Pray Like a Prophet
Following Elijah’s stunning victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, he turns his attention to drought that continued to linger over the land. Back in 1 Kings 17, Elijah had announced a drought on the land because of the apostasy of the people. They had backed into Baalism and paganism. And their failure to remain faithful to the Lord carried the judgment of God removing his word from the people, signified by the lack of rain or dew. This was also a polemic against Baal, the storm god. The Baal cycle would be broken and the LORD would show himself to be God. And Elijah, the LORD’s prophet, would figure a return of the Lord’s word to the land with the return of rain to a parched earth. The rain left at the prophet’s word, and it would only return at the prophet’s word.
Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal in a sacrificial contest. He literally slaughtered them. And then he tells Ahab that there is “a sound of the rushing of rain” (1 Kings 18:41). There has been no water in the land for 3 ½ years. But now Elijah hears it. To be clear, only Elijah hears it, because Elijah hears it by faith. Elijah then sets himself to the task of prayer. The rain left at his word and will return with his prayer. In the wonderful book The Life of Elijah, AW Pink outlines seven lessons we can learn about prayer from Elijah.
Elijah withdrew from the crowds to pray. Elijah had been down in the valley by the brook Kishon, but he comes up from there to address Ahab. Then he goes back up Mt. Carmel. He removed himself from all other people so that he could concentrate and focus on the task at hand. This time of prayer was not a show of divine force like it had been against the prophets of Baal. This time of prayer was a private moment removed from all the distractions of the world. This was Jesus’ instruction, “when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). There are so many sights, sounds, beeps, notifications, and distractions to draw our minds and hearts away from prayer. Pink advises that this is more than just a physical separation, “it also signifies the calming of our spirit, the quieting of our feverish flesh, the gathering in of all wandering thoughts, that we may be in a fit frame to draw nigh unto and address the Holy One.”1 Our prayers are often stifled by our failure to withdraw from the commotion and enter into communion.
Elijah Humbled Himself
Elijah” bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees” (1 Kings 18:42). Just moments before Elijah was boldly, if not brashly, standing up to the prophets of Baal. Now we find him doubled over and humbled before the Lord. He stood up to kings and gods but now he bows down before the Lord. He understood his position before the Almighty. His actions, his accomplishments, his achievements were as nothing before greatness of God. God was not impressed by his status. Elijah does not approach God as equal. God is not his buddy. Elijah knew what Abraham knew, “I am but dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27). Throughout the Scriptures when people encounter angels, they routinely hide their faces because of the comparative holiness of the creature. But in Isaiah 6, it is the seraphim who hide their faces before the brilliant holiness of God. This is Elijah’s posture in prayer.
Elijah Clung to God’s Word
God had told Elijah in 1 Kings 18:1, “I will send rain.” That promise was all Elijah needed. He knew that God would be faithful to his divine promise. It would happen. But if God has promised it, why then does Elijah pray? Wouldn’t this thing come about regardless of Elijah’s prayer? We might be inclined to avoid prayer, simply thinking that God is just going to do it anyway. Instead, we should take God’s divine promises as instruction for our prayer. We should take it as God’s guarantee that he will bless our prayer. God has ordered prayer such that if we would receive something, we must ask for it. “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
Elijah Was Definite
Elijah was specific in his request from the Lord. He did not generalize. He did not make the request so broad and generic as to render it meaningless. Sometimes we pray in such sweeping terms, “Lord, we ask you to bless us.” This request is so vague that one would never know if it had actually been answered. Then we wonder why God doesn’t answer our prayers. Let our prayers be specific and definite so that we will see the Lord’s specific answers to them.
Elijah Was Fervent
James tells us that Elijah prayed “fervently” (5:17). This doesn’t mean that Elijah yelled or hollered or screamed in order to be heard by God. But it also doesn’t mean that he approached prayer with all the gusto of cold, dead fish. Our prayers are often weak afterthoughts. How many times have we participated in a meeting or Bible study or such and prayer is just tacked onto the end, like “Oh, we probably oughta pray too.” Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears. We should pray like we actually believe something will happen. It is not the half-hearted and perfunctory prayers that avail much.
Elijah Was Watchful
When Elijah began to pray, he sent his servant to go and look out from mountain toward the sea. “Go up now, look toward the sea” (1 Kings 18:43). We are to pray and the watch. “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Ps 130:5,6). “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2). Pink laments, “Alas, how often we fail at this very point, because hope does not hold up the head of our holy desires. We pray, yet do not look out expectantly for the favors we seek.”2.
Against the prophets of Baal, after they had ranted and raved for hours to no avail, Elijah simply prayed. And instantly fire came down from heaven and incinerated everything. One simple prayer and whoosh. But now, Elijah says he hears the rushing of rain, but it is not there yet. He prays and sends his servant to watch. But there is no rain. Five more times he sends this servant out after his prayer to look for rain. And every time the servant comes back with a report of nothing. Six times he prayed with no response. But God is gracious in his timing. Perhaps God is breaking us of the thinking that we can dictate the terms of his response. Perhaps God is instilling a deeper faith in our hearts through waiting. Perhaps God is demonstrating his wisdom and providence in our lives. Perhaps God is teaching us not to get discouraged because of circumstances. Whatever the reason, Elijah prays six times with no answer. But then he prays a seventh time. And the servant reports that a small cloud had formed on the horizon. Eventually a great storm cloud appears and the drought is broken. “The prophet’s perseverance in prayer had not been in vain, for here was a token from God that he was heard.”3 God in his infinite wisdom was pleased to keep Elijah waiting for a time. But Elijah persevered in prayer and God was kind to answer that prayer.
1. Pink, The Life of Elijah., 182.
2. Pink, 186.
3. Pink, 186.