Do I have faith? Do I believe? Because if I do, it's going to show up in my actions.
My despair that situations will never improve and conflicts won’t ever resolve means I have more faith in what WON’T happen, than in what God can do.
I am not believing in faith if I pray while telling Him I don’t really expect an answer, or make excuses for how God can’t answer THIS prayer. God doesn’t need me to provide Him an out.
How do I pray in faith when the answer looks impossible?
My hope is in the Lord. Let’s look at an example.
Elijah and the Rain
Elijah was always in trouble. The King and Queen of Israel were Ahab and Jezebel, and if you know anything of Biblical history, you know there were not two worse leaders. If you want to be hated, try being a prophet to evil leaders who would really prefer you to be dead.
As a prophet, Elijah felt lonely and assailed from all sides.
- Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal's prophets are 450 men. (1 Kings 18:22)
Now we know Elijah wasn’t the ONLY one left. He had just been talking to Obadiah, who was also a faithful prophet. But when you are hounded from all sides it FEELS as if you are alone. Does it ever seem like it is you against the world? Don’t worry- you are in good company. Standing for the Lord in a world that hates Him is lonely. But we are never ALONE. The fear of being the only one is a lie (not sure why it makes me feel better that Elijah also believed that lie, but it does).
At the point we enter this story of Elijah, Israel was under severe drought- and by severe I mean people-and-livestock-dying kind of drought. So even though Ahab hated Elijah, he needed him to pray for rain.
To the face of his enemy, Elijah boldly proclaimed to King Ahad, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” (1Kg 18:41, ESV) Were there dark clouds on the horizon? Could he smell the hint of rain coming? Was there wind increasing or clouds scuttling across the sky?
Nope. It was dry. The sun beat down and lack of humidity parched their tongues.
BUT. But God.
The same Lord Who would someday calm the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) could also create rain during drought. He is the God "Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains." (Psalm 147:8, ESV)
Elijah heard the sound of rushing rain in his ears of faith. The answer to his prayer was so assured he could hear it.
Leaving King Ahab in the valley, Elijah climbed Mount Carmel with his servant where they could view the distant horizon. Then he humbled himself and PRAYED.
- And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. (I Kings 18:42b, ESV)
Being honest here, I seldom bow down and place my face between my knees when I pray. And by seldom, I mean never. But think of the beautiful picture of complete submission. That posture declares, “God, You are in charge. You, Who are powerful enough to create rain where none exists, deserve my utter obedience.”
After he prayed he sent his servant to look to the horizon for rain. But the servant returned and said, “There is nothing.” (I Kings 18:43b, ESV). So Elijah prayed again and sent his servant AGAIN. Seven times this cycle repeats itself.
How much faith is required to PUBLICLY pray for the impossible? How humbling is it to repeatedly send an observer to look for answers to the prayer? How hard is it to do again after the previous six prayers have not visibly been answered?
There is no duck and cover here. No secret asking, without taking the risk of others knowing what he was praying for.
Elijah kept praying and kept publicly looking for the answer.
Finally after seven times (a number which signifies completion in the Hebrew) the servant returned with the report, "Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising from the sea.” (v. 44b)
Honestly, I think I would find a bit of hope in the cloud. One cloud could encourage me to keep praying, but I really don’t think I would see it as evidence of a complete answer. And I doubt that one, fist-sized cloud on the distant horizon would provide me enough faith to predict a flood.
Elijah, however, saw that puny cloud with eyes of faith. One cloud caused him to send a message to Ahab to get himself on home, because if the king didn’t hurry, his chariot was going to get stuck in the mud.
- And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’" And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. (I Kings 18:44-45, ESV)
All through seven years of drought, during which many prayers must have ascended to heaven, God had waited to respond until this moment, when He dramatically answered Elijah's prayer. This account displays a vibrant example to us of the value and efficacy of persistent prayer.
Here are my take-aways
Elijah’s bold persistence in the face of impossible odds inspires my prayer life. Here are some simple (yet difficult) lessons I need to apply:
- Humbly bow before God, whether physically or attitudinally. He is in charge and my will is subservient to His.
- Pray publicly for impossible things. Don’t be afraid to let people know.
- Keep looking for the answer. Be on the look out. Be expecting. Ask others if they see it yet.
- Have faith to interpret the smallest sign as the beginning of God’s response.
Even if the answer to my prayer looks impossible, or at the least unlikely, I need to pray anyway. I continue faithfully in prayer, asking for a solution, whether it takes seven years or seventy years.
And if, like Elijah, I am bold enough to publicly announce the request, then when it is answered, I should loudly proclaim the power of the Lord. The main focus of all I do should be about showing WHO the Lord is.
At least that is what Elijah thought: Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (I Kings 18:37)