How Do We Pray With Power and Impact by Praying Like Elijah? #293
Happy Thursday to you, friends! Today’s Bible readings are short and sweet and include a new book for us – 1st Thessalonians 1, as well as 1 Kings 18, Psalms 105 and Ezekiel 48, the last chapter of this book. We will focus on the prayer life of Elijah in 1 Kings 18, and the reason for this is that the New Testament book of James looks back on the life of Elijah as a great example of prayer for modern believers in James 5:
James 5. 13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 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. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
1 Kings 17 and 18 are some of my favorite chapters in the Bible to read and teach on. I taught Old Testament and New Testament survey for several years at a college in Alabama, and even though we only had 8 sessions of lecture per quarter, I always spent significant time on Elijah and 1 Kings 17 and 18, because the lessons we learn from Elijah are so important to our spiritual walk, to learning how to pray with power and effectiveness.
Today’s lesson in prayer is incredibly simple, incredibly potent, and rarely put into practice. Jesus sums it up as succinctly as possible in Luke 18:1, “Always pray, never give up.” Let’s read 1 Kings 18 together. I know your main attention will be fixed on the showdown on Mt. Carmel, and that is important, but we are focusing on the aftermath, when Elijah prayed for rain.
So here’s the situation. Elijah had declared a famine of rain in 1st Kings 17. That act is quite interesting in and of itself, because it does not appear that Elijah is anointed as a prophet until AFTER that declaration. (“The Word of the Lord came to Elijah.”) But Elijah was indeed declaring the Word of God prior to this – the written Word.
Elijah Knew The Word: Deut. 11: 16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
What followed Elijah’s first proclamation was 3.5 years of drought. The day of the showdown on Mt. Carmel began like the other 1270 days plus prior to this incident. The James BenSpann, the weatherman Of Israel said there was a ZERO percent chance of rain and the skies were ‘severe clear,’ as they say – NO CLOUDS ANYWHERE. And Elijah prays for rain. What happens? NOTHING. Zero. Think about that – you pray to God for something – something that needs to happen NOW and not later, and the thing you are praying for shows absolutely ZERO sign of happening. What do you do? I’d imagine that somewhere in the neighborhood of 90% of Christians would give up after prayer #1 if they were praying for immediate rain, and there was not a single cloud in the sky – from a mountaintop view, no less. But Elijah doesn’t give up. He prays again – sends his servant to the best viewpoint around – a view where the servant could see all the way to the Mediterranean – and still, not a single cloud. Would you quit then? Elijah didn’t. A third time he prays and a third time he sends the servant out. No clouds, no nothing. Are you quitting? A fourth time – no clouds, no answer…nothing. Are you quitting now? Hopefully, hearing the words of Jesus in your mind, “Always pray; never give up,” you would be stalwart and press forward. I suspect, however, that almost every single Christian would give up at this point, but Elijah didn’t. He kept praying and kept sending his servant to look. A fifth time – NOTHING. A sixth time – NOTHING. FINALLY – the seventh time, the servant comes back and reports a tiny, tiny cloud. I almost imagine him telling Elijah in the most sheepish way possible – because honestly, when have you ever looked in the sky in the middle of a drought, saw the tiniest of stray clouds far away, and thought – uh-oh…floods a coming!? But Elijah knows that God has heard his prayer and answer it, and sure enough, the skies open and rain falls like crazy.
What was the key to Elijah’s prayer? Was it his fancy words? We’ve no idea, because those words weren’t recorded. I believe the key is very, very simple. Elijah was an embodiment of perseverance in prayer. He always prayed, and never gave up, and that is the example the James is pointing us to. Pray like Elijah!
One thing, before we finish. My encouragement to you today is to pray LIKE Elijah. Yesterday’s encouragement was to pray LIKE Epaphras. That’s a good thing, but an incomplete message. Remember that, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. Let’s let pastor and seminary president Dr. Bryan Chappell explain to us the danger in a message that is only focused on doing good, or copying a spiritual giant in the Bible:
Now, you’ve heard of killer bees, but these are the “Deadly Be’s,” messages that, if they are preached just as I’m saying them, just by themselves, they actually become deadly spiritually.
1. ‘Be like’ messages
The first form of Deadly Be are what I will call “Be like” messages. We identify some biblical character for the good things that they are doing in Scripture, and we say, “Follow this example. Be like this person.”
Now, in the history of preaching, there’s a whole genre that’s actually known as biographical preaching, which is oriented toward this. We identify some biblical figure, and we identify the good things in their lives, and we say, “Now, this was given as an example for us, so follow this example. Be like this person. Be like Daniel. Dare to be one. Be like Moses. Be like David. You know, David went up against the lion and the bear, and he defeated them. He went up against Goliath, and he beat up Goliath.”
Examples of ‘Be like’ messages
Remember how great David was. I mean, Goliath said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come against me with a sling?” And David said, “You come with sword, javelin, and spear. I come in the name of the Lord.”
“You should just be like David,” we say to people—well, except for that passage about Bathsheba or the one where he murdered her husband in order to have her as his mistress and then raise bad children. And then, at the end of his life, in pride [he] numbered his troops as though his own hand had built his kingdom rather than the grace of God.
We really shouldn’t say, “Be like David.” Would David have said that? If David would not, should we?
We say, “Oh well, then forget about David. Instead, be like Abraham. Now, there was a man of faith. I mean, he went to the land he did not know, following the call of God. He did all that was necessary to separate from house and homeland and family to observe the call of God and go to the land he did not know. You should be like Abraham.” Well, Abraham did go to the land he did not know. And you may remember that on that journey, he only gave away his wife twice to other men. Well, maybe you shouldn’t be like Abraham either.
The problem with ‘Be like’ messages
Following tarnished heroes
What you should recognize as you study the Scriptures is [that] care actually seems to be taken to tarnish virtually every human figure but one—and, of course, that is the Savior—so that we won’t turn to anyone but God for ultimate aid or example.
Failing to point to divine dependence
After all, what I wish we could almost put in a neon sign in our study as we’re preparing our text, whatever it is, is to say this: God is the hero of every text. If there are human heroes, if there is heroism on display, then it’s because God enabled it. Ultimately, God is the hero. . . . Virtually every person who is described at length points us to our dependence upon God rather than our dependence upon human resolve or will or personal righteousness.
“Be like” messages, where we simply say, “Follow this example,” are not wrong. They’re insufficient because they’re not pointing us where the Scripture itself is pointing us: away from human dependence and to divine dependence….
Well, of course, people can object and say, “Well, doesn’t the apostle Paul say, ‘Be like me’?” Now, ask that. Does the apostle Paul ever say, “Be like me; follow my example”? Well, the answer is, at least five times. But put the messages in their context. Say the whole verse. Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow Christ.” There’s a redemptive context. There’s a dependence being pointed to.
Of course “Be” messages are in Scripture, but it’s necessary to identify their context. Recognize always, “Be” messages are not wrong in themselves. They are wrong messages by themselves because, by themselves, they imply that the human person is the instrument of their own salvation or sanctification.
“Be” messages imply that we are able to change our fallen condition by our own efforts, but such messages, stated or implied—and usually, they’re just implied—we don’t mean it because we don’t recognize all that we are saying or actually being interpreted as saying.