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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 upon God?

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 materialistic prayers?

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." (vs. 38)

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!

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