‘Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops’ James 5:17-18 (NLT)
It is encouraging to read that ‘Elijah was as human as we are’. Certainly the effect of his prayer makes him look so superhuman! Yet the lesson here is that we too can experience God through prayer like Elijah did, if we pray like he prayed. Did you notice that the only distinguishing element of his prayer was his earnestness? That little ingredient makes all the difference. Prayer comes alive when it becomes earnest. Elijah was seriously concerned about the idolatry of his times that he prayed that there would be no rain. So that the people will know that it is God, and not Baal that gave rain. When you pray, how much do you really want what you are asking for? It is not how loud you shout or whether you shed some tears, but rather how much of your heart is in your prayer? A friend once said, ‘God will hear our heart without our lips, but he will not hear our lips without our heart’.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 20 we read of the sudden trouble that befell King Jehoshaphat and indeed all of Judah. A combined force of several armies was coming to attack them. The king knew too well that the only thing that could save him and his people was a divine intervention. So he called for a solemn assembly to ask for God’s help. Now what I want to call to your attention is something in the king’s prayer. In his prayer from verse 6 to verse 12, you will notice that he asks God three questions. The essence of these three questions, and indeed his entire prayer, can be summarised by his first question in verse 6 (NIV),‘O Lord, God…are you not the God …?’ It was not that Jehoshaphat had begun to doubt the person of God. It was just that he had reached a point where he wanted God to manifest Himself and prove to men that He indeed is God.
Earnestness brings us to a point where we are no longer satisfied just to know many things about God and what He can do, but rather we long to see Him manifest in our situation for who He says He is. This was the same earnestness that pushed Elijah to pray. It was earnestness that made him keep praying, seven times, until he got an answer (1 Kings 18:41-44). His was a hunger for reality.
I believe God is happy with this kind of longing. Sometimes spiritual cowardice makes us shrink back from experiencing God. ‘What if nothing happens?’ we reason, ‘will it not make all my profession hollow? Will it not dishonour God if I declare that He will do “so and so” and it doesn’t happen?’ So in our desire to help God ‘save’ His reputation we do not let God help us, thereby missing the opportunity of experiencing God.
I remember how spiritual cowardice nearly robbed me of an opportunity to see God in action. Many years ago, I was part of a small team that was organising an open-air evangelistic outreach in a small town. We had arranged for an evangelist to speak and I was going from door-to-door with a sister to invite the people to the evening meeting. We were telling them to bring the sick, the lame, and the blind because Jesus would heal them all at the outreach venue. Well we got to a certain house and the people there asked why they had to wait till the evening program if we too were messengers of Jesus. They had a woman in the house who had not walked for 2 years. Can our Jesus heal her there and then? I was scared. ‘What if we pray and nothing happens would it not destroy our witness?’ So I asked them to bring her in the evening instead. But the sister with me asked that we pray for her there. So we did. And do you know, when we prayed this woman walked! That sister dared to step out in faith to see God act, and God showed up. God loves it when we dare to take Him at His Word when we pray. It is those who expect Him to do what He says He will do that move Him to action. Like Elijah, let us forget our own reputation and become concerned about His glory. And when this earnestness permeates our praying then the rain will fall! I challenge you, don’t just sing but instead go on a journey through The Word to understand. This will change your Sunday morning worship from singing to powerful encounters.