A. One day three preachers sat discussing the best positions for prayer while a telephone repairman worked nearby.
1. One of the preachers said, “Kneeling is definitely best and most effective position for prayer.”
2. “Not so,” another preacher contended, “I get the best results in prayer by standing with my hands outstretched toward Heaven.”
3. “You’re both wrong,” the third preacher insisted, “The most effective prayer position is lying prostrate, face down on the floor.”
4. The telephone repairman who had been listening decided to interject his opinion, “Excuse me, fellas, but the best praying I ever did was hanging upside down from a telephone pole.”
B. Although the best position for effective prayer may be debatable, I think we all can agree that prayer is important and that prayer is powerful.
1. And this is one of the promises of God that gives us hope – Your prayers, and my prayers, have power!
2. And this is an especially important promise that leads to victory in the spiritual battles we are engaged in.
3. On Wednesday nights this quarter we have been studying Ephesians 6 and the spiritual armor that we need to be able to take our stand in the battle against Satan.
4. That section of Ephesians 6 about the armor of God ends with a command to pray: Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints (Eph. 6:18).
5. Why do we need to pray? Because our prayers have power.
6. Why do our prayers have power? Because God hears and answers our prayers.
C. This is God’s promise to us – He hears and answers our prayers.
1. Jesus told us so – in Matthew 18:19-20, Jesus said: “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” ”
2. Just let those words of promise sink in.
3. When we pray together in Jesus name, heaven takes note.
4. When we pray together in Jesus name, God the Father listens.
5. And God not only listens, our prayers impact the actions of God.
D. The Bible is full of examples of God responding to the prayers of His people.
1. In 1 Samuel 1, we read about Hannah who had been unable to have children and for a long time she prayed earnestly for a son whom she could devote to the Lord, and God granted her request.
2. Hezekiah, the King of Judah, prayed after being told that he was going to die, and the Lord heard his prayer and added 15 years to his life (2 Kings 20:2-6).
3. Nehemiah prayed about the devastated city of Jerusalem, and the Lord used him to lead the people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
4. Jonah, after disobeying God found himself in the belly of a big fish, but he prayed to God even from that place of predictament, and God rescued him.
E. These are all great examples of the fact that our prayers have power, but perhaps the greatest example of prayer power is the example of Elijah the prophet.
1. When James wrote his letter to the church and wanted to teach about the importance of prayer and the power of prayer, he held up Elijah as exhibit A.
2. James wrote: The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. 17 Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit (James 5:16b-18).
3. Elijah lived 8 centuries before the birth of Jesus and he prophesied to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
a. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had 20 kings and all of them were evil.
b. But the evilest of them all was King Ahab.
c. Scripture gives this sad commentary on his life: 25 Still, there was no one like Ahab, who devoted himself to do what was evil in the Lord’s sight, because his wife Jezebel incited him. 26 He committed the most detestable acts by following idols as the Amorites had, whom the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites (1 Kings 21:25-26).
4. This was a dark a time as we ever read about in the history of Israel, and against the backdrop of one of the most dark and evil kings, came the bright light of Elijah the prophet.
a. The name “Elijah” means “My God is Jehovah,” and Elijah certainly lived up to his name.
b. Elijah approached King Ahab and gave him this unsolicited weather forecast: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, in whose presence I stand, there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!” (1 Kings 17:1)
c. How long was there no rain on the land of the northern kingdom of Israel? 3 ½ years.
d. How could Elijah have been so confident of the impending drought that he predicted? Because he had prayed.
5. Elijah’s weather forecast had a spiritual purpose.
a. King Ahab had led the people of Israel into the worship of the pagan god named Baal.
b. Baal was the fertility god of the pagans, and was the god they looked to for rain and fertile fields.
c. For 3 ½ years the people of Israel prayed to the god of Baal for rain and crops, but they received neither.
d. And as you can imagine, the drought and famine caused them great suffering, and it made King Ahab very angry at Elijah whom God had sent into hiding.
e. After the 3 ½ years was up, God told Elijah to go present himself to King Ahab, because God was going to send rain.
6. Elijah went and presented himself to King Ahab and challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to see whose god was the real God.
a. The Bible says: 20 So Ahab summoned all the Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word. (1 Kings 18:20-21)
b. What happened next is one of the greatest stories in the Bible.
c. Elijah told the 450 prophets of Baal that they could go first: 23 Let two bulls be given to us. They are to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the wood but not light the fire. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire, he is God” (1 Kings 18:23-24).
d. So the prophets of Baal agreed and went first: So they took the bull that he gave them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “Baal, answer us!” But there was no sound; no one answered. Then they danced around the altar they had made (1 Kings 18:26).
e. Elijah had a good sense of humor, but would have flunked the course diplomacy and sensitivity training.
f. The Bible says: 27 At noon Elijah mocked them. He said, “Shout loudly, for he’s a god! Maybe he’s thinking it over; maybe he has wandered away; or maybe he’s on the road. Perhaps he’s sleeping and will wake up!” (1 Kings 18:27)
g. Even though the prophets of Baal cut themselves and raved all afternoon, nothing happened; there was no answer from their god.
7. Finally, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah asked for his turn.
a. After building his altar, digging a trench around it, arranging the wood, and placing the bull on it, Elijah did a very usual thing – he ordered them to pour water over his sacrifice and altar.
b. Keep in mind this is a time of drought, and yet he had them fill four water pots and pour it on his altar, and he had them do the same thing three times.
c. His altar and wood were so wet and the water filled the trench he had dug.
d. Let me ask the experienced campers in our Trail Life and American Heritage Girls troops: When you build a camp fire is it a good idea to pour a lot of water over the wood to get it really wet?
e. Certainly not. That is a terrible idea. If you are trying to start a fire, you want the driest kindling and wood. Right?
f. So why did Elijah have them pour so much water over his altar and wood?
g. Answer: He wanted everyone to know this was a miracle done by God, he didn’t want anyone to be able to say he had done a trick and had lit the fire without them noticing.
8. So after the prophets of Baal had poured all that water on Elijah’s altar, the Bible says: The prophet Elijah approached the altar and said, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:36b-37).
9. Let’s note how quickly God answered Elijah’s prayer: 38 Then the Lord’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39).
F. God delighted in hearing Elijah’s prayer, and God answered Elijah’s prayer in dramatic fashion.
1. Not only did God send fire from heaven to prove He was the one true God, God also sent rain.
2. After Elijah ordered that the prophets of Baal be seized and executed, he told King Ahab: “Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a rainstorm.” (1 Kings 18:41).
3. And the Bible says, “In a little while, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and there was a downpour” (1 Kings 18:45).
4. It had not rained for 3 ½ years because of Elijah’s prayer, and now it was raining because of Elijah’s prayer.
G. Let’s go back to James’ commentary on this incident from his letter to the church.
1. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. 17 Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit (James 5:16b-18).
2. James was impressed that a prayer of such power came from a person so common.
3. James says “Elijah was a human being as we are.”
4. Do you hear that? Do you understand it?
5. We want to think that Elijah was some super human, super special person – someone unlike us in every way.
6. James’ point is the exact opposite – Elijah was just like we are – just a human being.
7. We, human beings, can walk in righteousness and faith, just like Elijah and have prayer power.
H. So God delighted in hearing and answering Elijah’s prayer, just like God delights in hearing and answering our prayers.
1. But why is that? Why would our prayers matter so much to God?
2. We can’t even get the plumber we leave a message for to call us back, so why would God take our call and answer it?
3. The answer is because we matter to God.
4. Do you remember some of the other promises we have been learning about?
a. You are somebody important to God, because you are made in His image!
b. You have a spiritual inheritance, because you are a child of God, a trust-fund kid!
5. Our prayers matter to God because our prayers come from God’s children.
I. Consider this illustration: What if you owned a successful business with many employees.
1. As a good business person, you try to value and have consideration for each of your employees.
2. But even though you try to be fair with all your employees, you treat 3 of them with partiality.
3. Why do you treat those three employees with partiality? They are your children.
4. While you listen to all the requests of your employees, you listen in a special way to the requests of your children.
5. After all, they are being trained to run the family business.
J. And here’s the powerful and cool thing about that illustration – we are children of God and as God’s children, we have a role in running the family business – the kingdom of God.
1. As God’s children, we have been given authority in the present and a role in the future.
2. This life we are living is an on-the-job training for eternity.
3. God is preparing us to reign with Him in heaven.
4. The Apostle Paul tells us “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12).
5. Revelation 5:10 says: “You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
6. We are part of God’s family and ruling the universe and kingdom is the family business.
7. And so, when you and I, as God’s children, seek to honor the family business, God hears and answers our requests.
K. Look at these promises of Jesus about prayer:
1. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).
2. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
3. “I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you” (John 15:16).
4. “Truly I tell you, anything you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:23-24).
5. Similarly, John writes: 14 This is the confidence we have before him: If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked of him (1 John 5:14-15).
6. James gave us a similar insight, when he wrote: You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:2b-3).
7. What we learn from these verses is that when God’s children pray in the name of Jesus, and pray unselfishly according to God’s will, then our prayers have power.
8. God’s children should never be without hope, because we always have the avenue of prayer.
L. I like this quote: “The only place that power comes before prayer is in the dictionary!”
1. God waits to send His power and His provisions until His people pray.
2. Why is it that we often try everything else before we try prayer?
3. Prayer needs to be our first mode of operation, not our last.
4. Satan knows that there is power in prayer, and that’s why he tries to keep us from praying.
a. Satan will let us have all the potluck dinners we want to have.
b. Satan will let us have all the Christians concerts and rallies we want to have.
c. But Satan doesn’t want us to get serious about praying or to get together for prayer.
d. Satan doesn’t want us to get serious about fasting and praying for holiness and revival in our lives and in our church and in our country.
5. Here’s a powerful quote on prayer: “The great people of the earth today are the people who pray. I do not mean those who talk about prayer; nor those who say they believe in prayer; but I mean those people who take time and pray. These are the people today who are doing the most for God; in winning souls; in solving problems; in awakening churches; and in keep the old earth sweet awhile longer.”
6. Let’s be people active in prayer who know firsthand that our prayers have power.
M. Let me end with this dramatic story of the power of prayer.
1. For 8 decades of the 20th century, Christians in Russia experienced systematic persecution from the communist government.
2. School teachers would hold up a Bible and ask kindergarten students if they had seen such a book in their homes.
a. If the answer was “yes,” then a government official would visit the family.
3. Preachers and church members were imprisoned and never heard from again.
4. The government required preachers to visit their offices once a week to report on any new visitors and to present their sermon topics for approval.
5. This was the world in which a man named Dmitri practiced his faith.
a. He and his family lived in a small village 4 hours from Moscow.
b. The nearest church was a three-day walk, making it impossible for them to attend church more than twice a year.
6. Dmitri began to teach his family Bible stories and verses in their home.
a. Neighbors heard about it and began joining them.
b. When the group grew to 25 people, officials took notice and demanded he stop. He didn’t.
c. When the group reached 50 people, Dmitri was dismissed from his factory job, his wife was fired from her teaching position, and his sons were expelled from school.
d. Still he continued.
7. When the gatherings increased to 75, soldiers burst into the gathering, grabbed Dmitri slapped him around, told him to stop holding meetings or something worse would happen to him.
a. As the officer turned to leave, a small, elderly woman stepped in his path and waved a finger in his face, saying, “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will not survive.”
b. Within two days the officer was dead from a heart attack.
c. The fear of God spread, and 150 people showed up for the next house meeting.
8. Dmitri was arrested and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
a. His jail cell was so small that he needed only one step to reach each wall.
b. He was the only believer among 1500 prisoners.
c. The officials tortured him and the prisoners mocked him, but he kept his faith.
9. Every morning at daybreak, Dmitri stood by his bed, faced eastward, raised his arms to God, and sang a song of praise.
a. Other prisoners would jeer, but still he sang.
10. Whenever he found a scrap of paper, he scribbled down a verse or two from memory and posted it on the wall of his cell.
a. Officials routinely spotted the papers, removed them, and beat Dmitri, but still he worshiped - this went on for 17 years.
11. On only one occasion did Dmitri almost recant his faith.
a. The guards convinced him that his wife had been killed and his children were wards of the state – a thought more than he could bear.
b. The guards told him if he would renounce his faith, he would be released and could rejoin his children.
c. Dmitri agreed to renounce his faith.
d. The guards told him they would return the next day with a document that made official that he had renounced his faith, all he had to do was sign it and he would be free to go.
12. The officials were sure of their victory – they thought they had finally broken him.
a. What they didn’t know was that when believing people pray, great and powerful things happen.
b. Believing people were praying for Dmitri.
c. 1000 kilometers away that very night, Dmitri’s family sensed a special burden to pray for him.
d. Dmitri’s family knelt in a circle and interceded passionately for his protection.
e. Miraculously, the Lord allowed Dmitri to hear the voices of his loved ones as they prayed.
f. He knew his family was safe at home and he knew they were keeping the faith.
13. The next morning when the guards came for his signature, they saw a renewed man – his face was calm and his eyes were resolute.
a. Dmitri told them, “I am not signing anything! Last night God let me hear the voices of my wife and children and my brother praying for me. You lied to me! I now know that my wife is alive and physically well. I know that my sons are with her. I also know that they are all still in Christ. So I am not signing anything!”
b. The officials beat him and threatened to execute him, but Dmitri’s resolve only increased.
c. He still worshipped in the mornings and posted verses on the wall.
14. Finally, the authorities had all they could take.
a. They dragged Dmitri from his cell toward the place of execution.
b. As they did, 1500 criminals raised their hands and began to sing the song of praise they had heard Dmitri sing each morning.
c. The guards released their hold on him, stepped back and asked, “Who are you?”
d. Dmitri said, “I am a son of the living God, and Jesus is His name!”
15. Dmitri was taken back to his cell and sometime later he was released and returned to his family.
N. You and I will likely never find ourselves in a Russian prison, but we may find ourselves in an impossible situation.
1. We may feel like quitting on God and on everything else.
2. That’s when I want to encourage all of us to remember today’s promise – be sure to write it where you will see it every day: my prayers have power.
3. James 5:16: The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. (CSB)
a. “When a believing person prays, great things happen.” (New Century Version)
4. Prayer should not be our last resort, but our first step and constant practice.
5. God has power like we’ve never seen, and strength we’ve never known.
6. God delighted in and answered Elijah’s prayer.
7. God delighted in and answered the prayers of Dmitri and his family.
8. And God delights in and will answer our prayers as well.
9. Our prayers have power – that is God’s promise to us, so let’s keep on praying!
Resources: Unshakable Hope, Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson, 2018