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What Does God Say When
People Pray? (Part 1)
I Kings 18:21
In I Kings 18, we encounter a group of the children of Israel who drifted
away from a vital relationship with God. Their relationship was, well--
convenient, but it wasn't genuine.
While they were in the wilderness, they depended upon God for guidance
and sustenance. Yahweh was their provider. Without the Manna God gave,
they would die. Have you ever noticed how hard times cause us to depend
But when they reached Canaan, they encountered a new lifestyle, and
a new god. Baal was the Canaanite's fertility god. The locals taught them
that if they worshiped Baal, they would have fertile wives, fertile herds,
and fertile crops. The last two, fertile herds and crops, were essential
for immediate survival, the first one, fertile wives, was essential for
long term survival. In the ancient near east, offspring was essential for
financial security for old age. The children "honored" their father and
mother by providing food, clothing, and shelter when the parents were too
old to care for themselves.
So what should the children of Israel do? I mean, they had to survive
didn't they? They decided that when in Canaan, they should do as the Canaanite's
do and worship Baal. It was very practical. After all, they had a family
to feed and a future to provide for. They worshiped and prayed to Baal
for practical reasons, believing that he was the god who could meet their
financial needs. But they couldn't ignore the God of their parents either,
so they worshiped and prayed to Yahweh for cultural reasons.
Like passing through a cafeteria line, they picked and chose elements
out of each religion they would follow. Designer faith, if you will. Sounds
very twenty-first century doesn't it?
When we eat out, I've noticed we tend to ask for substitutions. We ask
for a salad instead of fries or fruit instead of hash browns. We don't
go back to restaurants that don't allow substitutions or charge us extra
for them. We want it "our way."
Does this work with our faith? Can we combine faithfulness to God's
word, with slight substitutions? Will God allow us to pray to Him and be
materialistic at the same time? A better question might be, does God allow
Actually, no. It was very problematic for the children of Israel. Among
the problems was the breaking of the first commandment Exodus 20:3 "You
shall have no other gods before Me." and the "schema" Deut. 6:4 "Hear,
O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!" These were both foundational
teachings in their faith.
It also spawned some unresolvable conflicts. Namely, when people are
open to everything, they have no real commitments, and cannot enjoy either
allegiance. Modern Christians face this same problem. While striving to
serve God, they bow down to the god of materialism believing that the modern
day "Baal" can bring happiness. They do not enjoy godliness because their
carnality strips them of the joy of their salvation.
This attitude causes the Christian to constantly pray for an easier
life, more wealth, and happiness without suffering. In this prayer, the
Christian views God as a genie in a magic lamp. They feel that if they
rub their lamp hard enough, long enough, and often enough, they can force
God to accomplish their will. Elijah had a word for those of his generation
who were "halting between two opinions."
"And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between
two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow
him." I Kings 18:21
Please notice that Elijah did not ask the people to base their decision
upon who could bring them prosperity, happiness, or health. He challenged
his listeners to base their decision upon one factor: who is truly God.
Elijah has a word for today's Christians. Clearly, his words echo through
the centuries to ask us: "How long halt ye between two opinions?" We must
choose our allegiance based upon who is God. Our motivation for following
God is not because He can get us into heaven, or because He can bring joy
into our life, or because He will provide us with every wish and desire,
but because HE IS GOD!
The children of Israel had a prayer life that rendered no power, it
only resulted in frustration. On the same level of this frustration, were
the helpless prayers of the prophets of Baal. In I Kings 18:22-25,
Elijah sets the terms of competition to help the crowd decide whom they
should serve. The prophets of Baal were to prepare an altar then call upon
their god to consume the sacrifice with fire. Elijah was to do the same.
They would declare the deity that responded to be the true God.
Elijah put himself in an "all or nothing" situation. At the end of the
competition, everyone would either call him a fraud or a true prophet.
They would either worship Baal or Yahweh. He did not formulate a win-win
situation. He put everything on the line.
The prophets accepted the challenge; Baal's prophets went first. Please
notice what the prophets of Baal did which did not bring down fire. First,
they had many people praying, four
hundred and fifty, to
be exact (vs. 22). Second, They prayed a long time,
"from morning until noon."(vs.26)
Third, They were exuberant in their prayer, "They
leaped about the altar."
(vs. 28) Fourth, they made a great deal of noise, "They
cried aloud." (vs. 28)
Fifth, they made sadistic sacrifice by "cutting
themselves with swords and lances."
(vs. 28) Yet their prayer was helpless, their god did not respond, and
God's prophet mocked their effort. (vs. 27)
It does not matter how many
"prayer partners" are praying, how long you pray, how exuberant your prayer,
how much noise you make, or how much you personally sacrifice, a helpless
prayer to a deaf god is ineffective. Elijah, God's solitary prophet facing
the multitudes of false prophets and halting observers, prayed a prayer
that God honored.
Elijah's honored prayer was
the result of a deep trust in the God he served. "After Elijah prepared
the altar, (vs. 31-33a) he closed all escape routes. (vs. 33b-35) Instead
of putting dry kindling wood under the sacrifice, he poured gallons of
water over it. Faith-praying is praying for things big enough that God
is not ashamed to get involved. Elijah soaked the altar, then prayed. He
left no escape routes open. The only way that sacrifice could catch on
fire was by the hand of God.
Elijah's prayer did not rhyme.
He did not use beautiful metaphors. It did not sound like a litany, but
God honored it! He stated his purpose: "Let
it be known this day that thou art God,"
his motive: "and
that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word."
Then, he gave his request: "Hear
me O Lord, hear me . . .
" (vs. 36-37) After this short, terse, humble prayer, God responded: "Then
the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood,
and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench."
After God answered this prayer,
the people worshiped Him (vs. 39) and the false prophets died (vs. 40).
How is your prayer life?
Are you like the children of Israel praying the wrong prayers, with selfish
motives? Or are you like the prophets of Baal, sincerely praying, but to
the wrong god? Or are you like Elijah, faced with impossible odds and circumstances,
boldly asking God to intervene?
Let us pray that God might
again send down His fire from heaven to ignite our lives and ministries.
May our prayers burn with a passion for those around us that need our Savior,
and may our prayers be honored.
What does God say when people
pray? When Elijah prayed, He said YES! God honored his prayers, not just
once, but on countless occasions. James teaches that God will honor your
prayers too. "The
effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man
with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain;
and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. And he
prayed again, and the sky poured rain, and the earth produced its fruit"
(James 5: 16b-18).
Will you have the courage
and the faith to pray like Elijah did. Without any escape hatches or "plan
B's." Will you strip away all other options and throw yourself before a
God who can answer your prayer and depend on Him solely for the answer?
Remember, the prayers of
a righteous man can accomplish much!