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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 "Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”; James 5: 16b "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."

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, an 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 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 also concluded that none of the other claims about the effectiveness of prayer can be scientifically verified. Take, for example, the simple claim that prayer connects you with God. Someone wrote, "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 apparently 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, like Elijah’s prayer, indeed very powerful and effective. In 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 maintains our bonds with 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 prayer, it was during Ahab's reign. It was an awful time that greatly troubled Elijah the Tishbite's righteous soul. It had been only 57 years since the split of the kingdom of Israel when Jeroboam rebelled and broke with his brothers Judah and Benjamin. They became two nations, one to the north and one to the south.

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, and two royal dynasties were eradicated through murder.

The southern kingdom, Judah, was no 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, even further than his father, Omri, who also 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 beyond its borders, and to achieve that end, he made all kinds of alliances with foreign nations and even with Judah to the south.

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 and worshiped him 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. A golden pillar is much more flattering to the god than a tree trunk.

Ahab, the king of Israel, 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 even though the Lord God had warned Joshua that anyone who rebuilt the city would be punished. Ahab took no notice. He went right ahead anyway. But then we see that the curse mentioned in Joshua 6:26 was fulfilled, because the builder, Hiel, lost both his oldest and his youngest sons. As we read, Abiram and Segub, both lost their lives.

Why do you think Ahab wanted to rebuild Jericho? Well, because he wanted to rewrite history. The ruins of Jericho reminded God's people of 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 everyone to believe certain things didn't happen.

But you cannot erase the past—your own past, either. You must deal with it and learn from it. If you want to function as a person or as a nation, 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 worshipping the Lord, the God of Israel. It was politically astute of him to at least pretend to worship him. That is why, for example, he gave his children Israelite names that included the Lord's name.

Furthermore, 1 Kings 18:3 tells us that he also had Obadiah in charge of his palace and that he was a devout believer in the Lord. At times, Ahab even sought the advice of the Lord's prophets.

No doubt, Ahab was pricked in his conscience as he thought about all the things he was doing. He knew too much about the Lord God. You can never forget your upbringing and what you have been taught in your youth.

That is also the case for those among us who were brought up knowing the Lord and who later turned away from him. They cannot erase what they have known in their youth; it stays with them. Thankfully, and in some cases, at a later age, they repent and serve the Lord again.

Ahab was a conflicted man. However, according to 1 Kings 21:25, it was especially Jezebel who urged him on. As he pursued his political ambitions, he suspended his conscience. Ultimately, faith in God 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.

That is how the despots of today behave as well. They amass wealth, live in beautiful houses, and possess many expensive toys.

Those are the kinds of things that drove Ahab as well. 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 Ahab's clever machinations. He was on top of the world—or so he thought.

2. At this point, the prophet Elijah enters the picture for the first time. 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. At this point, 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.

The text says he spoke directly to Ahab, which was quite daring. He went, as it were, right into the lions' den, for he was 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 the Lord 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 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.” It 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, the Lord God of Israel, 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 splendour, in their expensive silken robes and sashes. 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, a territory on the other side of the Jordan. It is rugged mountain country. It is not the land of the sophisticated. It is a country of hunters, fishermen, and farmers. Elijah does 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 and that he would listen to him. He did not doubt it for a moment.

That is clear from what he says, for he says that he, as the ESV says, 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 does to Ahab, it is as if God himself is speaking.

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, 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 its produce.

When he pronounces judgment upon Ahab, Elijah is speaking the word of God. He 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? Typically, if you were a prophet of God, 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 are in rebellion against God? Elijah had no choice but to pray for the execution of God's justice, for he wanted repentance. He wanted 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 who were 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.

That is why Elijah was compelled to go to Ahab to come with God's curse on the land. He told him 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. God will hear such a prayer. There is no doubt.

That's also the way it is for us. When we pray, we also stand before God’s throne. For it says in the letter of 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. Effective prayer can only be done by those who are in tune with the Word of God, by those who believe and want to do God’s will.

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 are about our covenant relationship with the Lord God. When we pray, we are in direct communication with him. Prayer is an expression of this relationship. We pray based on what God tells us in his Word.

And what does he tell us? Well, that he created all things for his honour and glory. And that all things will happen according to his plan. He promises that whatever happens to us, no matter what, he will turn to our good. Whatever God has in mind for this world will take place. But we also must believe that.

When Elijah prayed that it would not rain, that indeed happened. And we may be sure that whatever we pray for will also be fulfilled. If we pray according to his revealed will, we can trust that he will hear us. It may not happen at the exact time or manner we expect, but God promises that he will hear our prayers.

But, you 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, we can! That is, for example, what a passage from Revelation 8 tells us, namely that God’s justice isn’t carried out unless people pray. It says that when the saints, those who believe in God, pray for justice, their prayers are like incense. An angel takes those prayers and offers them to God. Then, as a result, God sends fire, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes as a form of judgment.

Why does God bring calamity upon the earth? For the sake of the saints, to show them how much he cares about them. God wants all evil and its effects eradicated from the earth. He wants us to be free from the pain and sorrow that unbelief brings. He wants to save us.

Does that mean that whatever we pray for, as long as it is promised in God's Word, will immediately happen? No, it doesn't. God has his own timetable. But it is true that God only listens to the prayers of believers like you and me, just like he did 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.

God's Word was immediately executed with Elijah. 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. He prayed as an Old Testament prophet to whom God spoke directly, and after which God executed his judgement on that nation.

That is different from today. The prophecies in God's Word are fulfilled in various 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.

We don't know when God will execute his plan or how he 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. We also have to leave the possibility of repentance open. That takes time, and the Lord God is patient and wise and full of compassion.

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 even 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 he did not save or keep him from harm. He did so many times during his missionary tour is. Furthermore, 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 only for those who believe and who are in a covenant relationship with the Lord their God. 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, which include all kinds of people: those who pray to Buddha or Allah, and those who pray for silly things. Does God hear those prayers? No.

So, how can you scientifically prove prayer in this way? It's impossible. It is a matter of faith, understanding, and applying God's Word. It is a matter of knowing who the God of the Bible 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 glorious 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. So, we can also be comforted with the knowledge that he will execute his justice equitably.

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 he 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, including us as his people, 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 him nearby. Pray to him when you are hurting.

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 in faith. He wants to hear from you. 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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