perhaps Elijah understood that Ahab still had no concern for his soul. After all the evidence of God’s greatness Ahab still was cold to the truth. This raises a question: Do you care about your soul?
There was another battle upon on a hill called Golgotha. It was in this place that Jesus surrendered His life as a sacrifice for our sin. It was on that spot that God proved His love for mankind.
Some, like Ahab walk away. They are grateful that blessing has come, they are moved by the story, but there is no surrender, there is no bowing of the heart to receive the forgiveness offered. Others see what Jesus has done and they realize that He is our only hope. They come to God seeking forgiveness and new life and do so confidently because they have heard the message and believe.
So which person do you resemble more? Are you like Ahab? Have you seen and heard and yet remain unresponsive? If so, my prayer for you is that God would change your heart and awaken you to your need for salvation and new life. New life is only a prayer away.
If you, like Elijah have received Christ as your very own Savior and Lord, then let me give you some guidance for praying more effectively,
- Pray the Scriptures. As you read through the Bible look for specific instructions or promises. Study the context and make sure you understand who is being addressed and what the passage means. If you pray according to His will, you know that He hears us and will answer. We know we are praying in His will when we pray the Scriptures. Let me give you one example. In your reading you read the passage that says, “Be angry but do not sin.” After studying the passage you might pray, “Lord, help me to walk the balance between appropriate and inappropriate anger. Help me to let go of the bitterness and anger that I feel toward _________. Help me to build a bridge by saying a kind word, extending my hand, or doing something nice.”
- Be specific in your requests. Stop and visualize the answer to your prayer (I don’t mean some goofy new age visualization that says, if you can imagine it, you can have it), I’m suggesting that we be so specific in our prayers that we can “see” the answer in our mind. Be clear in what you are asking and it will be clear when God answers. Dare to trust God.
- Find a private spot for prayer. Find a place where you can get alone (even if it is the bathroom) and make that your place of regular prayer.
- Keep your eyes open for the evidence of answered prayer. When you see the evidence, respond in faith (if it is an open door, walk through it; If it is a closed door, don’t try to push it open; if it is a warning, take heed; if it is a great answer…give thanks.)
Our God is the Lord over creation. He controls the elements and the circumstances of life. He loves us, He can help us, He wants to help us. All we need to do is ask.