1 Kings 18:41—46
Elijah is a classic example of a man who knew how to pray. In fact, many centuries before James wrote about prayer in his letter, we find its fulfillment in the prophet Elijah! The prayers of a righteous man are prayers that are heard and answered by God. James gives Elijah as his prime example of a righteous man—
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:17, 18)
The fire had fallen upon the prophet’s sacrifice at his request. The people who had witnessed this astounding miracle were convinced that Yahweh was indeed God, and as if to prove their faith to Elijah, they renounced Baal and slayed the idolatrous priests of that detestable false god. But Elijah was not finished! The best was yet to come.
Elijah made it crystal clear that the devastating drought and famine were sent by God and not by Baal. The people had to be made to understand that it was God, not Baal, who was in control and it would be God, not Baal, who would end the drought. The Israelites were about to learn that God is not only in control of the human realm but also the realm of nature.
The whole purpose of the prolonged drought and the resultant famine was to show to the people of Israel that Baal was a complete fraud; a fabrication of man’s twisted imagination. The people had looked to Baal as the god of storms and rain. They believed that during the long, hot, dry days of summer Baal was either asleep or away traveling. When the autumn rains came in October, the people viewed Baal as awake and active once again. The people had absolutely no concept of a sovereign God who ruled over His creation.
It was back in 17:1 that Elijah told King Ahab that the drought had come in defiance of Baal—
“As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
The longer the drought dragged on, the more obvious it would become that Baal was not the great god his followers thought him to be; but that Yahweh was the only Great God.
As we look at Elijah’s prayer, there are a number interesting points worth pondering:
1. Elijah prayed in faith, verse 41
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.”
What exactly was it that Elijah heard? Nobody else seemed to hear the rain nor did they see it. The fact is, there was yet no indication that so much as a drop of rain was going to fall on any part of Israel! One commentator put it this way:
The sound may have been that of the assuring promise of God ringing in his soul.
That makes sense, as faith comes by that kind of hearing. Elijah was operating under the promise of God; he heard the rain before it came. This reminds us of that classic definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1—
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
This is the secret of powerful prayer: praying in faith, believing in the answer beforehand. Elijah knew God would come through for him because he knew God’s promise. If believers knew the Word of God as well as Elijah did, how powerful would prayers be? We would be unstoppable!
2. Elijah prayed humbly, verse 42
So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
Elijah was bold before people, yet humble before God. Such should be the case with all true believers. We ought to come boldly before God, but in a spirit of humility. This is something that many believers today don’t quite understand. They seem to think coming boldly before God means that they are free to order the Almighty around! Just listening to how some evangelists, preachers and teachers pray one wonders to whom they are praying! We can all take a lesson from the posture of the prophet: pray humbly before God.
3. Elijah prayed persistently, verse 43
“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
While Elijah buried his head between his knees in reverence before God, he sent his servant to the mountain’s peak to herald the coming of the rains. The servant, though, quickly returned a number of times with a bad report: no rain in sight. Elijah heard the sound of a deluge, yet his servant saw nothing. If you are expecting other people to see what your faith has convinced you of, forget it! Nobody can see with their eyes what can only be perceived by faith.
But the prophet would not be discouraged or dissuaded; he kept on praying and he kept on expecting his bewildered servant to come back with good news. Elijah had the Word of God’s promise, and he kept on believing as he kept on praying even though it looked for all the world like he was wasting his time and making a fool out of his poor servant. This reminds us of Jacob who would not let go of the angel of the Lord until he received a blessing—
Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26)
Jacob hung on and was blessed, and Elijah persisted until his faith became reality. Elijah walked by faith, and sometimes walking by faith means walking alone.
4. Elijah prayed definitely
There was never any doubt as to what Elijah wanted: he wanted rain, and that was exactly what he prayed for. As one scholar quipped,
This mighty man of God seemed never to have more than one arrow in his quiver at a time.
He focused on exactly what he wanted; he was not distracted by many other things. Prayers that move God are prayers that are definite. David put it like this in Psalm 5:3—
In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
The phrase “lay my requests” comes from a Hebrew phrase that means literally “to set in order an arrow in the bow.” It means to take careful aim so that the arrow will hit its mark. Is that how you pray? Do pray to “hit the target?” Do you concentrate for all your worth? Do focus on what you need to the exclusion of all else? Or are your prayers strangled to death by the many needs that float in and out of your mind that you mention but never really expect to have met? If you pray like that, stop! Stop wasting your time and God’s.
Practically speaking, this is the great benefit of a prayer list. Most of us have a hard time concentrating for more than a few minutes on anything. A list can be very helpful in bringing our thoughts into captivity. A general prayer is generally useless.
How can you be 100% sure that your prayer will be answered? A general rule of thumb is this: prayers that get God’s attention and prayers that get answered are prayers based on some promise of God in His Word. If your prayer life is a hit-and-miss thing, maybe what you need to do is crack open your Bible and get to know what you should be praying for.
5. Elijah prayed successfully, verses 44, 45
The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.
As soon as a teeny tiny dark cloud appeared on the horizon, Elijah grabbed hold of it and claimed it as the answer. He did not hesitate; he did not wait until the cloud got a little bit bigger; he sent word immediately to Ahab that he should get going before he got stopped by the coming rain.
Don’t ever fail to notice the small cloud after you have prayed. Never forget the words of another prophet—
Who despises the day of small things? (Zechariah 4:10a)
How easy it would have been to miss that small cloud. The servant was supposed to be looking for rain, not a cloud! But Elijah knew from a small cloud comes a big rain. The few loaves and fish were more enough to feet thousands of on a hillside. Elijah asked, and he believed that he would receive. Our Lord made this point—
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)
Notice the past tense: we are to believe that we have received the answer, and when we do that, it becomes ours. To what end? Does God answer our prayers simply because we believe? Or simply because we have tons of faith? Not according to John 14:13—
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
When a prayer you prayed is answered, it is so that God may receive the glory and sinners take notice of Him. As we read about how God answered Elijah’s prayer, let’s remember that the prophet already had the promise; he hadn’t invented the need, presented it to God, and then hoped God would make it rain. Elijah knew God would bring the rain as soon as he asked because He knew what God’s Word was on that subject.
Modern Christians really short change themselves because of their lack of knowledge concerning the privileges that are theirs based solely on the merits of Christ. How many of us are living way below the place God intends for us to be because we don’t know what we should pray for or how we should pray? If we would commit to become “people of the Book,” faithfully studying the Scriptures, we might be very surprised at how different out lives might look.