I’m glad you’re with us, and we are in week number three of “The Called” and we’re going to be talking about prayer this morning.
Dwight L. Moody once commented that he would rather learn to pray than preach. "After all," he said, "Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach, but he did teach them how to pray."
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray because prayer is the most important aspect of our lives. Your relationship with God, which is more important than any other relationship you have, not only begins through prayer, but it is maintained through prayer. And so, as we look at life lessons from Elijah we’re just going to dive in because this guy understood prayer. He really understood it. He came before God with boldness and with confidence, and my faith has been built up just from studying this.
Today we are going to look at one of his prayers and this prayer is actually one that’s mentioned in the New Testament as well, because this is such a powerful prayer, and it’s an effective prayer, and so we are going to look at that today. The New Testament tells us in James letter to the churches, verse 17 starts out saying, “Elijah was a man just like us…” Now I don’t know about you, but I find great comfort in that. Doesn’t that just sound good? You know, we’ve been studying the life of Elijah, and he appears to be like some kind of superhero, but the Bible tells us he’s just a regular Joe, a regular person, like you and me. And so, verse 17 continue saying,
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years” (James 5:17).
Could you all repeat that with me? Can I have some audience participation? It says, “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” Isn’t that awesome?
I remember the last time I prayed that it wouldn’t rain at one of our events in the park it seemed like every time I turned around it was spitting in my face. I remember one time at Creation Music Festival praying for it not to rain, I remember continuing to pray underneath of my tarp as buckets of rain fell from heavens, I have prayed for it not to rain. Elijah prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain for 3 ½ years. That’s powerful effective prayer.
And so, here’s what I want to work through and walk through with you, as we look at Elijah’s prayer life, because I think a lot of us, when we pray we’re just so casual, we’re not really in tune with God, we haven’t really spent time searching out his will, and so we just pray kind of like, “Will you help me? Would you heal? Could you give me whatever?” But honestly, we should follow Ruth Graham's advice.
"Pray when you feel like it, for it is a sin to neglect such an opportunity. Pray when you don't feel like it, for it is dangerous to remain in such a condition." (Ruth Graham)
Because, too often we have a tendency to have a crisis driven prayer life. We use prayer only in panic situations but as soon as the crisis go away so does the motivation to pray. But prayer is not something that we should take lightly, it should be part of every aspect of life no matter whether you’re happy, sad, troubled, or sick. Prayer is the privilege of the child of God and the Bible tells us to pray for everything and about everything. And so, it’s important to understand, that as far as God is concerned, there are no unimportant parts of your life, everything about you is important to him, and God urges us in Philippians chapter 4,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Ephesians chapter 6, verse 18 says,
“Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
And again in first Peter,
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
My prayer for us, is that prayer will become as important to us as a church as it is to God. That from the very first moment of the day, the moment your eyes open, even before your feet hit the floor, you start a conversation with God and through prayer you unlock God’s presence in your day.
Now, over the past two weeks we have seen King Ahab and his wife Jezebel leading the nation into idolatry. They’re not living for God, they are worshiping false gods, and so God said to Elijah, “Go to Ahab and tell him, “There will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). And so, Elijah tells King Ahab, and then God tells Elijah, “To leave, to go into hiding” and Elijah does what God tells him to do and for 3 ½ years there’s no rain. Then God tells him to confront the false prophets and so they have a showdown on Mount Carmel. It’s Elijah and 850 false prophets, but God shows up as fire from heaven and those false prophets are destroyed. We pick up the story in 1 Kings chapter 18, verse 41, as some time later, Elijah said to Ahab,
“Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain" (1 Kings 18:41).
So, Elijah senses in his spirit that it’s time for the rain to start. He tells Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, because the rain is coming.” And verse 42 says that, “Ahab went off to eat and drink…”
Now here’s where it gets exciting and I believe if we will allow God’s word to sink into our hearts that we will be able to implement some divine truth into our lives that will change our prayer life forever. You see, the reality is that many of us struggle with our prayer lives, we wrestle with consistency, and sometimes it’s hard to engage, it’s hard to be authentic, because we feel like God doesn’t answer sometimes. But I’m believing that God’s going to move, that he’s going to work, and he’s going to transform our prayer lives through this message.
And so, here comes Elijah’s prayer and we’re going to learn four different characteristics of effective prayer. Verse 42 said,
“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 18:42).
This is number one, this is the first one, Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel to be alone with God. He didn’t feel that praying on the ride to work would be adequate for the situation. He knew that he needed to get God’s attention. He knew that this was desperate. He knew that it had been 3 ½ years, and so Elijah set aside some time, he climbed to the very top, and when he got there, he bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. Elijah climbed to the top and physically humbled himself before a holy God. Number one, humble prayers are effective prayers.
Elijah’s physical posture described his spiritual posture. What you see on the outside is what’s going on inside of Elijah. He knew that they needed rain, and he knew that he couldn’t control it, and so he spiritually humbles himself before God, because he knew God could bring the rain. Spiritually he was saying, “God I can’t do this, but you’re God, you’re our Creator, you’re our provider, and you alone can sustain us.” And so, he humbled himself before God, knowing that he couldn’t do anything about the rain, but knowing that God could and God did.
What we need to understand today is that humbling ourselves before God will always precede the miraculous in our lives. That’s why James tells us,
"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
And so, when we come to God in prayer, when you want to get his attention, when you want God to move a mountain, when you need a miracle, you humble yourself before him. If you want to get God’s attention practice a little humility. James says in verse 10,
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
That’s your promise from the word of God. Humble yourself before our God and he will lift you up. Humble yourself before him. And then number two: be specific; effective prayers are specific prayers.
How many of you know what I’m talking about? You pray these vague open-ended prayers as if you’re going to allow God a loophole as to how he answers that prayer. You know that kind of prayer? Like, “God help me, God give me strength, God be with me.” But Elijah doesn’t pray like that, Elijah was very specific. It had been 3 ½ years with no rain. He knew exactly what it was that he wanted and he was specific, “God, give us water.” And so, in verse 43, Elijah’s like, okay I’ve prayed,
"Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked. "There is nothing there," he said" (1 Kings 18:43).
So his servant got up, went, and looked. You see, it was specific, it either was there or it wasn’t there. Either God had answered or he hadn’t yet. Elijah was specific in what he asked God for and we need to learn the power of specific prayer. James tells us in chapter 4, how God moves through specific prayer. Verse two,
“You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).
I love James because he’s so straightforward. You don’t have, he says, because you forgot, you got busy, and you didn’t pray. We don’t have, because we didn’t ask God. If we could get this word into our hearts, becoming a church that humbles itself before God, that asks specific prayers, I believe we will see God move mountains. And then number three, we see that effective prayers are persistent prayers.
Elijah has climbed to the top of the mountain, he’s humbled himself, he’s prayed a specific prayer, he sent his servant to go and look, his servant came back and at the end of verse 43,
“There’s nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, "Go back” (1 Kings 18:43).
And so, Elijah’s like, “just hold on a second,” and he prays again. “God, you called me, you sent me, and we need rain.” He sends his servant out to look again and he comes back, “There’s nothing there.” And so, Elijah does it again, he does it again, and he does it again, “Seven times Elijah said, "Go back” (1 Kings 18:43).
He’s persistent, he doesn’t give up, he doesn’t say, “I guess he’s deep in thought, or busy, or traveling.” He doesn’t say, “God’s sleeping and must be awakened.” But he’s so focused on this specific prayer that he doesn’t allow his sight to affect his faith. He doesn’t allow the outward circumstances to discourage his inward assurance. He just prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays, and he prays; eight times he prays this specific prayer.
Like when Dana and I had our first two children and then we didn’t have any more. We looked to the doctor, we looked at fostering children, but we also began praying. And for eight years I fasted and prayed until we adopted Joshua and Jacob, and then we adopted Jeremy, and then we adopted Olivia. For eight years Dana and I prayed even though it seemed like God wasn’t moving.
And Elijah, climbed that mountain and prayed eight times. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it seemed like God wasn’t moving. You know, Elijah had to be wondering if maybe he misunderstood, maybe it wasn’t time, and yet when it seemed like God wasn’t answering, Elijah didn’t get frustrated. He didn’t give up, he didn’t throw in the towel, he just prayed more persistently. He didn’t walk away grumbling that this whole prayer thing doesn’t work. When it seemed like God wasn’t doing anything Elijah prayed and he prayed and he prayed. He was persistent and James tells us in chapter 5, verse 16,
“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
The persistent prayer of a righteous man or a righteous woman is powerful and effective. We need to remember that when we’re discouraged, when we feel like God isn’t doing anything, because when we remained faithful, when we are persistent in our prayer, that’s when we will see miracles happen in our lives. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
What is that thing that you have quit praying for that you need to start praying for again? You know, you hadn’t seen any response and you grew tired and weary. Maybe it’s your marriage, or for a job, or your finances. Maybe it’s that someone in your family that’s so far from Christ and it’s been years and you’ve just kind of given up on it. The persistent prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
So far, we’ve seen three characteristics of effective prayer. Elijah showed us that effective prayers are humble prayers number one, specific prayers number two, persistent prayers number three, and then number four we will see that effective prayers are expectant prayers.
We have seen Elijah repeatedly climbing Mount Carmel, humbling himself, praying specific prayers, and he’s persistent, he’s not quitting and the Bible says in verse 44,
“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 18:44).
So, the servant comes back six times telling Elijah, “There is nothing there.” And now on the seventh time he comes back and he said,
“Elijah, there is a cloud as small as a man’s hand that is starting to rise from the sea.”
Watch what Elijah does, look at what he said, "Go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you'" (1 Kings 18:44).
Do you see the difference between what the servant said and what Elijah said? The servant didn’t say there was a hurricane or monsoon coming, he didn’t warn about a devastating thunderstorm, he merely said, “Elijah, there’s a little cloud that is starting to rise from the sea.” But Elijah was expectant and he’s like, “Here it comes!” And so, he warns Ahab to, “Run for cover, to close the storm shutters, and put on a life vest. You better hitch up your chariot and get down the mountain because there’s a little cloud as small as a man’s hand that is starting to rise from the sea.” It’s really funny if you think about it, but Elijah was expectant, he was believing that God was going to move and do the miraculous.
That’s the kind of prayers that we need to pray, expectant prayers, where we move, we step out in faith in response to our prayers; knowing that God is going to move, knowing that he’s going to work out all things for the good of those who love him. It’s just as Jesus said,
“Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).
Elijah was expectant, he took action, he called for an evacuation, because he believed that God was going to move. He believed that God was going to work a miracle. “Meanwhile,” verse 45 tells us that,
“Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:45-46).
The power of the Lord came upon Elijah, because “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). As we close, I want you to know that God answers prayers and he will move the heavens and the earth on behalf of his people. But there are some of you here, and it’s been a long time since you’ve prayerfully connected with God in a real intimate kind of way. Will you put your faith into action this morning?
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
July 16, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Ministry Pass, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.