1 Kings 18:42-45, “And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’ So he went up and looked and said, ‘There is nothing.’ And seven times he said, ‘Go, again.’ Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, ‘There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!’ So he said, ‘Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.’ Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain.”
Notice several characteristics of Elijah’s prayer that we should imitate:
1. It was prayer based on the word of God
In v.1 of this 18th chapter of 1 Kings we read, “And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.’” Elijah’s prayer found its inspiration from the Word of the Lord. It was based upon God’s promise. Like Elijah we should let the Word of God shape and guide our prayers. Someone says, “But if God has promised something why do we need to pray for it?” One answer is that the God who has purposed the end has also purposed the means and one of the means by which his promises are brought to fruition is the prayers of his people. I think it was Spurgeon who compared the promises of God to checks. We endorse the check by faith and present it to the bank of heaven to be cashed by prayer.
2. It was marked by humility and reverence
We read that Elijah “bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees”. This is a posture of humility and reverence. Now, of course, humility and reverence are internal spiritual graces and attitudes. The issue is not so much the posture as it is the attitude reflected in it. Whatever the physical posture of our bodies when we pray, (and there are any number of legitimate postures) the attitude that should mark us when we draw near to God is one of humility and reverence. Remember how the Lord’s prayer begins. “Our Father”, we are his adopted children in Christ and, therefore, there should be a childlike confidence when we draw near to him. However, remember he is, “Our Father who is in heaven.” That confidence must be mingled with profound reverence.
3. Elijah’s prayer was very specific and to the point
Many times we pray prayers that can’t be answered specifically, because we don’t ask anything specifically. Elijah knew what he was praying for and that’s what he prayed for. He prayed for rain. Often, particularly in public prayer meetings, there is too much praying with vague generalities. Spurgeon speaks to this in his humorous way:
“I know a church which is endowed with an excellent deacon, a real godly man, but he will pray without ceasing at every meeting, and I fear he will pray the prayer meeting down to nothing unless he is soon taken home. The other night, when he had talked for a full twenty minutes, he intimated, both to heaven and earth, that all he had said was merely a preface, a drawing near as he called it, and that he was then going to begin. None of his friends were pleased to receive that information, for they had begun to cherish the hope that he would soon have done. They were all too sadly aware that now he would pray for ‘our beloved country’, ‘from the Queen upon the throne to the peasant in the cottage’, then for Australia and all the Colonies, and then for China and India, starting off afresh with kindly expressions for the young and for the old, for the sick, for sailors, and for the Jews. As a rule, nothing was really asked for by this estimable brother, but he uttered several pious remarks on all subjects and many more”
Notice, nothing was really asked for, just pious remarks.
4. Elijah’s prayer was marked by expectancy
He kept sending his servant to look and to see if God had answered. Do you ever pray about certain things but then get up and forget about it? How often, I fear, we’re not really expecting an answer and looking for it. The prayer that expects no answer will probably never receive an answer. When you send someone an important email what do you do? You keep going back to check your inbox for a response. Or when you send an important letter, you go out to the mailbox everyday looking for a return. If you really believe that getting an answer is important and you really believe that the person to whom you sent the email, or the letter, will eventually respond you keep looking for that response. That’s what Elijah was doing, and that’s what we must do in prayer.
5. Elijah was persistent in his prayer
Six times Elijah’s servant came back with the answer that nothing was happening. It wasn’t until the seventh time that Elijah received an encouraging report. Why does God sometimes delay? Why did God delay in answering Elijah’s prayer in our text? We can’t always know. But this example, and others like it in scripture, are intended to teach us a lesson. They teach us that we must continue in prayer and be persistent. We’re not to be silenced by the apparent silence of our Lord. We’re not to give up in the face of hindrances. The Lord Jesus, over and over in the gospels, calls us to importunity, to persistence. He tells us to ask and to seek and to knock. The answer may be delayed but the promise is true and it will come if we faint not. Remember the parable of the persistent widow and the parable of the persistent friend.
God would sometimes test our faith. He would stretch our faith, and perfect our faith, and better prepare us to receive what we ask for by delaying the answer for a time. As we are laboring in prayer working on God, as we think, God is, in fact, working on us. He is probing our hearts. He is causing us to search our motives. He is revealing to us hidden obstacles that stand in the way in our very own hearts. And all the time, while we continue to pray, God is conditioning us to receive the blessing to our maximum benefit and to His maximum glory when the time is right.
Well may God help us to learn to pray like Elijah!