When you have the time, read 1 Kings 17 it is a powerful narrative of Elijah and his encounter with King Ahab and the widow woman, it has potent lessons that God wants to teach us about prayer and faith in Him.
Just to give some context which will help bring these scriptures to life: at this time the children of Israel are segregated into two-halves, Judah and Israel. The northern kingdom now called Israel was reigned over by Ahab, a wicked demonic king whose lineage did evil in the eyes of God. They worshipped false gods and were involved in an abundance of immorality. Ahab was worse than all the evil kings that preceded him (1 Kings 16:30), and if that was not bad enough, he married the treacherous Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31) who spearheaded him into doing worse things to provoke God to anger. As you can imagine this unholy matrimony would only worsen the state of the already apostate Israel.
During this time, the false god Baal was worshipped on a scale unprecedented, Ahab built more places of false worship to allure the people to sin against the God of Israel (1 Kings 16:33). Baal, the god who Ahab and the majority worshipped was not just any god, he was believed to be the Lord of Rain and Dew that was responsible for fertilising the land of Canaan. This was key allurement to worship him because in that part of the world they heavily depended on agriculture. So it makes sense why Baal worship took flight because it was believed that he could fertilise their land and create an abundant harvest, which was vital to the people’s survival.
With this brief context, Elijah the Tishbite appears out of the blue, for the first time ever in the Bible, to the powerful King Ahab and boldly declares “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”
In proclaiming this to a wicked, idol-worshipping King, Elijah was stating more than the words may indicate: in essence, he was saying ‘my God is about to take down your god, and your god of rain and dew is not going to be able to do anything… Ahab you’re worshipping the wrong God!’
Often we think that the proof of Elijah’s God is in the fire coming down from heaven on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19-39) but the drought that came because of Elijah’s words is just as great a proof of the fact that there is only one God who reigns.
But carefully notice what Elijah doesn’t say when he proclaimed what he did to Ahab:
“As the Lord God of Israel lies, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”
He doesn’t say according to the word of the Lord, or “thus says the Lord” (1 Kings 17:14) but he says “my word.” There is a significant difference between praying, and praying and believing. Ask yourself, when you pray do you pray and believe or do you just pray? Often I have found that I just pray, I don’t believe in what I am praying.
The reason why Elijah said “at my word” was because he believed in what he was praying and he moved in faith.
There are various ways in which God says yes to our prayers. Sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers; “Lord I pray that my friend gets to know you and have a relationship with you” but maybe God is saying 'your friend is ready and wants to know Me, but they are waiting for you to ask them for Bible studies.' Other times when we pray only God can accomplish our request.
A couple of months ago I was earnestly praying for a brand-new phone because the one I had was speedily approaching retirement. I was praying night after night, morning after morning for a new phone, I couldn’t afford a new one at the time, so I pleaded with God for Him to make a way or to help me find a way to get my prayer answered. So I thought, let me do for me what God cannot do for me: I called my phone company and lo and behold I was due an upgrade (sounded like providence to me) so I chose a new phone and before giving them the go-ahead I prayed “Lord if it is in your will, get me this phone, if not cancel it, decline it, in Jesus name – amen.”
Then they said to me, “great that is going through, we’ll call you back in 10 minutes to confirm everything” – 4 days later still no returned call. So I decided to try another method, I would just buy the phone instead (monthly of course I haven’t got that type of money laying around sadly), so put in all my details and before pressing ‘proceed’ I whispered a similar prayer, “Lord if it is in your will, get me this phone, if not cancel it, decline it, in Jesus name – amen.” I pressed proceed then… well let’s just say it was not in God’s will.
I was disappointed, but I understood. A couple of days later I thought, why not ask my aunty to get it for me, so I did and lo and behold she needed a new phone too so why not buy them together she suggested. So on Sunday afternoon, she said “Doug, let us do my phone first then we will do yours after”, I agreed and well, it was in God’s will for her to get a new phone – it went through. Okay great, I thought, my turn now. She put in her bank details in, I told her what phone I wanted and then I prayed again, “Lord if it is in your will, get me this phone, if not cancel it, decline it, in Jesus name – amen.” You wouldn’t guess what happened. Well, it was not in God’s will for me to get a new phone – I was declined.
By this time I had partially given up but was still praying. Two days later (Tuesday), I had a Bible study with a gentleman and I forgot to put my phone on silent. During the study I got two, joint FaceTime calls from good friends of mine which don’t usually FaceTime me at that hour. Anyways, I had to ignore it because I was in a Bible study, and by the time I finished I completely forgot about their missed call. But after the study, I prayed and after the pray I felt impressed to check my emails, so I did and I received an unexpected email from my bank.
Now the only reason why I usually get emails from this particular bank is if I have gone over my overdraft, so I looked and naturally assumed it was so and said to myself in frustration “argh man, I haven’t even bought anything why am I in overdraft?” but then I opened it and it wasn’t as I suspected. I had actually received a hefty amount of money from my great friend (he knew about my retiring phone issue). So I FaceTimed him and he added my other good friend to the call (they were the ones that called me during the study) and I asked them what the call was about (I obviously knew). They explained to me how they and my other amazing friends raised money in 24 hours to get me a brand-new phone. Sometimes when we pray only God can make it come to pass.
Other times God requires us to co-labour with Him in answer to our prayers: He asks us to move in faith. We do what we need to do and He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, Elijah was in this bracket.
James points out an important aspect of Elijah’s statement which we would have missed without his inspiration from God. He tells us:
“the effective prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six month” (James 5:16-17).
Elijah prayed it would not rain, he believed in what he prayed, that it was in God’s will and he moved in faith. So in light of his prayer he went boldly before the throne of Ahab, he did his part and declared “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” and God did His part in isolating the rain. Sometimes God requires us to co-labour with Him in answer to our prayers.
As we contemplate and deeply reflect on the petitions we request of God in prayer, He will reveal to us or impress us on what we must do: whether we have a part to play in the answering of our prayer or if we are to completely leave it in His hands.
But when it comes to prayer we must “ask in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:6), when we pray “whatever things you ask… believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). Whatever the nature of your request, remember that prayer is the key in the hand of faith that will unlock heaven's storehouse.
I am not aware of what you are praying for, or what you have been praying for (you may have been praying for a long time) but do not give up, Isaac was 40 when he started praying earnestly for a child from Rebekah but the answer to his prayer came when he was 60. That was 20 years later and God didn’t just grant him one child but two, Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:20-26 emphasis on verses 20 and 26). Why? Because God, as Isaac and I have experienced, “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14)
Wherever you are now just say this prayer:
“Lord thank you for being a God who hears, a God that is able to do so much more than I can think or ask. Lord right now I ask that you may help me to not only have unwavering faith but to also move in faith, believing in your promises. I ask that you may help me to trust that you hear my prayers and that your timing is the best timing – in Jesus name, Amen.