Robert Jeffress - Practice The Principles Of Powerful Praying
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. As a churchgoer, you've likely heard your pastor give persuasive arguments about the power of prayer. And there's plenty of scripture to affirm that that's true. But do you honestly feel like your prayers make any real difference? Over the past few weeks, we've been uncovering seven secrets from the story of Elijah's life. And today, we'll discover secret number five for an extraordinary life. And it's based on Elijah's dramatic and effective prayers on Mount Carmel. My message is titled, "Practice the principles of powerful praying" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
A local baptist church was adamantly opposed to a bar that was being constructed in their little town. Not knowing what else to do, they decided to have an all-night prayer meeting to pray against the bar. And not long after their prayer meeting broke up, lightning struck the bar that was under construction and absolutely consumed it in fire. The bar owner was furious and he launched a lawsuit against the church, claiming they were responsible. The church hired an attorney, claiming they had no responsibility whatsoever for the loss of the bar. The judge presiding over the case said, "I don't know how this is going to turn out, but one thing is clear, the bar owner believes in the power of prayer, and the church does not".
You know, too many of us, like the pastor, have a philosophy, when all else fails, pray. But for the prophet Elijah, prayer was not a last resort. It was the first line of action against impossible situations. And that's why Elijah was such an extraordinary person. Even though he was an ordinary man, God used him in an extraordinary way. And that's what we're going to talk about, today and next time, about how Elijah is a perfect demonstration of someone who unleashed the power of prayer in his life. Our study of Elijah has brought us to 1 Kings 18. If you have your Bibles, turn there. We've come now to the most familiar episode in Elijah's life. When people think of Elijah, this is what they think of: the famous contest between the Gods on top of Mount Carmel. The real focus of this story is Elijah's prayer that brought down the fire of heaven.
Yes, Elijah is to be commended for his courage in confronting these prophets of Baal and Asherah. After all, he was outnumbered 850 to one. But the reason we're talking about this story almost 3.000 years after it happened, was not because of Elijah's courage but because of his faith in the power of prayer. And so today and next time, as we talk about powerful praying, we're going to look at the prelude, the prerequisites, the principles and the practice of powerful praying. How's that for an alliteration? But hopefully it's something that you'll remember. Let's first of all look at the prelude to powerful praying. And remember, the followers, the prophets of Baal and Asherah, Asherah was the female companion of Baal, these prophets of these false Gods were sincere in their beliefs. They were as sincere in their beliefs as Elijah was in his belief in the true God. They were sincere but they were sincerely wrong.
Sincerity is not the key to being right in life. You've gotta be sure your faith is in the right object. They were sincerely wrong in their belief in the power of Baal. And so God wanted to clear up this matter once and for all and he moved in Elijah's heart to propose this contest on the top of Mount Carmel. Under God's direction, Elijah told Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal and Asherah and the people of Israel to assemble on Mount Carmel where they would have this contest between Baal and Jehovah. The rules of the contest were very simple. Elijah stood on one side, the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah stood on the other. Each would take an ox and cut it up and put it on their respect altars without lighting the fire.
Now look at verse 24. Elijah said "Then you", that is, prophets of Baal, "call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God. And all of the people answered and said, 'that's a good idea'". Verse 25, "So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, 'choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it'. Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it, and they called on the name of Baal from morning until noon". That's from 9:00 a.m. 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". What is true of Baal is true of all false gods. Whether those gods are named money, career, sex. Whatever the false God is, that god is absolutely powerless to hear our voice and to answer our prayers.
The Psalmist wrote about the impotence of false gods, and Psalm 115, beginning with verse four, "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak: they have eyes, but they cannot see: they have ears, but they cannot hear: they have noses, but they cannot smell: they have hands, but they cannot feel: they have feet, but they cannot walk: they cannot make a sound with their throat". You have these false prophets begging Baal to answer them. But he doesn't answer from 9:00 until noon. Now remember, noon was when the sun shone the brightest. Certainly, this could have been a time for an instantaneous fire, to lap up their sacrifice. But it didn't happen. Look at verse 27, "And it came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them". Well that mocking just sent them into a frenzy. Verse 28, they started yelling louder, they started cutting themselves, engaging in self-mutilation, thinking that Baal would be impressed by all of that.
Look at verse 29, "And it came about when midday was past, that 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". And now it's Elijah's turn, verse 30. "Then Elijah said to all the people, 'come near to me'. So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord". Literally, he healed "The altar of the Lord which had been torn down". Then verse 31, "And Elijah took 12 stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, 'Israel shall be your name'. So with those stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed".
We understand why he built the altar, to put the sacrifice on it. But why did he build a trench around that altar? Elijah ordered the servants to go down to the nearby Mediterranean sea and bring water up and to douse that ox in water. And then Elijah ordered them to do it a second time, and a third time, until there was so much water that it was overflowing the altar and filled up the trench around the altar. What Elijah was saying was, "I'm gonna make this as difficult as possible so that when this fire comes, there be no doubt where it came from". And that's the prelude to powerful praying. The prelude to powerful praying is a difficult, impossible situation. That's what we see being created here. A difficult situation.
You know, God does not despair over difficult situations. He delights in them. Because difficult situations are an opportunity for God to provide and prove his supernatural power. The prelude to powerful praying is an impossible situation. Now before we see how God answered Elijah's prayer in a spectacular way, let's look at the prerequisites to powerful praying. Before we can expect God to answer powerfully, there are some conditions to powerful praying. You know, pagans think a certain way and so they pray a certain way. Jesus talked about that. In Matthew 6:7-8, he contrasted the way gentiles or pagans pray, and the way we should pray. Look at verses seven and eight, "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. Therefore do not be like them for your father knows what you need before you ask him".
God is not impressed by the number of words we offer. He's not impressed by the choice of words. No, the key Jesus said to powerful praying is not the number of words but the choice of words. But there are three conditions or prerequisites to powerful praying. What are they? Number one, a right relationship with God. Powerful praying begins with a right relationship with God. In James 5:16, James said "The effective prayer of a righteous man", a righteous person, "Can accomplish much". He could have been referring to Abraham who was a friend of God. He could have been talking about David, a man after God's own heart. But he wasn't. He was talking about Elijah. If you read James five, you'll find in the next verse, he uses Elijah as the example of a righteous person whose prayer accomplishes much. So what does it mean to be righteous? Well it means to be in a right relationship with God. That's what righteous means. A right relationship with God.
Now this is gonna make the Bible a lot clearer to you if you'll remember this. People trip over this word, righteousness. The Bible uses righteousness in two distinct ways. Sometimes when you read the word righteous or righteousness, it's talking about our judicial righteousness. Before we are saved, we are guilty before God, deserving hell. But the moment we trusted Jesus and Jesus alone, for our salvation in the great courtroom of heaven, God swings the gavel down and declares us not guilty. Our judicial righteousness just doesn't give us a right standing before God. It gives us a relationship with God. In fact in Galatians 4:6-7, Paul explains it this way, he said, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba, Father'! Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son: and if a son, then an heir through God".
That gives us confidence in coming to God. He is our daddy, our papa. In fact, we are on the very same level with God, Paul says, "As God's own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ". When the Bible says, "Elijah was a righteous man", it first of all referred to his judicial righteousness. He was in a right standing with God because of his faith in God's forgiveness. But that term righteousness has a second use in the Bible. Beyond judicial righteousness, it sometimes refers to ethical righteousness, or sometimes I call it practical righteousness. It's the way we act after we're saved.
Judicial righteousness refers to our right standing before God. Ethical righteousness refers to our right acting before God. And that leads to a second prerequisite for answered prayer. Obedience to God's commands. Make no mistake about it. God hears and answers the prayers of those who obey him. And he turns away from the prayers of those who disobey him. In 1 Peter 3:11, remember the Word of God says, "Turn away from evil and do good". Verse 12 says, "For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil". Disobedience to God's will and powerful praying, they don't mix together. And one reason people don't experience obedience to their prayers is because of disobedience in their life. God honors the prayer of the righteous.
"Pastor, are you saying you have to be perfect in order for God to answer your prayer"? No. When I talk about ethical righteousness, I'm not talking about perfection. That's impossible for any of us. But ethical practical righteousness involves two things, write them down. First of all, it involves the primary desire of our life. The primary desire of our life. Somebody who is truly righteous has made pleasing God the focus of his life. You know in 2 Corinthians 5:9, Paul says, "Therefore whether we're at home or absent, our desire, our ambition, is to be pleasing to him". Somebody who is righteous has as his primary desire in life the desire to please God. Doesn't mean he always pulls it off. But he always wants to pull it off. Secondly, practical righteousness refers to the primary direction of our life. Are we moving toward God or away from God?
You know I heard David Jeremiah say recently the Christian life is like riding a bicycle. You're either moving forward or you fall off. You don't standstill. You don't go backwards. You're moving forward or you fall off. That's true in the Christian life. How about you? As you look at the righteousness in your life? What about the desire of your life? Can you honestly say that the greatest desire you have is to please God? Or are you cherishing some secret sin in your life that you think will make you happy? What about the direction of your life? As you look over this past year, or over the past five years, are you moving closer to God or are you moving further away from God? Those who experience powerful answers to their prayers are those who are in a right relationship with God. Not just judicially, they're saved, but also, practically, they're obedient.
There's a third prerequisite for powerful praying and that is an unshakeable faith. As you look at scripture, there is an inseparable link between faith and answered prayer. Just look at some of these verses I've jotted down for you, Matthew 17:20, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'move from here to there', and it will move: and nothing will be impossible to you". Or Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith, it is impossible to please God. For he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him". Or James 1:5-6, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting". Or James 5:15, "The prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him".
You see that relationship there between faith and answered prayer? Now here's the question, what does it mean to pray in faith? And this is where so many Christians get it wrong. So many Christians today equate faith with positive thinking. They think if they can just believe that something is gonna happen, hard enough, if they believe it hard enough and long enough, God will be forced to answer their prayer. That's not faith, ladies and gentlemen. That's presumption. That's not what faith is. You know what faith is in the Bible? Faith is believing that God will do what he has promised to do, and acting accordingly. That's why Elijah had such confidence in God. God had already revealed to him, as we'll see next time, what he was to do on top of Mount Carmel. God had told Elijah about this contest. And when Elijah prayed, he was praying in faith, believing that God would consume that sacrifice, just as he had promised to do. What does that mean for you and me to pray in faith?
Listen to this. When we pray for a child or a loved one to be healed from a physical disease, when we pray for a promotion at work, when we pray that a relationship important to us might be healed, we may or may not be praying according to God's will. We just don't know. In those instances, God's will is best seen in the rear view mirror by what happened. So in those situations when we don't specifically know what God's will is, for physical healing, for restoration of a relationship, for material benefit, what are we supposed to do? You know what it means to pray in faith in those situations? It means to boldly ask and quietly trust in God's will. To pray with faith doesn't mean we don't ask God, it means we boldly tell God what is in our heart.
"Lord this is what we want. But then we quietly trust that God will do what is best. Not my will, but your will be done". That's what you call praying in faith. However, when we pray that God would give us power in sharing the Gospel with an unbeliever, when we pray that God would give us victory over temptation and sin in our life, when we pray that God's name would be glorified in our lives, we don't have to have any doubt because we are praying according to the will of God. And that gives us confidence in our prayer. The same kind of confidence in power Elijah experienced on Mount Carmel, when he offered that simple prayer that brought down the fire from heaven. A prayer that we're gonna look at in detail next time.