Text: 1 Kings 18:16-46
A story is told of a poor farming community that depended on the rain so that their crops could survive. The rain had been late for weeks and so the people decided that it was time to invoke divine assistance. They visited the old preacher of the community at his home for advice.
The old preacher directed that on that very day, after the farming chores were done, every family should congregate at the old country church and pray to the good Lord for rain.
Everybody indeed turned up for the prayer meeting. The crippled also turned up to join in the effort of calling God to send the rain. The choir was there ready with their rain-invoking, God-worshiping song list. The sanctuary was so crowded that it looked like a Christmas service or a funeral gathering.
The elderly preacher finally arrived with help of his son. He was now old and weak so he had to be supported to the pulpit. He had also used a humongous umbrella as a walking stick. As usual, the choir members rose up to sing but the pastor signaled to the choir director for them to sit down. The noisy congregation quieted down and looked a bit confused because of the change of the order of service.
The Old preacher slowly rose to the pulpit. He opened his mouth to speak but only a whisper came out. The attentive congregation was watching every move. He then cleared his throat and said.
“I am happy that all of you are here in church tonight to pray for the rain”. He was interrupted by a strong Hallelujah. The members of the church smiled in relief and some even clapped.
Then he asked the church “If you are praying for rain, then where are your umbrellas?
I’ll leave you to guess how the service ended.
This first term (Jan- April) we explore Growing Deeper and in particular this Month we are looking at Growing Deeper in Prayer. We have already determine that Prayer is Critical if we are to go Exponential. Today, I attempt to address a rather perplexing area of prayer: We ask honestly and seriously “Does God answer prayer? If He does Not, Why? And if He does, which kind of prayer?
The lessons on waiting on God, may give us the impression that maybe God is not willing to answer us and that’s why he takes too long? Being in church for long, the easy expectation to this question is ‘off course God answers prayer.’
But if you are honest with yourselves, do you really believe God answers your prayers? Or your life is a product of mere chance, hard work, circumstance, luck and sometimes human traditions.
Could it be true that the reason we do not prioritize prayer is because we don’t think anything will amount from it? Does prayer sometime feel like knocking a door that will never open?
Can you withstand the mockery from the world, that you could be wasting your time trying to pray when you can be smart instead.
When was the last time you were convinced that ‘this part of my life is an answer to Prayer? Has the enemy robbed us the excitement of testifying of God’s answer to our prayers and requests? What kind of a person should I be to earn God’s answer?
Let’s Grow Deeper in Prayer as we explore these truths from the scriptures in the account of the Prophet Elijah “who carried an Umbrella- because He believed it will rain’. (Read 1 Kings 18:16-40)
A very dramatic account. Never has a man of God enjoyed a greater moment than this experience at Mt. Carmel. Boldness, faith, power, obedience and effective prayer describe Elijah as he stood against the worshippers of Baal.
Let me paint the context.
Israel now divided into 2 kingdoms the North and the South, had once again turned from the true God – YAHWEH and worshipped the Canaanite god- Baal, led by their present King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Jezebel a Canaanite had enticed the king away from worshipping the God of Israel and had fostered the worship of the Canaanite god’s in Israel to the point of even killing and threatening some prophets of Israel. Indeed many were in hiding.
The queen supported the worship of their Canaanite gods- Baal and Asherah and had raised over 850 pagan prophets to lead the people away from God. Baal idols were often made in the shape of a bull, representing strength and fertility and reflecting the lust of power and sexual pleasure.
In response, God sent Elijah the prophet to speak a curse on the land and as a result it had not rained for 3 and a half years.
In the midst of this drought Elijah, re-appears from hiding and calls the whole Nation to witness a duel of gods at Mount Carmel. He challenges King Ahab to call his best prophets and the test is simple
“How much longer will you waver, hobbling between 2 opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal is God then follow Him.
A very bold statement and challenge. “The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God” and to match his bold request the people agreed.
Allow me to stop here and say “This was bold and very risky request. The result could have been that He could have lost his life, given the his head was bounty on his head. Even worse God’s reputation was at stake. This sounded a little reckless, but would God answer to this strange request?
My first point: Our Great God loves to come and fill a Great space.
You see Prayer moves the hand that moves the world. The Bible is a record of supernatural manifestations, interventions and activities. Many of these great happenings are direct answers to prayers.
All God’s greatest acts have been things impossible for any but God. Creation was making a universe out of nothing. Redemption was overcoming a difficulty that was absolutely impossible for any human wisdom or power, to be just and yet the justifier of the ungodly. Of the salvation of the sinner, Christ Himself says, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt.16:26)
The promise to Abraham, the father of Faith, was something impossible. Israel’s deliverance did not come until they had reached the lowest depths of despair and all human hope was dead.
Jehoshaphat’s mightiest victory came in the hour when baffled, perplexed and helpless he could only say, “…we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee” (2 Chr 20:12).
Surely with these examples before us, we need not fear to pray for the impossible; to claim our Master’s glorious promise,”…If thou will believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). Our Emergencies are some of the best opportunities for God’s glory.
It is easier for God to do a difficult thing than an easy one. The very structure of His infinite nature is such that He lives in the realm of the supernatural, the omnipotent and the infinite.
The question is are our prayers a reflection of a great space that needs a great God to fill? When we ask Him for some easy and trivial thing, there is always danger of mingling with our faith, a certain amount of human reasoning that sizes God into our boxes.
When we were boys, we specialized in sizing each other up, we proudly exchanged with each other how our dads were the strongest, the wisest and sometimes in superfluous proportions. Baba yangu ni mso hata anaweza beba hii gari, hii kimuti…., and because of such confidence, our behaviors were shaped…The sad truth is when you actually come face to face, with the said fathers….
Or when we pray do we squeeze God out with contingencies in our mind? Asking for provision, when I know I have a saving somewhere.
Have we come upon the light of the Impossible? Where there is no place for anything but God and He is not limited by our reasoning and unbelief? These are the kinds of prayers He loves to answer. They not only move the heart of God, but they build our strongest Faith.
It is His glory to treat the hardest and mightiest things as mere trifles. When Jesus was about to heal and save the poor paralytic His words were very strange and striking, “Whether it is easier,” He asked. Man would have said, “Whether it is harder.” But the greatest thing was very easy for Him.
Jonathan Cahn explained the way God answers prayer by referring to Gen. 24:1-28 where Isaac was in search of a wife and Rebekah came as God’s answer. He asked, “When did God answer the servant’s prayer? He then went on to explain: it wasn’t just when she showed up at the well. It wasn’t even when she left her home to do so.
“You see, behind every event are countless previous events in an incalculable chain of time leading up to and causing the event to happen as it does. And it is not only a chain of time, but of space. So for God to answer the servant’s prayer and bring Rebekah to the well that day, He had to make those things work perfectly together in time and space. To answer that prayer, He had to move the universe. … And so it is for you…. For God to answer even one of your prayers, He must direct all things and move and coordinate all events of time and space to make it happen. He must move the universe … and he will” – These kinds of prayer moves God. Are your prayers making Space for God or are you in the way?
My second point: God is moved to answer by our faith not by our religion
It is interesting to note the difference between how the prophets of Baal called on their god and how Elijah called on his God.
After they set up their sacrifices, the prophets of Baal, began to do their thing, they began with simple chants, then some dancing, then some shouting… At this point Elijah maybe starts to yawn and decides to mock them….maybe he is deep in thought, or just too busy, or travelling or maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened, some versions even say may be has gone to relieve himself. With this they got more agitated and engaged gear 5 in their prayers, they shouted louder and even cut themselves with their swords and spears, as was their custom until they bled. Elijah would say ‘Nothing yet’
Before we see how Elijah prays, we may mock now, but how often as believers do we pray like these prophets? There is a lot of religion that clouds our Prayers. Our prayers are lost in the customs prescribed methods of praying, in the prescribed times, places and even manners. These religious practices are simply dead and do not move the heart of God.
While spiritual disciplines work to strengthen us in our seeking the Lord, they do not mean God is limited to answer when we do these acts. Some He will answer whether you fast 40 days or 2 days. Whether you go for Kesha or not, whether you use anointing oil or not. Behind these religious practices is the fact that we forget “God already knows what we need before we even ask”. Prayers of faith are anchored on this truth.
Someone points out some of our prayer rituals in a very interesting way: In an attempt to get what we want;
Sometimes we make the Rubber stamp prayers- asking God to approve our desires,
Or the Informer Prayers: Sometimes we come and tell him the long story as though he did not know
But even more interesting the prayers that pile up points, like throwing rocks at the windows of heaven to get God’s attention.
Or then we begin to make the suggestion prayers- si you just bring this and that…
The last is, the electricity generating prayers- where these prophets now were, the riled up prayers….and we think these will move God to act. God knows what we need before we ask? How would our prayers be like if we believed this?
Religious Prayers are confined to set times and set places- my favorite corner, my sacred closet, even at Katoloni…but prayers of Faith are made out there, Daniel in the lion’s den, Paul and Silas in prison, Moses before the red sea and Usually they are not unnecessarily elongated or made on a set day, time or place.
How about if we learnt to respond in prayer at the moment. When you are in conversation with someone and he mentions something challenging…stop and say a prayer of faith. Don’t invite him for a prayer meeting too quickly. These are prayers of Faith that move God and lead us to actions of Faith not religious actions.
Compare these 2 prayers; Which do you think God will be inclined to answer
“Lord I pray for my friend to get saved or Lord I pray for an opportunity to share my faith with my friend.”
My last Point is that God is moved to Answer Prayers that touch on His Glory and not merely our reputation.
Finally Elijah’s turn came, after they were all tired out from their futile exercise, Elijah steps in and makes things even more interesting. He sets up his altar, with 12 stones of Israel, reminding the children of Israel that they were note 2 Kingdoms, but God called the 12 as one. He then goes on and digs a trench around the altar and pours 4 large jars of water on the altar, they do this 3 more times and the place is now soaking wet.
A Sunday school child was asked why Elijah poured this much water and she said “To make some soup/Gravy” But really, Elijah was making space for God to do only what God could do. No one would ever disapprove that this was the hand of God.
But of attention is the prayer He makes Read vs 36-39
A simple and brief prayer, but powerful enough to call fire from heaven. Why because Elijah evoked God’s glory, God’s Name was at stake. This was a prayer that sought God’s fame to be revealed and God was going to show up in a big way.
God is moved by prayers that align our intentions with His Glory and reputation, Not the other way round.
Read James 4:1-6, Could it be that our prayer requests stop at just building a Name for ourselves or saving our names from shame, or making sure our names are on top of the list. Selfish ambitions can be hidden even in the most spiritual prayers.
When we pray how aligned are our intentions with God’s reputation?
- Try praying God give me this job so that I can give my resources more to your work
- For your Name sake deliver me from this circumstance and I will declare your praises among my family forever
- Or for your glory Lord, give me a promotion so that I can exercise your gifts in a greater platform?
- Or for your Name sake, Give me a spouse to model a godly family in this generation.
Hannah prayed for a son so that she too could have someone to offer back to the service of God. These are the exponential prayers we must make
“For your Glory Lord, Grow our capacity in resources and leadership, so that we may reach out to more and bring people to know you”
In the same breathe, Sometimes our prayers for good health, favor and success do not express the Biblical prayers God wants to answer.
We never hear Jesus pray directly about His temptations and tests. He always thanks God or draws on God’s power to overcome the test.
Prayer is not to be ignorant about our fallen world, but the revelation of God’s truth in every fallen space.
We do not find Jesus dwelling on His failure with Judas, but rather on continued strength for the disciples. In other words, Jesus does not, like Adam and Eve, keep thinking of the forbidden fruit they must not eat but of the God who can keep Him from that forbidden fruit of worry anxiety, disobedience, and despair.
Selwy Hughes puts the matter more succinctly this way
If the request isn’t right He answers “No”, If the timing isn’t right His answer is “Slow”,
If you aren’t ready yet His answer is “Grow”, When everything’s ready and right …His answer is “Go”.
If all our requests were answered in the way we wished we’d have reason to doubt the wisdom of God.
When we pray we must be willing to put up with some mud and carry our Umbrellas? God answers prayers.