The Old Testament Prophet Elijah was a man just like us. Yet his prayer life probably differed drastically from ours. His prayers worked, whereas our prayer lives need an awful lot of help. When did Elijah learn to have such power in his prayer life? Where did he go to pray? What did he do? Hidden within this man was a vital life of prayer.
First Things First
Read 1 Kings 18. All of us want our prayers to work. As Elijah waited for God to send down fire to burn up the sacrifice during his challenge to the prophets of Baal, so we wait for evidence of God’s power to come down upon our lives. We all struggle with unanswered prayer. Elijah must have wondered why King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, still ruled Jezreel when all those prayers were being prayed by the godly few remaining in Israel. And yet, he knew that his country’s altars were in ruins and his people needed to repent.
One reason our prayers aren’t answered is our altars lie in ruins. We’ve neglected our relationship with God and we need to repent of sin in our lives. But once we’re putting repentance to work in our spiritual disciplines, we can find ourselves even more confused if our prayers still don’t produce results.
Although we cannot always know why we don’t see results, in some cases it could be that we have not truly surrendered to God.
The bull that Elijah placed on his altar represented his sin offering to God. The people watching knew exactly what Elijah’s evening offering meant. There was one reason for building an altar—to make a sacrifice. As altars and sacrifices go together, so do repentance and surrender. Repentance is not complete if we do not surrender to God.
And yet we cannot surrender if we have not first repaired our ruined relationship with Him. Sometimes we fervently pray, “Take my life Lord.” But the Bible says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18, NKJV).
What Does God Want From Us?
Before we do anything else, we need to ask God what He requires for an offering. This is not for us to decide.
Read Genesis 4:2-17. What was Cain’s problem? What is ours?
Cain got into big trouble because he offered God something God had not asked for, and he didn’t offer God something He had asked for. Perhaps we offer God an hour of our time on a weekday to help with the youth group. There’s nothing wrong with that—if we are responding to what God has asked us to do. But God does not want us deciding what we will do for Him, and when and where. He wants to tell us what He has in mind.
Have We Surrendered?
Surrender is an attitude. Our very lives are borrowed. So if we are living on borrowed time, exercising borrowed gifts, what we should be asking in our prayers is when God would like for us to do what! We should be praying, “What would You like that is Yours today, Lord?”
And, remember, Elijah was told to offer a bull. He could have offered a rabbit instead. A little animal would have been a lot less trouble. But Elijah was working with God to fulfill God’s plan. In the hearing of the people, Elijah said to the Lord, in essence, “I have done everything You told me” (Cf. 1 Kings 18:36).
Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from Heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones and the dust. When the people saw it, they fell on their faces and cried out, “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39).
All we have to do is what the Lord says, even if we think we have a better idea! When we give God the things He has indicated that He wants from us, there is a certain peace that indicates that our sacrifice is acceptable to God. Talk to God about the things you have put on the altar lately. Are these the sacrifices He has asked you for?
When the fire fell on Elijah’s offering, it was evidence of God’s approval. When your sacrifices are acceptable, something will happen inside you that will be as obvious as that fire! Conversely, there will be no inner sense that God is pleased if you insist on offering Him inadequate or convenient sacrifices.
Have we asked the Lord, “What will You have me to do or to give? Where do You want me to go? Rwanda? Bosnia? Across the road?” Maybe we dare not ask this for fear that God will want something very close to our hearts. If we dare to get serious about living a life of surrender, it may well mean that our favorite things get placed on the altar. But if they do, there will be such peace in our hearts that we will kick ourselves for not surrendering sooner!
What are the internal signs of God’s approval once you surrender to Him? Read Malachi 1:6-14. What does this passage of Scripture say to you?
The most important aspect of Elijah’s whole prayer at Mount Carmel is the motivation behind it. He cared more about the Lord’s heart than his own. Listen to the impassioned ending to his prayer: “Answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself” (1 Kings 18:37).
When we get around to caring first about God’s heart and then about other people caring about God’s heart, we will be able to pray prayers of overwhelming confidence. The prayer of faith is not about my demanding outlandish things that occur to my own imagination; the prayer of faith is about my putting things in place spiritually, living a sacrificial lifestyle and spending my life passionately concerned about God’s name. When I boldly pray in this fashion, I will see wonders accomplished.
Jill and her husband, Stuart, are ministers-at-large of Elmbrook Church and lead Telling the Truth, a broadcast and Internet ministry. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture Quotations are taken by permission from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation.