Today I preached at The King’s Church, Ilford. Here are some notes which are similar to those I preached from. The audio is also available to download.
Christians who have been used by God in remarkable ways have ALL been people who were particularly devoted to prayer. Ordinary Christians like you and me often feel guilty at the mere mention of the word. Many of us are dissatisfied with our prayer life.
If we were really convinced that prayer changes the way God acts, and that God does bring about remarkable changes in the world in response to prayer, as Scripture repeatedly teaches that he does, then we would pray much more than we do. If we pray little, it is probably because we do not really believe that prayer accomplishes much at all. (Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 377)
I wish I was more of an expert at prayer and that I prayed more than I do. I do thank God that I am learning. Sadly, however, I recognize myself all too often in that quote. ALL Christians regularly need to ask Jesus to “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
The KEY to improving our prayer life is to understand that God is THE GOD WHO ANSWERS.
1. THE GOD WHO ANSWERS OUR NEEDS
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:16-18).
Elijah stands fearlessly, mocking the prophets of Baal, then prays:
O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God” (1 Kings 18:36-39).
• Elijah calls on the God of history.
• Elijah prays that God may be honored—the people might know that God is God.
• Elijah asks the Lord to grant repentance—(see 2 Corinthians 4:4-6). It takes a resurrection miracle in our hearts before any of us can become a Christian.
• Elijah boldly asks God to act—Elijah challenges God, saying, “Answer me!” Prayer is not worrying out loud. We should not be shocked when our prayers are actually answered.
“Where God is present, there is nothing that lies outside the realm of possibility.” (Robert H. Mounce, Romans Volume 27 The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 129.
ELIJAH THEN ASKS FOR MORE!
“And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.’ So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’ And he went up and looked and said, ‘There is nothing.’ And he said, ‘Go again,’ seven times. And at the seventh time he said, ‘Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.’ And he said, ‘Go up, say to Ahab, Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’ And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel (1 Kings 18:41-46).
• Prayer shapes in us a God-centered perspective —Elijah retreats. God often meets people in the mountains where we can soar above our circumstances. We can see the risen Jesus seated on the throne of heaven. Praying while walking in a forest, going on a retreat, during a commute, driving a car, or even just locking ourselves in the bathroom can all be ways of disconnecting from the world and connecting to God. A quiet recognition of God’s superiority.
• Elijah is persistent in prayer—seven times to look for the cloud. God is both infinite AND personal (Psalm 23). Nothing is too big for him to do. But nothing we ask for is too small, e.g. parking spaces! God is also concerened with us as individuals—his eye is on the sparrow; he counts our hairs.
2. GOD ANSWERS WHEN THINGS ARE TOUGH
Elijah comes crashing down—Fear? Exhaustion? OR a naive optimism that leads to crushing defeat? Unanswered prayer—the nation DID NOT fully return. Naivety is like faith, but without a PERSON! We must ASK, but also SURRENDER.
Depression is commonly caused by hope deferred, making the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12). False expectations. “In this world you will have troubles,” Jesus promised. He always keeps his promises. NO ONE names and claims that promise!
We do not merely believe everything will work out as we want it to! We believe that GOD is working for our good so that WHATEVER happens will be all right for us! (Romans 8:28).
• Elijah is honest with God and engages with him—God honored these prayers with a very rare Old Testament manifestation of his presence:
It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers (1 Kings 19:4).
I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away (1 Kings 19:10).
Elijah’s words were self-centered and exaggerated, BUT they were still a prayer. Elijah recognized his utter dependence on God. God often brings us to the end of our own strength and we find ourselves crying out to him—he does not want to leave us desperate.
Suddenly he wasn’t praying for a dead boy, or a wet sacrifice, or a cloudless sky. Now Elijah himself needed reviving. We see here that God is still interested in the man, Elijah, although he was just as weak as we are. When we are in distress and come to God, then God is eager to revive us, just as he was to revive Elijah.
We must understand that we approach the living God. When the living God meets a man who wants to die, the results can be unexpected. Life instead of death. A new start. A new commission. Are YOU desperate? Do you feel disqualified? GOD wants to REVIVE! “If you are tired, go to bed. If you are weary go to God.”
We all go through tough times. Jesus had Gethsemane and the cross, when God turned away. But he brought God near to us and demonstrated that God does answer. God answered by raising him from the dead!