Summary: What if you didn’t have to force yourself to pray because you were convinced that prayer unleashes the power of God?
WHAT DO YOU SEE WHEN YOU PRAY?
Let me as you a question that might seem contradictory, “What do you see when you pray?” As a camp counselor for a summer I was given supervision of the youngest campers for the week. Ever experienced living with six and seven year olds in a cabin for 12 days? I remember one night leading a prayer time just after ‘lights out.’ One of my six year olds prayed: ‘Dear God, thank you for everything you have made, the birds, the trees, the rocks, the horses, the barn, our counselors, our cabin, our bunks, our light, our fan…’ As I wondering how much longer he was going to pray I opened my eyes and saw him still deep in prayer but looking and pointing around the cabin at the things he was thankful for.
Let me ask it again, “What do you see when you pray?” On one hand, you probably don’t see anything, because your eyes are closed. Or there may be times when you find it hard because you don’t expect anything to happen; perhaps it doesn’t seem like it does any good. Your words bounce off the ceiling, it seems pointless, and you have to force yourself. But what if prayer was more second nature? What if you didn’t have to force it because you were convinced prayer unleashes the power of God?
When you first look at this passage you may think, ‘There’s not much here.’ But look closer. Elijah was a man just like us. Yet he became man of prayer. Let me expand on that. Elijah was fearful, sinful, weak, busy, distracted, just like you and I. But his prayers were heard. Elijah became convinced that God had heard and would answer his prayers. His prayers were means by which God would unleash supernatural power and accomplish things. Does that sound attractive?
We know that prayer is talking with God who created and runs the universe. But we are all frustrated with prayer. Why didn’t God come through? Why didn’t God answer? Yes, we know that we should pray. It is a duty; the Bible says “pray continually.” But doesn’t mean that we want to pray or that we do. In fact, being told that something is a duty that you are obligated to do can actually have the reverse effect. Suppose you see an old friend after many years. You promise to get together again, to keep in touch. You exchange email addresses and phone numbers. Weeks pass. You haven’t followed up on what you know you should have done. Then months pass. You see your friend’s name and cringe. You feel guilty. After a year goes by you haven’t picked up a pen. What happened? The obligation that you should have done has been overwhelmed by guilt at not having done it sooner. Prayer is not an obligation as much as it is essential for life itself. What do you see as you pray? Here are three mental images that I hope will stimulate your prayer life:
1. Talk to God as a sinner. Get the picture of what has just happened in 1 Kings 18. Fire descended in response to Elijah’s prayer. Whoof! The prophets of Baal are seized. Elijah tells Ahab that he hears the sound of rain coming. Then he puts his head between his knees and prays. Think about that. If there was any time that I would feel confident about myself and my prayers, it would be now. I would be doing a victory dance and giving high fives. ‘Wow! God, did you see that? Did you see the look on Ahab’s face? Did you see the prophets of Baal run? How about that fat one that waddled away? Did we show them or what?’
It would have been a natural moment of vindication for Elijah. But he didn’t celebrate the victory because he still saw himself as a sinner. This is a healthy image to have of yourself when you pray. Even the cherubs who had never sinned that Isaiah saw (chapter 6) covered their faces in the presence of God. Talking to God as a sinner means being conscious of my need; by nature I am weak, impatient, impulsive, self-centered, and tempted to ‘live by the seat of my pants.’
Right now as I serve the God of the Bible, I need of Jesus—as I pray, teach, or serve. I have mixed and impure motives, even in best things that I do. And the best things that I have ever done are still tainted and unacceptable to a truly holy God. Sometimes when you preach, you get a sense that ‘something is happening,’ that the Holy Spirit is speaking to heart of someone and getting through. That doesn’t always happen, of course. And even when I am not aware of it, the Holy Spirit can touch someone powerfully. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the sermon is good. And it doesn’t make you proud. It makes you very humble and grateful that God did something bigger than you could possibly have done. It is a reminder that God really is on his throne.