Cash in your prayers
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‘Elijah said to Ahab, "Go,eat and drink for there is the sound of heavy rain."’
1 Kings 18:41
This follows on from one of the most dramatic high points in the Old Testament when, in a ‘competition’ between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, God vindicated his servant and established his Lordship by sending down fire to consume the sacrifice on the altar laid on Mount Carmel. Up to this point there had been a terrible drought in Israel as God’s judgement upon their idolatry.
Now Elijah declares it is at an end, there is ‘the sound of heavy rain’. The thing is this: there wasn’t! But so confident is he that in answer to the prayer he is about to offer in v 42, the rain and the end of the drought is as good as real. Where does such confidence come from? James in his letter says that 'Elijah was just like us when he prayed' (5:17) - no-one exceptional. Elijah’s confidence that God will answer prayer comes from the same place as our confidence - his promises in Scripture. 'If you obey my commandments', says God in Deuteronomy 11, I will give the rain for your land. If you turn aside to other gods I will shut up the heavens and there will be no rain'. That is what had happened. But now because the people had publically declared their allegiance to the LORD - 'Yahweh is God', at long last the blessing could be expected. They could now claim that promise of God.
But that rain does not come automatically when the people abandon their false gods, Elijah has to ask for it. This points us to an important lesson about prayer.
God's answer to prayer is a little like those old Bank of England Pound notes we used to have, when, as my Dad would say, ‘a pound was worth a pound’, having written on them 'I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of one pound'. I gather that it used to be possible to go to the Bank of England and collect your little piece of gold on the basis of that promise! But you had to go to the Bank. It was a promissory note. The paper it was written on was worth almost nothing. In the same way God's promises have to be cashed, presented to the bank of heaven for payment if you like. The prayer of faith is the prayer that knows what God has promised and so asks accordingly.
We now know even more than Elijah because we live this side of the cross. We have the full and final revelation of God in the face of his Son Jesus. What did he promise? 'I will be with you always even to the end of the age'; ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'; 'God will give the Holy Spirit to all who ask him'. The Bible is teaming with those sorts of promises. I fear that the reason we often lack confidence in our praying is because we either do not know such promises and the God who makes them or we are simply too afraid to believe them. But the prayer of the man or woman of God arises out of their faith in God even if it is as small as a tiny, almost imperceptible grain of a mustard seed.
Our great prayer-hearing and answering God, my faith is often weak and uncertain and my prayers hesitant and faint hearted, but I thank you that Elijah was someone like me, a child of the covenant, chosen and called to belong to you and used by you. Please continue to accept my prayers as they are offered in the precious name of Jesus and may such answers to prayer fuel my faith. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.