A trilogy on Elijah and Mount Carmel – On prayer and belief

I Kings 18:26-29            “Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, ‘O Baal, answer us.’  But there was no voice and no one answered.  And they leaped about the altar which they made.  It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.’  So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them.  When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.’”

 

I Kings 18:36-37            “At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.’”

 

Matthew 6:5-8               “‘When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.  So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.’”

 

James 1:6-8                  “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

 

The story in I Kings 18 of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel is a classic – one filled with raw courage, God’s patience, the futility of idolatry, and the sovereignty of God.  There are a great many life lessons to be gleaned from this historical encounter roughly 2800 years ago.  However, one clear truth stands out above the others when it comes to prayer and belief.
The first thing that strikes me as I compare and contrast the strategy and manner of operations between the prophets of Baal and Elijah is their prayer life.  The prophets of Baal were devoted prayer warriors, and in this encounter with Elijah on Mount Carmel they prayed with sincere passion, with high energy, with great zeal, and for long hours.  They were so dedicated to their worship that they even induced bodily injury to themselves at times, such that “blood gushed out on them.”  Yet despite their sincere intentions and heartfelt antics their prayers were utterly futile, because they fell into the abyss of nothingness.  They worshipped a lie.  There is a truth here that is as plain as the nose on our face, yet seems to escape so many seemingly intelligent people.  Sincerity, and great intentions, and lofty purpose do not make our cause true and right.  Devotion to a fake or to a lie will always lead to the same result, as the prophets of Baal learned: no voice, no answer, and no one paying attention.
However, Elijah’s prayer provides a great contrast and effective lesson.  Whereas the prophets of Baal prayed and gesticulated for hours with great passion and candor, Elijah’s authentic prayer took less than a minute.  Undeniably both parties were extraordinarily genuine and heartfelt in their praying.  The profound but simple truth is this: the difference in the effectiveness of the two praying parties lies in the true nature of the one being addressed.  Our prayers don’t have to be dramatic, we don’t have to beat or hurt ourselves, and we don’t even have to be wordy or poetic in our speech.  We simply need to go before God, just us and Him, surrendering our souls to His will, and lay our requests before Him, with sincerity and belief that He will answer.  The effectiveness is found in His faithfulness, not our dramatization.
And know this as well – God was not part of Elijah’s story … nor our story either for that matter.  We are part of the story He is writing.  He has given us that invitation, though we did nothing to deserve it.  Elijah knew this intimately well.  In reading I Kings 18 we see that his purpose and motivation were clear – to make known who God is, and that he himself was merely a servant.  This challenge was not to make a name for Elijah, or to advance his own cause or reputation.  This was purely to magnify the Lord God, and to reinstate His Lordship over Israel.  Everything that is done, even the drawing of the hearts of the people, is done by God’s design and purposed action!  Nothing Elijah did was from his will or vainglory, but based upon the word and will of God.
I want so much to be an Elijah!  He had a deeply personal relationship with God … he walked with Him as with a friend, close enough to hear from Him.  His faith was mature enough to unhesitatingly walk in obedience, even at the risk of his own life!  I want to go there – will you go with me?