Praying Like Elijah, by Jeffery Smith

1 Kings 18:42-45, “And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’ So he went up and looked and said, ‘There is nothing.’ And seven times he said, ‘Go, again.’ Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, ‘There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!’ So he said, ‘Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.’ Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain.”

Notice several characteristics of Elijah’s prayer that we should imitate:

1. It was prayer based on the word of God

In v.1 of this 18th chapter of 1 Kings we read, “And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.’” Elijah’s prayer found its inspiration from the Word of the Lord. It was based upon God’s promise. Like Elijah we should let the Word of God shape and guide our prayers. Someone says, “But if God has promised something why do we need to pray for it?” One answer is that the God who has purposed the end has also purposed the means and one of the means by which his promises are brought to fruition is the prayers of his people. I think it was Spurgeon who compared the promises of God to checks. We endorse the check by faith and present it to the bank of heaven to be cashed by prayer.

2. It was marked by humility and reverence

We read that Elijah “bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees”. This is a posture of humility and reverence. Now, of course, humility and reverence are internal spiritual graces and attitudes. The issue is not so much the posture as it is the attitude reflected in it. Whatever the physical posture of our bodies when we pray, (and there are any number of legitimate postures) the attitude that should mark us when we draw near to God is one of humility and reverence. Remember how the Lord’s prayer begins. “Our Father”, we are his adopted children in Christ and, therefore, there should be a childlike confidence when we draw near to him. However, remember he is, “Our Father who is in heaven.” That confidence must be mingled with profound reverence.

3. Elijah’s prayer was very specific and to the point

Many times we pray prayers that can’t be answered specifically, because we don’t ask anything specifically. Elijah knew what he was praying for and that’s what he prayed for. He prayed for rain. Often, particularly in public prayer meetings, there is too much praying with vague generalities. Spurgeon speaks to this in his humorous way:

“I know a church which is endowed with an excellent deacon, a real godly man, but he will pray without ceasing at every meeting, and I fear he will pray the prayer meeting down to nothing unless he is soon taken home. The other night, when he had talked for a full twenty minutes, he intimated, both to heaven and earth, that all he had said was merely a preface, a drawing near as he called it, and that he was then going to begin. None of his friends were pleased to receive that information, for they had begun to cherish the hope that he would soon have done. They were all too sadly aware that now he would pray for ‘our beloved country’, ‘from the Queen upon the throne to the peasant in the cottage’, then for Australia and all the Colonies, and then for China and India, starting off afresh with kindly expressions for the young and for the old, for the sick, for sailors, and for the Jews. As a rule, nothing was really asked for by this estimable brother, but he uttered several pious remarks on all subjects and many more”

Notice, nothing was really asked for, just pious remarks.

4. Elijah’s prayer was marked by expectancy

He kept sending his servant to look and to see if God had answered. Do you ever pray about certain things but then get up and forget about it? How often, I fear, we’re not really expecting an answer and looking for it. The prayer that expects no answer will probably never receive an answer. When you send someone an important email what do you do? You keep going back to check your inbox for a response. Or when you send an important letter, you go out to the mailbox everyday looking for a return. If you really believe that getting an answer is important and you really believe that the person to whom you sent the email, or the letter, will eventually respond you keep looking for that response. That’s what Elijah was doing, and that’s what we must do in prayer.

5. Elijah was persistent in his prayer

Six times Elijah’s servant came back with the answer that nothing was happening. It wasn’t until the seventh time that Elijah received an encouraging report. Why does God sometimes delay? Why did God delay in answering Elijah’s prayer in our text? We can’t always know. But this example, and others like it in scripture, are intended to teach us a lesson. They teach us that we must continue in prayer and be persistent. We’re not to be silenced by the apparent silence of our Lord. We’re not to give up in the face of hindrances. The Lord Jesus, over and over in the gospels, calls us to importunity, to persistence. He tells us to ask and to seek and to knock. The answer may be delayed but the promise is true and it will come if we faint not. Remember the parable of the persistent widow and the parable of the persistent friend.

God would sometimes test our faith. He would stretch our faith, and perfect our faith, and better prepare us to receive what we ask for by delaying the answer for a time. As we are laboring in prayer working on God, as we think, God is, in fact, working on us. He is probing our hearts. He is causing us to search our motives. He is revealing to us hidden obstacles that stand in the way in our very own hearts. And all the time, while we continue to pray, God is conditioning us to receive the blessing to our maximum benefit and to His maximum glory when the time is right.

Well may God help us to learn to pray like Elijah!

Jeffery Smith

Prayer Meetings and Bold Preaching by Jeff Smith

Acts 4:31: And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

Here in this text we have an example of one of the great needs of the preaching in our day, its source and how to obtain it. What do preachers need to carry on the work that God has given them to do? They need boldness to speak the word of God. What is the source of this boldness? It is the filling of the Holy Spirit. How do we obtain this unction of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in our preaching? This is obtained through prayer. We are told that they prayed that God would grant to his servants boldness to speak his word. And then we read in v.31 that the place was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness. This word “boldness” is the core biblical description of Spirit-filled effective preaching. Boldness is a plain, open, honest, forthright manner of speaking and applying the truth to men that arises from a Spirit given certainty and confidence in the truth felt in the heart of the preacher. There are at least seventeen references in the N.T. to this one quality as a mark of effective preaching.

Furthermore, the N.T. makes this direct connection between effective bold preaching and being filled with the Holy Spirit. We see it here in this text. We see it in Acts 1:8 where Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me.” We see it in Acts 4:8, “Then Peter, filled with Holy Spirit, said to them”…and he began to preach with boldness. Paul could say in I Cor. 2:4, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” This is what is greatly needed if our preaching and the ministry of the word in and through the church is going to be effective. Preachers need this boldness and freedom of speech and in order to have this boldness and assurance and confidence they need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And how is this unction of the Spirit that gives liberty and power in preaching obtained? Well here in Acts 4 we see that it is obtained by prayer.

But here is the important point I wish to make. This is obtained not merely by the prayers of the preacher for himself. The N.T. indicates that the people of God have a vital part in this. The Spirit coming down upon the preached word and giving boldness and unction to the preacher is connected to the prayers of God’s people. I know it may be debated as to whether what we have here at the end of Acts 4 is the whole church praying, or part of the church, or just all of the apostles praying together. But whichever it is, this is a corporate prayer meeting. This is not private individual prayer. This is united corporate prayer and the power of the apostles’ preaching is connected to the prayer meeting. No wonder we see the Apostle Paul begging the people of God to pray for him and for this very thing. In Eph. 6:19 he says, “and (pray) for me that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel….that I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.” The Apostle Paul is asking the people of God to pray for him and for this very gift of utterance in the act of preaching that he might open his mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel.

This is not the only place he does this. In Col. 4:3ff he writes, “Meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open the door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ…that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak”. Again in 2 Thess. 3:1 “Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified”. What we need to see in these passages is that the effectiveness of the preacher is intimately connected to the prayers of God’s people. Paul realized how dependent he was upon their prayers. This spiritual unction was to be obtained for him by the prayers of God’s people earnestly and perseveringly asking for this very thing.

So we can summarize the implication of these passages for every Christian in this way: Each Christian must recognize that it is his or her appointed duty to make consistent supplication for the Spirit’s blessing upon the preaching of God’s word. The prosperity of the church depends upon it. The souls of our children depend upon it. The souls of the lost who attend our services depend upon it. Your own soul, the life and health of your own soul, depends upon it. William Williams, the great Welsh hymn writer and one of the great preachers and leaders of the 18th century revivals in Wales, made it his practice to teach new converts this simple prayer, “Unless I have the power of heaven in the Word of Life I shall die.” That’s how important it is!

Ian Murray in his book The Forgotten Spurgeon says that “some of the most solemn warnings Spurgeon ever gave his congregation were of the danger of their ceasing to be dependent upon God in prayer.” He said, “May God help me, if you cease to pray for me! Let me know the day and I must cease to preach. Let me know when you intend to cease your prayers and I will cry ‘O my God, give me this day my tomb, and let me slumber in the dust.’” Murray comments, “These words were not the eloquence of a preacher; rather they expressed the deepest feelings of his heart. Spurgeon was sure when his congregation should cease to feel their ‘utter, entire, absolute dependence upon the presence of God’, then they, ‘would ere long become a scorn and a hissing, or else a mere log upon the water.’ ”

So let us follow the example of the early church. Let us not cease to pray. Let us not grow weary of prayer meetings. Let us not grow slack in our attendance at prayer meeting. Let us not cut back on prayer meetings; much better instead to add more prayer meetings! If in some church circumstances there is a need to change the times or the days when the church meets to pray, okay, but let us not stop praying. And especially let us constantly pray that God would fill all true ministers of the gospel with the Holy Spirit and with boldness to preach his word with great power and effectiveness.