Pastor G spends four weeks covering a few of the highlights of the prophet Elijah. He pulls out examples of how we can live our faith lives based on the experiences of Elijah.
This is week 3 of 4: “Grab some jars!”
This is week three of our series on Elijah. Today we are going to be talking about prayer. I want to ask you to really consider your prayer life for a moment. How intimate and effective is your prayer life? How consistent is your prayer life? Do you struggle to spend time daily in prayer with God? I don’t mean just the “Rubba Dub Dub, thanks for the grub!” prayers at mealtime, or just asking God to solve problems for you kind of prayers. I’m talking about an ongoing, all-day, personal and intimate conversation with God each day. Be honest with yourself and give your prayer life a score between one and ten with ten being the highest. Where are you?
I have some people in my life that are very dear to me. I love them beyond measure. I would give my life for them in a second and my heart is broken for them because they don’t have a relationship with God. They did when they were younger but the world got involved and spoke louder and stronger and more persistently than I did and I lost them along the way. They aren’t sure if they believe in God anymore. They may be agnostic or they may be atheist. They aren’t sure. Prayer used to be important to them. They used to ask me to pray for them. Now, when I mention I am praying for some need in their life there is an uncomfortable silence. They aren’t sure how to respond.
I think, over their life, there were times when they really wanted something to happen a certain way, turn out a certain way and they prayed and prayed and prayed and things just didn’t seem to work out the way they wanted and they began to wonder “Is this prayer thing for real? Is God for real? Does prayer actually work?” The reality is for some of the people you love, or maybe even for some of you personally, your heart is in that exact same place. Truth be known, you’re asking yourself, “Man, does it really work?”
And if you’re not there now, maybe you’ve been there before, because you’ve been praying for your marriage. Right? It feels like God is not moving. You’ve been praying “God, take away this addiction. I can’t keep wrestling with the same addiction month after month, and year after year after year.” You’ve asked God to heal you physically or financial or emotionally and nothing seems any different. In fact, sometimes it feels like things have gotten worse. You’ve asked God to take away your anger. You’ve asked Him to set you free. You’ve asked Him to heal a relationship, and some of you, watching on YouTube later and some of you sitting here with me this morning, are thinking, “Where? Where is God, and why isn’t He listening to me?” You are in the right place today because God sent me here to speak this message to you. This message is for you!
So, we are going to dive into the life of Elijah today, and this guy understood prayer. He understood it. He came before God with boldness and with confidence, and man, I have learned so much from studying his prayer life. Jesus’ brother, James, wrote about Elijah and one of Elijah’s prayers that we mentioned earlier in this series. Let’s take a look at James 5:17:
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. – James 5:17a
That’s kind of comforting to me. Is it for you? He didn’t wear a cool superhero Bible man cape or anything. He was just a regular dirt critter like you and me, formed from the dust of the earth by our Creator. Look at what James says next.
“He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” – James 5:17b
That’s a pretty big deal right? Have you ever had beach plans and looked out and seen the clouds and started praying that it wouldn’t rain for two hours, just until you get done at Hapuna Beach, and before you have even said amen, the clouds open up and start unloading? So much for praying for no rain, right? But here’s the thing. This is what I am looking at as I look at Elijah’s prayer life, as I think that a lot of us when we pray, we are not praying earnestly. We just kind of pray, honestly, half-heartedly, kind of like, “God, will You help me? God, would You be with me? God, could You find your way clear to toss me a bone on this thing?” We just kind of pray with a little p, you know.
But when Elijah prays he prays with a capital “P”. He prays earnestly. He prays with confidence. He prays with boldness that God is going to move, and that God is going to work. It’s because He knows God so well. He knows the mind of God, the character of God, the plan of God. So his prayers are really just prayers for the will of God to take place.
We’ve talked a little bit about King Ahab in this series. We’ve talked about how incredibly wicked and evil he was and his wife, Jezebel, was even worse. They are dragging the nation of Israel right down to hell with them by their evil actions and so, God says to Elijah, “I need you to go to King Ahab and Jezebel, and I need you to tell them they need to turn this thing around. They need to fall before Me. They need to get their lives right with Me.” And so, Elijah goes to them. They didn’t. And Elijah says, “Okay, here’s the deal. Man, you don’t do it, God’s going to take away the rain.” Then, Elijah goes and runs and prays, “God, take away the rain,” and God did. Three and a half years, no rain. It was gone. Elijah has his big confrontation with the prophets of Baal, we looked at that last week. He proves to the people that Yahweh Jehovah, Elohim, is the one true God. Then God tells Elijah, it is time to let the rain fall again. Not only did he prove God was speaking to him through taking the rain away and through the fire falling from the sky, now God is going to seal His case by unleashing the rain, again, only when Elijah prays for the rain to return. Let’s look at Elijah’s prayer from that day. It’s in 1 Kings 18:41. This is right after Elijah and God have defeated and killed the 450 prophets of the false god, Baal.
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. – 1 Kings 18:41-42
Notice Elijah makes sure Ahab knows that what is about to go down is not some random weather phenomenon, but again, God is getting ready to show up large and in charge of His universe! Go get some dinner Ahab, I am going to go bring the rain back, I can hear the sound of it coming! He’s really putting himself on the line again here, isn’t he? If I try to prove to you that I am God’s prophet and I announce that it is about to rain big time after a three and a half year drought, it better rain right? Otherwise, I am going to be made a fool and I am going to be killed in that culture just like the false prophets of Baal. This isn’t the first time Elijah has done this. The announcement of no rain and the announcement that fire was going to come down out of heaven at his command were both incredibly courageous and risky announcements as well. Elijah isn’t worried though because he trusts God and He trusts what God tells him.
So, Elijah makes the big announcement to Ahab to make sure credit goes where credit is due and then Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel, went into that extreme humility prayer posture we talked about a couple of months ago, kneeling with his face between his knees and he begins to earnestly pray. Then watch what happens. Look at verse 43 and 44.
“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” – 1 Kings 18:43-44
Don’t miss that part about “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” because we are going to come back to that in a little bit. It’s pretty exciting. Now, we can relate to this a little bit can’t we. We pray about a need for a while and then we look around. Is anything happening yet? No? Okay, let’s pray some more. Then we look around again. Anything happening now? No? Okay, pray some more. How often are we willing to go seven full rounds of prayer? How often do we give up after two or three tries?
Remember, we’ve talked often about the symbolic significance of the number seven in Jewish thought. Seven is the number of completion, wholeness, perfection. Essentially, we can interpret this, not necessarily as seven literal times, though it certainly could have been, but it is also understood by saying seven times that “Elijah prayed completely. Elijah prayed for as long as it took. Elijah prayed without ceasing. Elijah prayed until change began to happen.” This is part of why Elijah’s prayers were so effective. We don’t always do that and we often find that our prayers are not as effective as Elijah’s yeah?
The reality is, so many of us struggle with our prayer lives. Consistency is tough. Authenticity can be hard at times. We do feel like God doesn’t answer at times, we toss out the request a few times and then give up and decide to handle the situation on our own. That’s not what Elijah did. So, if you will engage, if you will listen today, if you will dive into God’s word, you are going to walk away some truth that you can implement into your life, and it will change, and it will transform your prayer life forever. Let’s look at four different elements of an effective prayer today.
FOUR CHARACTERISTICS OF EFFECTIVE PRAYERS
- Effective prayers are HUMBLE prayers.
Elijah climbs to the top of Mount Carmel. This wasn’t the kind of prayer you could do as a pray on the run thing. He set time aside, and he climbed to the mountain top, a sacred space, and then he didn’t stand and pray or sit and pray he didn’t even just kneel and prayer. He went prostrate, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.”
He physically humbled himself as much as possible. It’s just a picture of what was going on spiritually inside of him. He was spiritually humbled at that moment. He knew a lot was on the line here. He couldn’t bring the rain himself. If the rain didn’t come he would be finished as a prophet of God in Israel. He knew he was just a human being like you and me so he humbled himself before the great God of the universe and said, “God, I’m small. I’m inadequate, and I can’t solve this on my own. But God, You are large and in charge of your creation. You can do anything. So please show your power here and bring the rain.”
When our daughter Becca was seven years old, we noticed that she was always walking on her toes, up on the balls of her feet. We took her to the doctor and they tried to get her to stand flat footed and she would just fall backwards. She couldn’t do it. They started testing her for brain tumors and twisted spines and nerve damage and all sorts of incredibly scary things. We started praying, humbly, persistently, “God please don’t let it be anything awful like that. Please let the solution be simple. Please heal our daughter. Please show us the right answer.”
We prayed that way for weeks and one day Annette was at the grocery with the kids and a man walked up to her and asked if Becca always walked like that. Annette said, not since birth, it just started a few months ago. He said: “We know what’s wrong with her and we can fix it.” and handed Annette his card. Turned out he was a Shriner, and recommended us to Shriner’s hospital. It turned out to be that her bones had grown faster than her achilles tendon could keep up with and her tendon just needed to be gently stretched over time. It took serial casting and braces and numerous trips to South Carolina (we lived in North Carolina at the time) but the Shriner’s paid for ALL of that, and Becca was healed.
A few years ago we were praying for our son Josh. He had some major back concerns that needed to be addressed. Annette and I prayed daily, several times a day, humbly admitting our powerlessness to do anything to help Josh in this situation and we asked our great creator to step in supernaturally and heal our son. We KNEW He could and we humbly hoped He would. And He did. Josh never complains of back pain anymore. James, paraphrasing Proverbs 3:34, tells us:
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” – James 4:6, 10
He will lift you up. This is a promise for you from God. If you will humble yourself before the Lord, He will lift you up. That doesn’t mean He will always do what we ask. Sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is no. But it does promise God will lift you up. He will not let you fall. But it also shows us, if you really want to get God’s attention? If you really want Him to move? If you really want Him to listen to the prayer that you’re bringing to Him? Then humble yourself. Humble yourself before Him. and He will lift you up. He is opposed to the proud but He shows favor to the humble. Effective prayer is humble prayer. Second…
2) Effective prayers are SPECIFIC prayers.
They are specific. I’ve got to be honest with you. So many times in my life, I’m a wishy-washy prayer, non-specific praying kind of a dude. “God be with us. God, give me strength. God, help me.” Not very specific. Elijah was specific. He was very, very specific. “God, it’s been three and a half years. You have everyone’s attention now. Because of you, I have everyone’s attention. Open up the floodgates of heaven and show them beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am your prophet and you are the one true God. Send a deluge of rain from heaven!”
He knew exactly what it was that he needed. And he isn’t leaving this prayer moment until it happens. He doesn’t go look for the evidence himself. He stays bowed down on Mount Carmel, continuing to pray. Instead, he sends his servant. “Go and look towards the sea,” and he does that over and over until the answer comes.
When Annette and I first met I fell in love with her way faster than she fell for me. She was interested in someone else at the time and she friend-zoned me when I expressed my affections for her. I was devastated and over time my prayer became this: “God, I know I can’t have Annette, but please send me someone “EXACTLY LIKE ANNETTE.” After a couple of months of that prayer, Annette called me one day and said “I’ve been thinking a lot about you. Can we get together and talk?” We were engaged 31 days later and married eighteen weeks after that. Send me someone just like Annette. That’s the power of a specific prayer. How God moves and how God works through that. Earlier in James 4 he tells us:
“You do not have, because you do not ask God.” – James 4:2b
How basic is that? If you hope I will give you something but you never ask me for it, what are the odds I will suddenly decide to look you up and give it to you? Not good right? Often we do not have simply because we never actually asked our heavenly Father for it. Makes sense yeah? And yet we drive right past that verse, don’t we? We forget about it, because we get busy. You do not have because you do not ask God. We have to become a group of people that will humble ourselves before God, and then come to Him without shame. Come to Him with boldness, courage, and praying a specific prayer that God will move and work on our behalf in that specific way. That gets His attention.
3) Effective prayers are PERSISTANT prayers.
I’ve mentioned this a little already but I really want to make sure we don’t miss this. Effective prayers are persistent prayers. Elijah has humbled himself. He’s prayed a specific prayer. And again, we see that Elijah was willing to pray as long as it takes. He sends the servant to look seven times before he gets the answer he is looking for, but you can tell, Elijah would have gone to eight times, nine times, twenty times, a thousand times, however long it took. He was committed to persistently pray until he got an answer. Again, we know sometimes that answer is no. God says no to our requests sometimes but he still answers our prayer. So often we quit praying before we get an answer. We assume we know the answer because nothing has happened yet that we want to happen.
So we assume the answer is no and we quit praying quickly. The truth is, if we had stayed with it a little longer, that answer may have been ready to appear at any second. Elijah doesn’t allow the outward circumstances of what’s going on to affect his inward assurance. When it seems like God’s not answering, when it seems like God’s not moving, or at least not moving as fast as he hoped or expected, Elijah doesn’t get frustrated. He doesn’t throw in the towel. He doesn’t say, “I’m done.” He doesn’t say, “Prayer doesn’t work. God doesn’t care. God’s not real.” No. What does he do? He prays some more. And then he prays some more. It doesn’t seem like God’s working. So Elijah prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays. He’s persistent. James has more advice for us about prayer in James 5:16b – Let’s look at the Amplified version which brings out all the nuances of the Koine Greek language.
The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]. – James 5:16b (Amplified)
The earnest, effective, heartfelt, continual, fervent prayer, the persistent prayer of a righteous person makes the tremendous power of God available to you! So, so many times, when we are down in the dumps and we feel like God is not moving and He’s not working, we need to write that verse on our heart. Because, when we are persistent in our prayer, that’s when we see God move and we see Him work. God doesn’t want your whole prayer life to be one of tossing out a quick line or two between bites of food, or in the sixty seconds you are stuck at a traffic light. He wants a 24-7, continual conversational, prayer life from you where you talk to your loving heavenly Father all day long.
So, here’s my question for you. What have you quit praying for that maybe you need to start praying for again? Maybe you gave up to soon? What you need to start praying for again that you quit praying for, that you gave up on and walked away from? Maybe it’s your marriage. You haven’t seen much movement, so you’ve kind of quit praying. Maybe it’s for a job. You’ve grown tired and weary. Maybe it’s your finances. Maybe it is a broken relationship with a family member or a friend. Maybe it’s for someone in your family that doesn’t have a relationship with Christ, and it’s been years, and you’ve just kind of given up on it. You don’t really pray much for them anymore. Maybe you just gave up too easily. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].
Let’s recap as we come into this last characteristic of effective prayer. So, number one, you’ve guys say it with me, okay? Say it boldly and with confidence. Effective prayers are HUMBLE prayers. Number two, effective prayers are SPECIFIC prayers. Number three, effective prayers are PERSISTENT prayers. And then, number four is:
4) Effective prayers are EXPECTANT prayers.
Man, I’m just going to tell you. This number four that we are about to talk about is just going to blow your stinking mind. Okay? So, Elijah, Mount Carmel, humbled himself, specific prayers, persistent prayers. He’s not quitting. Let’s look at 1 Kings 18:44.
And at the seventh time the servant said, A cloud as small as a man’s hand is arising out of the sea. – 1 Kings 18:44a
Look at Elijah’s response to that answer in the second half of verse 44.
And Elijah said, Go up, say to Ahab, Hitch your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you. – 1 Kings 18:44b
Remember what Elijah told King Ahab right before he went up on Mount Carmel to pray? 1 Kings 18:41a
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” – 1 Kings 18:41a
There is the sound of what? HEAVY RAIN! What kind of rain? HEAVY RAIN! Now, here’s what the servant didn’t say when he came back the seventh time. “Elijah, there is a massive, monsoon thunderstorm that is brewing, and the flash flood are going to be epic! This is a hurricane coming brah!” No, he didn’t say that. The servant said, “Elijah, there’s a little cloud about the size of a man’s hand, maybe,” and what does Elijah do?
He says, “WHOOP GLORY! YAY GOD! Oh, man, it’s coming! Engage the emergency management plan! Get the ambulances and the fire engines warmed up, pull the first responders together, make sure there are life vests in all the boats, and go tell Ahab, “Yo brah! The rain is coming! You’ve been asking when the rain is going to start? You should be asking when it’s going to stop! You better get down of this mountain, because there’s a little cloud as small as a man’s hand forming and that means monster rains! WHOOP GLORY! BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES!”
That just cracks me up. It’s ridiculous right? Kind of an overreaction to say the least! So, if that would have been me, I would have been like, “Okay, cool. There’s a little cloud. How big? The size of a man’s hand. Okay. Let’s turn on the weather channel and let’s just see if there’s like 65% chance of rain or if there’s a hook echo in the doppler or what the deal is.” Right? And then once the weather channel confirmed that, I would have been like, “Okay, let me just sit here for a second, and as soon as I feel it, just a drop or two bouncing off of my bald head. Then I will know. and then I will take some action.” Not Elijah. He knew! Elijah was expectant. He would have put all the emergency management stuff into play, cost Hawaii millions of dollars all on the belief that God was going to move and do the miraculous because of a little hand-sized cloud that formed in response to his prayer. He knew God is a big God and God doesn’t do small things. When God comes to town He comes BIG!
So, what happened to Elijah after he called out all the troops, and he evacuated the town, and everybody’s gone? Look at the next verse.
In a little while, the heavens were black with wind-swept clouds, and there was a great rain. And Ahab went to Jezreel. The hand of the Lord was on Elijah. He girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel [nearly twenty miles]. – 1 Kings 18:45
Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there to see all that happen in person? We think, “God doesn’t move in powerful ways like that anymore? Not in our world.” I don’t know if that’s entirely true, I have seen God do some pretty amazing and miraculous things in my lifetime. But it is certainly true that we see these powerful moves of God less frequently. Scripture says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He doesn’t change. So if we see powerful movements of God less, what HAS changed?
Maybe we are ineffectual prayers compared to the greats of old, people like Elijah. Let’s pray for God to move us and stir us and change us. Let’s pray for God to rouse us from our comfort zones and disturb our peace so that we can become effective prayers like Elijah, so that we can see God move in powerful ways on your behalf as well. I want to close by sharing a prayer with you, written by Sir Francis Drake in 1577. It’s title is “Disturb Us Lord.”
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back the horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.
Disturb us Lord.