A Pattern for Prayer

ElijahScripture:  1 Kings 18:41-46

Over 150 years ago Charles Finney, a Presbyterian minister and evangelist, was speaking at a church in Oberlin, Ohio.  It was the summer of 1853 and it was unusually hot and dry.  It appeared as if all the crops in the surrounding area would be a failure.  On one particular Sunday the congregation had gathered together, and Finney was praying for rain, even though there was not a cloud in the sky.  He went into detail describing the long drought they had been suffering.  He prayed, “We do not presume, O Lord, to dictate to You what is best for us.  You invite us to come to You as children to an earthly father and tell you our wants.  We want rain.  Our pastures are dry, the earth is gaping open for rain, the cows are wandering about and lowing in search of water.  Even the animals in the woods are suffering from thirst.  Unless You give us rain, our cattle will die and harvest will fail.  O Lord, send us rain and send it now, although to us there is no sign of it.  It is an easy thing for You to do.  Send it now, Lord, for Christ’s sake, amen.”

He then continued leading the service, but before he was halfway through his message the rain was coming down so hard his voice could barely be heard.  He stopped his message and said, “We had better pause and give God thanks for the rain.”  Was it a coincidence?  God hears and answers prayers.  In our passage for this morning, Elijah also is praying for rain.  Last week we looked at the example of Elijah and learned about a person of prayer.  This morning we’ll learn from him his pattern for prayer.  If we want to follow that pattern, we’ll do three things that are found in this passage.

First of all, to follow Elijah’s pattern for prayer, we must be devoted.  Verses 41-42 tell us, “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.”  He had such confidence in God that he knew the rain would come after Baal worship had been rejected by the people and they had returned to the one true God.  He also knew however, that God chooses to work through people who are devoted to prayer, who are passionate about it.  So he went to the top of Mount Carmel and prayed.  Notice the detail that is given here.  “He bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.”  He was serious about praying, he was totally invested in it.  It was not a quick prayer, it was not a convenient prayer — it was a heartfelt, passionate prayer.  Throughout the Bible when it comes to prayer, we see that God wants us to mean what we say to Him.  He longs for us to pray like we mean business, not in a flippant or resigned fashion.  I’ve shared on other occasions how when I was a child my father struggled with one serious health issue after another.  I was accustomed to hospital waiting rooms and Dad having another surgery or major health challenge.  When I was around 8 years old, I remember my Dad having a heart attack.  It was in the middle of the night as I recall, and I came downstairs from my bedroom to see what all the noise was in the living room.  Dad was lying on the couch, clutching his chest.  He was obviously struggling.  Mom was scurrying around the house.  She had already called for an ambulance, but it had not yet arrived.  He was in pain, he was having difficulty breathing.  I thought my Dad was going to die on that couch.  So I kneeled down in a chair near the couch and began praying.  I had only been a Christian a couple of years, so I didn’t have any theological grasp of prayer.  I just was eight years old and knew my Dad was going to die if something didn’t change.  So I began praying, “God, don’t let my Dad die!”  I didn’t say, “God if it be your will, don’t let my Dad die.”  I didn’t say, “He’s in Your hands Father, whatever You will is fine with me.”  The only thing on my mind was a passionate, adamant desire that my Dad would survive that heart attack.  I took that desire to God, and as an eight year old child I stormed heaven with it.  I was no spiritual giant, just a boy who refused to let go of his Dad and was confident God could do something to help him.  Dad survived the heart attack.  Did my prayer make a difference?  I don’t know, but I do know God made a difference, whether it was through the prayer or through the medical personnel who took care of him.  The point is not that I was some kind of spiritual prodigy – I was just an ordinary kid.  The point is that the prayers of an eight year old boy were passionate when his Dad’s life was on the line.  I meant business when I prayed.  Throughout the Bible, the prayers that prevailed with God were passionate prayers that meant business.  When Abraham prayed for Lot and his family in Sodom, he meant business and boldly bargained with God.  When Jacob was going to face his brother Esau, who would likely want to kill him for taking his birthright years earlier, he prayed all night to God for deliverance and meant business in doing so.  When David prayed for his ailing son who had been born to Bathsheba, he meant business in doing so.  When Elijah prayed in this passage, he was wholeheartedly committed to it.  There was nothing half-hearted in his praying.  To follow Elijah’s pattern for prayer, we must be devoted.

Then, to follow Elijah’s pattern for prayer, we must be diligent.  Verses 43-44 of our passage say, “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.’…”  Elijah prayed, and nothing happened.  He prayed again, and nothing happened.  He prayed again, and nothing happened.  After the seventh time, he began to see a slight change in the situation.  Elijah was diligent in his praying – he didn’t give up.  We should never give up in praying for the people or things God places on our heart.  Do you have an unsaved family member or friend?  Don’t stop praying even though it seems that nothing is changing.  We could have testimonies shared if time permitted about how God brought unsaved parents, or spouses or children to Christ after years of praying.  If you are praying for healing for a Christian family member or friend, don’t give up.  If you are praying for God to help you in your financial situation, don’t give up.  If you are praying for God to give you a Christian boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t give up, and don’t settle!  One of the worst things a Christian can do when dating is to settle for someone who isn’t a Christian.  Elijah was diligent and determined in his praying, and God calls us to follow the same pattern today.  Jennifer Kennedy Dean, a speaker and author on prayer, shared recently in Pray! Magazine of an experience she had.  A woman, whom she calls “Mary,” came to her for prayer.  Mary was desperate and afraid.  Her son had been arrested for selling drugs.  Mary told the story of his years of drug abuse; the anguished attempts to overcome his addiction; the glimpses of hope that turned out to be false.  Through his story Mary weaved in her own story; she had prayed every way she knew how, and God had never answered.  Mary had approached the author on prayer because she was looking for someone who could “get results.”  Someone who knew how to pray with such skill that God would behave the way she wanted him to.  Mary had a long list of things she wanted the author to cover with God.  So the author began by asking Mary, “What is it that you really desire for your son?  She went back to her list and began to read off her requests.  “No.” the author said. Those are the things that you have determined will accomplish what you want for your son.”  She said, “Years ago, God taught me that I can’t know the desire of my heart unless I know the heart of my desire.”  So she helped Mary peel back the layers until she discovered the center of her desire was that her son would know Jesus Christ and find peace in his life.  “Then that’s what we’ll ask for,” the author said.  Things didn’t go well, if you define things by circumstances. Mary’s son continued to be bitter and suffered excruciating withdrawal.  In her panic, Mary would say, “God isn’t answering. Why isn’t he doing anything?”  “Don’t assume he isn’t answering.  Look for the path his yes is taking.”  Fast forward a year or so: Mary’s son was given a prison sentence. He then was led to Christ by a fellow inmate, who got him involved in a prison Bible study.  Gradually, God transformed him into a different man. When he was paroled, he had to continue in a daily drug rehabilitation program. He finished the program, then continued in his Christian life.”  During this whole experience of Mary praying for her unsaved son, what appeared to be backward was really forward. What appeared to be down was really up. What appeared to be dark was really light.  God moved, God acted, God responded to diligent prayer.

Then, to follow Elijah’s pattern for prayer, we must be daring.  Verses 44-46 say, “…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.”  As Elijah was praying, as soon as he sensed God beginning to respond, he dared to spring into action.  First of all, he spoke with confidence.  He told Ahab to get moving before the rain stopped him.  Now keep in mind, it had not rained for three and a half years.  The only physical indication of rain was a very small cloud in the sky.  Still, he was so much a man of prayer and so in touch with God that he knew when God was about to act.  He was confident in the ways of his Lord.  As we walk with Jesus and interact with Him through prayer, we gain that same kind of confidence in speech.  We can be confident we have been saved.  We can be confident that someone else who calls upon Jesus to save him or her, God will do it.  We can have confidence that God is going to work all the events in our lives, both good and bad, to His glory and our good as we trust Him.  We can dare to speak with confidence in our Lord.  Then, we can also dare to serve God in His strength.  When we are obeying God, we do not merely rely on our strength, we draw upon His strength.  Elijah ran all the way to Jezreel, ahead of Ahab.  The distance was 17 miles, and he ran faster than a horse-drawn chariot.  A world-class marathon runner can’t match that kind of pace.  It was a God-thing – God enabled him to do what he could not do in human strength alone.  He dared to obey God, and God provided.  When we dare to obey God today, He gives us ability that can only come from Him.  It exceeds any ability we would have on our own.  We follow Elijah’s pattern for prayer, we dare to obey.

Will you dare to obey God?  If you are following a Biblical example for prayer, you won’t just pray.  Your prayers will motivate you to action.  If you have never obeyed God by asking Jesus to forgive you of your sins and give you new life, then you need to do so.  Asking Jesus to give you new life is the first step of obedience.  Baptism is the second step.  Throughout the New Testament being saved and being baptized go hand-in-hand.  There is a tendency today to put a lot of time between the two, but that’s not a Biblical practice.  You accept Jesus, then as soon as possible you are baptized.  Another very important act of obedience is committing to a local church family, making the relationships with that group of people a priority in your spiritual life.  If we follow Elijah’s example of prayer, we’re devoted, we’re diligent, we’re daring.

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