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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:The Prayer of a Righteous Man, like the Prayer of Elijah, Is Very Powerful and Effective.
Text:1 Kings 17:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Pre-Service Song: Hymn 49: 1-4 (The Spirit, Some from Heaven above)

Sing: Psalm 115: 1, 4, 6 (we proclaim God’s steadfast love over against those who do not believe in him and ridiculed those who do)

Sing: Hymn 65: 1, 4 (If You but Let the Father Guide You)

Sing: Psalm 34: 2, 6 (I sought the Lord in prayer, and he hears us when we call upon him)

Sing: Hymn 14:1, 9, 10 (The Prayer of Habakkuk–Lord, I have heard the tidings.)

Sing: Psalm 17: 3, 4, 6 (we are the apple of God’s eye, and he protects us from all danger).

Read: Deuteronomy 11:13-21; James 5:13-18; 1 Kings 16:29-34.

Text: 1 Kings 17:1

Sermon: The Prayer of a Righteous Man, like the Prayer of Elijah, Is Very Powerful and Effective.

1. Ahab's ungodly rule;

2. Elijah's powerful prayer.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

Occasionally a newspaper article will appear wherein the power of prayer is ridiculed. They will say that those who pray are not any better off than those who do not. Miracles just don't happen.

Some will even supply so-called scientific proof. To make their point they conducted studies of groups of people diagnosed with some terminal illness, whom they divided diagnosed with into two groups: those who pray for healing or let others pray for them, and those who did without prayer. Their conclusion is that the two groups are not any different from each other. And so, according to them, prayer is worthless. You might as well pray to your dead grandfather or a rock. It's all the same.

They will also conclude that none of the other claims of the effectiveness of prayer can be scientifically verified. Take, for example, the simple claim that prayer connects you with God. An article in a newspaper stated, "While this claim may have religious or philosophical implications, it doesn't specify any effect that we could measure in the physical world. How can we tell when someone is more connected to God?"

What are we to think of this? Some may think that there is some truth to these claims. They will think about those who have prayed for certain things, especially for healing, and whose prayers were not answered.

And so, does God hear prayer? Is prayer effective? Does it have the power that James claims it has? Or is it all a fraud?

Well, brothers and sisters, this morning we will see that prayer is indeed very powerful and effective. As a matter of fact, without the prayer of God’s people, God will not act, and he will not fulfil his promises. Not that he is dependent on us, but that is how he keeps us connected to him.

And so let us listen to the preaching this morning under the following theme:

The Prayer of a Righteous Man, like the Prayer of Elijah, Is Powerful and Effective.

1. Ahab's ungodly rule;

2. Elijah's powerful prayer.

If there ever was a time for the need for prayer, it was during the reign of Ahab. It was an awful time that greatly troubled Elijah the Tishbite's righteous soul. It had been only 57 years since the time of the split of the kingdom of Israel when Jeroboam rebelled and broke with his brothers of Judah and Benjamin.

But, a lot has happened since then. The ten northern tribes had seen many civil wars wherein hundreds of thousands of people were killed. The one king was murdered by the next, so thatduring those years two royal dynasties were eradicated through murder.

The southern kingdom, Judah, was not any different. That nation also ceased serving the Lord and constantly rebelled against him.

But now, with Ahab, things go from bad to worse. Whereas the former kings of Israel only perpetuated the sin of Jeroboam, the sin of calf worship, bowing down to the image of an ox, as if that represented God, Ahab was not satisfied with this. He went much further.

He went further than his father, Omri, who was an evil king. Omri was an ambitious and politically astute man who, among many other things, built the city of Samaria, making it more beautiful than Jerusalem itself. Isaiah, in chapter 28:1, called Samaria "a glorious beauty, set on the head of a fertile valley." Omri also had grand ambitions for the northern kingdom beyond its borders and made all kinds of alliances with foreign nations and with his brother Judah to achieve that end.

One of the alliances he made was with Ethbaal, the king of the Sidonians, also known as the Phoenicians. This was very astute, for the Phoenicians, a seafaring nation, had influence and power worldwide. To advance his cause, Omri had his son Ahab marry the king's daughter Jezebel. She was as heathenistic as they come and wanted nothing to do with the God of Israel. She would like nothing better than for the worship of this monotheistic God to be totally eradicated.

The Sidonians were a particularly idolatrous people. They made Baal their principal deity. He was worshiped as the Sun-god, the god of life and fertility. Originally this pagan God was symbolized by a tree. The Sidonian king Hiram, who lived during the time of David and Solomon, went one further and built the Golden pillar in the Temple of Tyre, the capital of Phoenicia. The Golden pillar is much more flattering to the god than a tree trunk.

Ahab made a duplicate of that pillar and erected it in Samaria, the northern kingdom’s capital. Furthermore, Ahab also set up an Asherah pole in honour of the goddess Astarte. After all, Baal also needed a wife. To add injury to insult, he also appointed numerous priests to maintain these gods and serve them.

Ahab also rebuilt Jericho. The Lord God had warned Joshua that anyone who rebuilt the city would be punished. Ahab took no notice. He went right ahead. But then we see fulfilled the curse mentioned in Joshua 6:26 that the builder would lose both his oldest and his youngest sons.

Why did Ahab rebuild Jericho? Because he wanted to rewrite history. The ruins of Jericho reminded God's people how the Lord rescued them from Egypt, brought them into the promised land, and miraculously defeated the enemies before them. Ahab wanted to erase that memory.

That is what those who do not want to reckon with God do. They want to have the glory and honour for themselves. They themselves want to be worshipped.

There is nothing new under the sun. We even see that today in totalitarian regimes. One of the most egregious of which is Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

Ungodly people want to erase history that does not serve their agenda. They want to believe certain things didn't happen.

But you cannot erase the past. You cannot erase your own past either. You must deal with it and learn from it. If you want to function as a person, and as a nation, then you have to deal with where you came from, with your roots, with your history. Ahab wanted nothing to do with Israel's past. He wanted to forge a new path. And that was his undoing.

It is not that Ahab was totally against the worship of the Lord, the God of Israel. He also pretended to worship him. That is clear, for example, from the names he gave to his children. They were Israelite names that included the Lord's name.

As we can read in 1 Kings 18:3, he also had Obadiah in charge of his palace. Obadiah, it says in that passage, was a devout believer of the Lord. Ahab, at times even asked the advice of the prophets of the Lord.

No doubt, Ahab was pricked in his conscience as he thought about the other things he was doing. He knew too much about the Lord God. You can never forget that. Also those from among us who have been brought up in the Lord, and who then later turn away from him. They cannot erase what they have known in their youth. It stays with them.

Because of this, Ahab was a conflicted man. But, it was especially Jezebel who, according to 1 Kings 21:25, urged him on. However, as he pursues his political ambitions, he suspends his conscience. Ultimately religion did not interest him. He was interested in achieving his own ends by hook or by crook.

The problem with Ahab was that he was in love with the things of this world. He was in love with the beauty that this physical world has to offer. That is why he built an opulent palace in Samaria, which was inlaid with ivory. He loved to be the centre of attention and to be a major player in the world.

Those are the things that drove him. Those worldly things made him suspend his conscience. Earthly splendour was much more important to him than divine splendour. He was there to create his own glory rather than seek God’s glory.

Outside of Israel, however, Ahab had a good name. In 1 Kings 20:31, we read that the king of Aram refers to him as a great man. He was admired. He was going places. The northern tribes were becoming a nation to be reckoned with. And it was all due to the clever machinations of Ahab. He was on top of the world. Or so he thought.

2. At this point, the prophet Elijah enters the picture. He appears unexpectedly. Typically a prophet is first introduced. We are given a bit of background about his family etc. That is not the case here. We know nothing about him except that he is a Tishbite from Gilead. Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants to indicate the urgency of the situation by the abruptness of his appearance.

We read in the text that he spoke directly to Ahab. That was quite daring. He went, as it were, right into the lions' den. For he is not welcome there. On the contrary, anybody who speaks against the king puts his life in danger.

Nevertheless, he goes to Samaria, the centre of rebellion against God, and presents himself at the opulent palace of the king of Israel. He rebukes Ahab in no uncertain terms.

He begins by stating, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives." Every word he uses is significant. He first of all uses the word "LORD." Please note that in your Bible every letter is capitalized. Whenever you see that, you know that the Hebrew word "Yahweh" is used.

The name "Yahweh" accentuates God's covenant relationship with his people. It is the name he used when speaking to Moses in the burning bush for the first time. The name means "I am.” The name refers to his presence in the past, the present and the future. It refers to the fact that he is alive. It refers to the fact that he alone is the almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth.

Ahab had treated God as if he did not exist. He thought that it did not matter what god you believed in. Well, says Elijah, God is real and active. He is present now. To make sure that he gets the point, he adds that he lives.

Just picture it. There stands Elijah before the King of Israel, who is attired in all his glory and surrounded by his priests to Baal dressed in all their glory, in their expensive silken robes. But Elijah, as we know from other Scripture passages, is dressed in a simple hairy animal's skin with a leather girdle.

He comes from the backcountry of Gilead. Gilead was a territory on the other side of the Jordan. It was rugged mountain country. It was not the land of the sophisticated. It was a country of hunters and fishermen, and farmers. Elijah did not appear as a refined man.

However, inwardly he was more refined than the opulent king and all his entourage with all its splendour combined. He was full of confidence that the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth, was with him all the way. He knew that as certainty.

That is clear from what he says. For he says that he serves that God. The ESV says that he stands before him. In other words, he sees himself to be in God's presence, standing before his holy throne. He knows that God has made him one of his ambassadors on earth. When he speaks, as he speaks to Ahab, it is as if God is speaking himself.

How can Elijah be so confident? It doesn't say anywhere that the Lord spoke to him directly and commanded him to bring these words to Ahab. That is usually the case when prophets come with their proclamations.

Elijah, however, knows the Word of God. He knows his Scriptures. He knows what the Lord said just before they came into the promised land, namely that he will provide for them and send them rain in its season.

But he also knows that if they do not obey the Lord God, that then, as he says in Deuteronomy 11:17, his anger will burn against them and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain, and so that the ground will not yield will its produce.

When he speaks his judgement upon Ahab, all Elijah does is speak the word of God. All he is doing is stating unequivocally what the Lord God himself has said.

Elijah had no choice. He had to act as he did. How could he do otherwise? Normally you would pray for God's blessings, including the blessings on the crop. For that is what God promises to give to his people. But, he promises that only if you are obedient.

But how could Elijah pray for blessings under these circumstances? How can you pray for blessings when the leadership of the nation and the vast majority of the country itself is in rebellion against God? Elijah had no choice but to pray for the execution of God's justice. For he wants repentance. He wants his name to be honoured.

This was a critical time in the history of God's people. The northern kingdom was about to totally sever their relationship with the Lord God. As you can read further in the book of Kings, there are only a few people left who were still serving the Lord. Indeed, some still alive during Ahab’s rule lived during Solomon's reign before the kingdom was split. People in their late 60s and older would have observed how far the northern kingdom had fallen. If things continue the way they were, then there would be no one left in Israel to serve the Lord.

And that is why Elijah was compelled to go to Ahab to come with God's curse on the land. He told them that there will be neither dew nor rain within the next few years. That is what God said. Therefore, Elijah knew this would also happen.

And that, brothers and sisters, is what prayer is. It is recalling God’s words as they apply to any situation. And God will hear such a prayer. There is no doubt.

That's also the way it is for us. For it says in James that Elijah was a man just like us. He is not any different from you or me. When you pray, then you do so, keeping in mind what God has said in his Word. You keep in mind his promises to those who want to serve him and who believe in him.

But, you also keep in mind the curse upon those who do not want to serve him. An effective prayer can only be done by those who are in tune with the Word of God, by those who believe.

Elijah hoped that Ahab and the rest of God's people would repent. But, sometimes, drastic measures are needed to make that happen.

That was certainly the case here. Ahab thought that God was impotent and that he would not act. He thought that he could do whatever he wanted without incurring God's wrath. That is why he had to be made to realize that God does act; he had to realize the implications, not just for himself but also for God's people, that if they continue to go on the way that they were, God's final curse would come upon them. They would be totally alienated from the Lord God, not only in this life, but in the life to come. The Lord God only wants a people around him who want to glorify him.

Brothers and sisters, our prayers have to do with our covenant relationship with the Lord God. When we pray, then we are in direct communication with him. Prayer is an expression of the covenant relationship that exists between us. We pray based on what God tells us in his Word.

And what does he tell us? Well, that he created it for his honour and glory. Mankind must acknowledge that, else his purpose for creation has been thwarted. And that may never happen. Indeed, that cannot happen. For whatever God has in mind for this world will take place.

When Elijah prayed that it would not rain, that is indeed what happened. And we may be sure that whatever we pray for will also be fulfilled. We can trust in God that he will hear us. As long as we pray in accordance with his revealed will. It may not happen at the exact time or manner which we expect. But God promises that he will hear our prayers.

But, we may ask, can we put ourselves on the same level as Elijah? Elijah, the great prophet of the Old Testament? We cannot expect that God will hear us in the same way, can we?

Yes, brothers and sisters, we can. Without a doubt.

As a matter of fact, as I said, God will not execute his justice without the prayers of the saints. That is clear, for example, from Revelation 8. We read there that God executes his judgment only because of the prayers of the saints. For it says that the angel of the Lord offered up the prayers of the saints together with the incense and that he filled the censer with fire from the golden altar before the Lord, and that he hurled it upon the earth. At this time, there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. It was God's judgment upon those who did not want to repent from their sins.

Does that mean then that whatever we pray for, as long as it is promised in God's Word, that then it will immediately happen? No, it doesn't. It is true that God only listens to the prayer of believers. Just like with Elijah. And the church must know that when she prays, her prayer is very powerful. That is also the case with us as individual believers.

With Elijah God's Word was immediately executed. Elijah was completely in tune, not only with God's plan, but also with God's timing. God worked his prayer in his heart. Elijah was inspired by the Holy Spirit. And he prayed as an Old Testament prophet to the nation of Israel. God spoke directly to him, and God executed his judgement on that nation.

That is different from today. The prophecies in God's Word have their fulfillment in different stages and at different times. Canada, or any other nation for that matter, cannot be called the people of God or God’s covenant people. Today God’s people are scattered all over the world.

And we don't know when God is going to execute his plan. We don't know in what way God will save us from calamities. We may want certain things to happen right now,… but that does not mean that God's time is ripe. For we also have to leave open the possibility of repentance. The Lord God is patient.

The same thing is true regarding our personal prayers for healing. God is the God of miracles. And he can, if he wants, when we are terminally ill, save us from impending death. He can perform miracles. And he does. That does not necessarily mean that that will happen at a specific time according to our schedule. Or that it will happen at all during our lifetime.

Paul also prayed for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, but that did not happen either. But that did not mean that he did not save him and that he did not keep him from harm. He did. Paul is now experiencing an indestructible life with God. He is now tasting eternal life with his Father in heaven. Ultimately God will fulfill his promises. But he will do that in his time.

Unbelievers do not understand the power of prayer. They have no clue what prayer is all about. Prayer is for those who believe and who are in a covenant relationship with the Lord their God. And who love him and who relish his nearness. Who call upon him because they trust in him and know that he is the only God, the Almighty creator of heaven and earth. Who know that he has always kept his promises throughout the ages and that his word is sure and true.

The statistical data of secular scientists are bunk. They base their scientific data on preconceived conceptions. They only prove what they set out to prove. They start out as unbelievers and are confirmed as unbelievers. That is because they do not want to listen to the voice of God. For that reason, their methodology is flawed from the very start.

Such flaws are seen in their analyses wherein they include all kinds of people, those who pray to Buddha or Allah, and those who pray for silly things such as winning a football game. Does God hear those prayers? How can you scientifically prove prayer? It's impossible. It is a matter of faith. It is a matter of understanding and of applying God's Word. It is a matter of knowing God is.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord our God is the God full of purpose. He rules all things. And he is going to bring this world to its final destination. And all those who have not repented from their sins, who have ridiculed God and his people, who have persecuted them, will experience God's eternal wrath.

The Lord God is a God of justice. And he is perfect. And so we can also be comforted with the knowledge that will execute his justice equitably. However. he will not allow his name to be blasphemed. He will vindicate himself. And he also will vindicate his children. He will punish those who blatantly and deliberately go against him and who do not want to repent.

But in the midst of all this, we, as children of the Lord God, will be preserved. Just like he preserved Elijah despite the danger that they found himself in. Elijah was not afraid. And we do not have to be afraid either. The Lord God will rescue us.

Who knows what’s going to happen in our lives? Who knows what’s going to happen politically or economically? We don’t know what the future holds, except that God is going to bring his creation to a glorious end. And that through faith we may be part of that.

And so, pray to him especially when you are scared and full of despair. Pray to him when you are in difficulty. Pray to him when you want to have them near. He will hear you and embrace you. And he will answer your prayer. There is no doubt about it. God is real and he dearly loves those who call upon him. Amen


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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