The Prophet Elijah: An Example of Effective Praying
Now that we know what the requirements for effecting prayer are, it is time to look at an example of what effective prayer actually looks like. And to do that we are going to take a look at the prophet Elijah.
What is the prophet Elijah best known for? He is best known for praying for there to be no rain on the land of Israel, calling down fire from heaven, and then praying for rain to fall again on the land of Israel. But how was he able to do all these things? And why is he considered to be one of the greatest prophet among the people of Israel? The answer to both of these questions is very simple. Elijah prayed effectively. He was able to effectively communicate with God and he was then able to do all the great things that he did. And in order for us to better understand what effective prayer looks like we need to take a close look at the life of the prophet Elijah.
The story of Elijah begins with the confrontation of an evil king and the pronouncement of God’s devine judgement on the evil king and the land that he ruled over. And here is how the story of Elijah is described as beginning in 1 Kings:
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from the Gilead settlers, said to Ahab, “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! ”
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan. You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.”
So he proceeded to do what the LORD commanded. Elijah left and lived at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan. The ravens kept bringing him bread and meat in the morning and in the evening, and he would drink from the wadi. After a while, the wadi dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 1 Kings 17:1-7 CSB
There are a couple of things that we should notice about how Elijah’s story began. The first is that Elijah received a revelation from God and he was not afraid to share it. Why? Because he knew it was from God and because he knew it was from God, he also knew that it was true. And the only way for Elijah to have known this was to have been in constant communication with God. Which means that Elijah was a man of prayer.
The second thing we should notice is that it was only through Elijah’s faith that God would do what Elijah was about to ask God to do, and that unlocked everything else that will happen throughout this incredible story. For you see if Elijah had not had the faith to believe that God would not send the rain, then he would not have had the faith to believe that God would provide him with the provisions that he needed to survive. Which sets us up perfectly for the next two events in Elijah’s life.
In the first major event in the life of Elijah God was telling him to go announce that no rain was going to fall on Israel. Elijah makes this announcement and prays, and the rain doesn’t come. God then provides Elijah with a place of refuge so that he can be sustained so that God’s message could be delivered when it was needed. But eventually this place of refuge ceases to be a place of refuge because the water dries up. However, God provides another place of refuge for Elijah and that is with a widow and her son in foreign country.
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there.” So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate, there was a widow gathering wood. Elijah called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup and let me drink.” As she went to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.” 1 Kings 17:8-11 CSB
We see here that even when Elijah’s place of refuge ceased to be a place of refuge he still had faith that God would provide him with another one. And we, also, see that Elijah never stopped praying. And we are about to see what Elijah’s faith and persistent prayer did for the life of this widow and her son.
But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I don’t have anything baked — only a handful of flour in the jar and a bit of oil in the jug. Just now, I am gathering a couple of sticks in order to go prepare it for myself and my son so we can eat it and die.”
Then Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid; go and do as you have said. But first make me a small loaf from it and bring it out to me. Afterward, you may make some for yourself and your son, for this is what the LORD God of Israel says, ‘The flour jar will not become empty and the oil jug will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the surface of the land.’ ”
So she proceeded to do according to the word of Elijah. Then the woman, Elijah, and her household ate for many days. The flour jar did not become empty, and the oil jug did not run dry, according to the word of the LORD he had spoken through Elijah. 1 Kings 17:12-16 CSB
Twice so far in the story of Elijah we have seen this phrase: “Then the word of the Lord came to him”. How did “the word of the Lord” come to Elijah. It came to him through prayer. It was because Elijah was in constant effective communication with God that he was able to receive God’s answer and God’s solutions to his problems. And we are about to see this pay big dividends for him.
The next event in the life of Elijah again involves the same widow, who had been providing food and shelter for Elijah. For you see her son falls ill and dies. And who does she turn to. She turns to Elijah, because she knows that he has the ear of God.
After this, the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. His illness got worse until he stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “Man of God, why are you here? Have you come to call attention to my iniquity so that my son is put to death? ”
But Elijah said to her, “Give me your son.” So he took him from her arms, brought him up to the upstairs room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to the LORD and said, “LORD my God, have you also brought tragedy on the widow I am staying with by killing her son? ” Then he stretched himself out over the boy three times. He cried out to the LORD and said, “LORD my God, please let this boy’s life come into him again! ”
So the LORD listened to Elijah, and the boy’s life came into him again, and he lived. Then Elijah took the boy, brought him down from the upstairs room into the house, and gave him to his mother. Elijah said, “Look, your son is alive.”
Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know you are a man of God and the LORD’s word from your mouth is true.” 1 Kings 17:17-24 CSB
We see here that Elijah’s effective prayer led a woman to bring her problems to the only person she knew who could offer her a solution. Elijah’s effective prayer brought this woman hope. Hope that this same man who told her that her flour and oil weren’t going to run out could also bring her son back to life. We, also, see Elijah’s persistence in his prayer. He kept calling on God until God answered his prayer. We, also, again see Elijah’s faith. Elijah never doubted that God would and that God could bring that dead boy back to life. We, also, see that Elijah had the right attitude in his prayer. He didn’t ask for this boy to be brought back to life for his sake or for the boy’s mother’s sake, but so that God’s power could be displayed. And it was and it will be again in the next event in Elijah’s life in an even bigger way.
Now we come to the climax, the high point, of Elijah’s life. He has been faithful and persistent in his communication with God. And not only that he has come to God with the right attitude, and he has been actively living out God’s will for his life. And all of this is about to result in something big happening not just for Elijah, but for the people of Israel also.
After a long time, the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year: “Go and present yourself to Ahab. I will send rain on the surface of the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. 1 Kings 18:1-2 CSB
Once again we see that Elijah was in constant and persistent communication with God. And that persistence has finally paid off because Elijah is told to go and present himself to the King, because the rain is finally going to come. And what does Elijah do he goes to present himself to the King.
The famine was severe in Samaria. Ahab called for Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. Obadiah was a man who greatly feared the LORD and took a hundred prophets and hid them, fifty men to a cave, and provided them with food and water when Jezebel slaughtered the LORD’s prophets. Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go throughout the land to every spring and to every wadi. Perhaps we’ll find grass so we can keep the horses and mules alive and not have to destroy any cattle.” They divided the land between them in order to cover it. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went the other way by himself.
While Obadiah was walking along the road, Elijah suddenly met him. When Obadiah recognized him, he fell facedown and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah? ” 1 Kings 18:2-7 CSB
We see here that the time was right for the people of Israel to hear Elijah’s message. And we see the importance of being in constant and effective communication with God. Because if Elijah tried to go to Ahab or to the people of Israel outside of God’s perfect time it would have been disastrous. Elijah knew that now was the right time because he had been told by God that it was.
“It is I,” he replied. “Go tell your lord, ‘Elijah is here! ’ ”
But Obadiah said, “What sin have I committed, that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to put me to death? As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent someone to search for you. When they said, ‘He is not here,’ he made that kingdom or nation swear they had not found you.
“Now you say, ‘Go tell your lord, “Elijah is here! ” ’ But when I leave you, the Spirit of the LORD may carry you off to some place I don’t know. Then when I go report to Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me. But I, your servant, have feared the LORD from my youth. Wasn’t it reported to my lord what I did when Jezebel slaughtered the LORD’s prophets? I hid a hundred of the prophets of the LORD, fifty men to a cave, and I provided them with food and water. Now you say, ‘Go tell your lord, “Elijah is here! ” ’ He will kill me! ”
Then Elijah said, “As the LORD of Armies lives, in whose presence I stand, today I will present myself to Ahab.” 1 Kings 18:8-15 CSB
We see here that nobody really believed that Elijah would actually confront those who had helped lead the people of Israel astray. Not even a man who had helped other “prophets” escape from the wrath of the evil society they lived in. And why did they not believe that Elijah would confront the forces of evil in his society? Because they lacked faith in God. They truly believed that no one was able to stand up to the evil that was running rampant in their society. But Elijah knew that he could because he had been commanded by God. And to Elijah that was all that mattered.
Up until this point in the life of Elijah he has only confronted the evil in the land of Israel once, and that was when he told Ahab that it would not rain until Elijah prayed for it to rain. Now we come to the ultimate show down between Elijah and God and Ahab and the forces of evil.
Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him. Then Ahab went to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one ruining Israel? ”
He replied, “I have not ruined Israel, but you and your father’s family have, because you have abandoned the LORD’s commands and followed the Baals. Now summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 1 Kings 18:16-19 CSB
If you will notice Elijah is no longer playing around with Ahab and the forces of evil surrounding him. Elijah knows that God is about to something and he is not afraid to call out those who have led the people of Israel astray. We all know what happens next. It is probably the most famous story told about a prophet in the entire Old Testament.
So Ahab summoned all the Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. 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.
Then Elijah said to the people, “I am the only remaining prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 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. 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.”
All the people answered, “That’s fine.”
Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Since you are so numerous, choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first. Then call on the name of your god but don’t light the fire.”
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.
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! ” They shouted loudly, and cut themselves with knives and spears, according to their custom, until blood gushed over them. All afternoon they kept on raving until the offering of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound; no one answered, no one paid attention.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near me.” So all the people approached him. Then he repaired the LORD’s altar that had been torn down: Elijah took twelve stones — according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel will be your name” — and he built an altar with the stones in the name of the LORD. Then he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold about four gallons. Next, he arranged the wood, cut up the bull, and placed it on the wood. He said, “Fill four water pots with water and pour it on the offering to be burned and on the wood.” Then he said, “A second time! ” and they did it a second time. And then he said, “A third time! ” and they did it a third time. So the water ran all around the altar; he even filled the trench with water.
At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, 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. 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.”
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. When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “The LORD, he is God! The LORD, he is God! ”
Then Elijah ordered them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let even one of them escape.” So they seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and slaughtered them there. Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a rainstorm.”
So Ahab went to eat and drink, but Elijah went up to the summit of Carmel. He bent down on the ground and put his face between his knees. Then he said to his servant, “Go up and look toward the sea.”
So he went up, looked, and said, “There’s nothing.”
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
On the seventh time, he reported, “There’s a cloud as small as a man’s hand coming up from the sea.”
Then Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Get your chariot ready and go down so the rain doesn’t stop you.’ ”
In a little while, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and there was a downpour. So Ahab got in his chariot and went to Jezreel. The power of the LORD was on Elijah, and he tucked his mantle under his belt and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. 1 Kings 18:20-45 CSB
There are a couple things that we should pay attention to here for this the most important event in Elijah’s life. The first is that this was not a battle between Elijah and evil, but it was a battle between God and evil. The second thing is that Elijah already knew the outcome because he had already fought the battle before he ever set foot on Mt. Carmel. What this means is that Elijah fought his battles on his knees in prayer. The third and final thing that we see is that healing for the land of Israel only came about through and because of the prayer of Elijah.
The next series of events in Elijah’s life come about as a result of his direct confrontation of the evil plaguing Israel. And here are what those events are:
Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “May the gods punish me and do so severely if I don’t make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow! ”
Then Elijah became afraid and immediately ran for his life. When he came to Beer-sheba that belonged to Judah, he left his servant there, but he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough! LORD, take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers.” Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree.
Suddenly, an angel touched him. The angel told him, “Get up and eat.” Then he looked, and there at his head was a loaf of bread baked over hot stones, and a jug of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. Then the angel of the LORD returned for a second time and touched him. He said, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” So he got up, ate, and drank. Then on the strength from that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. He entered a cave there and spent the night.
Suddenly, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah? ”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of Armies, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life.”
Then he said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the LORD’s presence.”
At that moment, the LORD passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah? ”
“I have been very zealous for the LORD God of Armies,” he replied, “but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life.”
Then the LORD said to him, “Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you are to anoint Hazael as king over Aram. You are to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Then Jehu will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Jehu. But I will leave seven thousand in Israel — every knee that has not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:1-18 CSB
As you can see after the prior events Elijah himself was need of a healing. And we see that God provided that healing not because Elijah asked for it, but because Elijah had been faithful in his service to God. And it was Elijah’s devotion to God that made him such an effective prayer. And it is what you can do to make your prayers more effective. And the first step to doing that is to give your life to God. And you do that through accepting his free gift of salvation. If you are ready to commit yourself to God then pray this simple prayer:
Dear God, I know that my sin has separated me from you. Thank you that Jesus Christ died in my place. I ask Jesus to forgive my sin and to come into my life. Please begin to direct my life. Thank you for giving me eternal life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.