Today we are going to learn about prayer from a man whose prayers helped bring rain to a nation after a 3 year drought, raised a child from the dead and called down fire on a sacrifice in an awesome challenge against all the pagan prophets in Israel. This man is the prophet Elijah and his life story can be found in 1& 2 Kings. Elijah came from a small village in northern Israel and his name means, the Lord is God. He was sent to speak to King Ahab because both Ahab and his wife Jezebel were leading God’s people into sin by allowing the worship of false gods and idols.
I have to share with you that when I went back and read these stories of Elijah and King Ahab, all I could think about was what an amazing builder King Ahab was. In fact, work that was done while Ahab ruled in Israel 3000 years ago can still be seen. In the middle of the Jezreel Valley there is a hill called Meggido.
|Meggido in the Jezreel Valley|
For centuries this hill was a fortress occupied by many different nations. Because you could see for miles in every direction from the top of Meggido and every army had to cross through this valley, every nation wanted to control this location.
When Ahab was king of Israel he held this ground and he worked to establish it as a permanent fortress. Ahab had a water system constructed for the city which is still present today.
Ahab had them dig a well from the top of the hill down into the ground
|Well from the top looking down|
where it then connected to a tunnel he had built coming in from a natural spring.
|Tunnel that carried water into the well.|
This water system meant that the spring would provide fresh water for the people at the top of the fortress and today you are able to walk through it.
|Stairway down into the well dug by king Ahab|
This is one of the places where the history of the Old Testament really came to life for me. Ahab was no longer just a name in a book or a person from history, he was the man who had this well dug and while he may have been an evil king married to a very wicked woman, he was real and walking through the well he had dug makes this story of Elijah more real to me than ever before.
So back to Elijah… Elijah was called by God to condemn the problems and sin created by Ahab and Jezebel, but they didn’t listen to Elijah so God sent a three year drought to the region. For three years, not only didn’t it rain, but Elijah was a wanted man. Knowing that his life was in danger, Elijah fled into the wilderness where God cared for him every day by providing him with food and water. Eventually Elijah returned to Ahab and it was his prayers that caused the rains to return to the nation. It was also the prayers of Elijah that moved God to send down fire on a sacrifice in a challenge Elijah made to prove that God was real and the pagan god Baal was not. It’s an amazing story found in 1 Kings 18 and if you haven’t read it or haven’t read it in a while, I invite you to do that this week.
All of Elijah’s prophetic messages to Ahab and the people of Israel made him an unpopular man so even after the rains returned Elijah once again had to flee into the wilderness. Exhausted, depressed and ready to give up, Elijah sat down to die. Even though God had provided for Elijah in situations like this before, he didn’t have the strength or faith to trust God again. In many ways, Elijah is just like us. We can see God provide and care for those around us and maybe we have even see God work in our own lives in very special ways in the past, but we get tired, frustrated and lose our faith so that we find ourselves ready to give up on God and on our ourselves.
This is exactly where Elijah is. He is hiding in a cave and God asks him what’s wrong. Elijah again tells God that he is done. He just can’t keep going. He his alone, exhausted, frustrated and in despair and this is what God says, 1 Kings 19:11-13a
God spoke to Elijah in the silence. In the stillness and silence God said I’m here and I’m with you and then God gave Elijah this message, 1 Kings 19:15-18.
God had always had an answer for Elijah’s problems. God’s plan from the beginning was that He was going to provide people to stand with Elijah and those people would bring justice and avenge those who were doing evil. God makes clear to Elijah that he is not alone but that there 7000 faithful people in Israel who will work with him. God knew this all along, but Elijah wasn’t listening. Elijah was so busy complaining and running and feeling sorry for himself and talking to God that he never was still and quiet to be able to listen for God.
How many times are we so busy complaining, running, talking to ourselves and others and even talking to God that we never turn off the noise and still ourselves long enough to be able to listen for God? On the mountain with Elijah, God makes clear that He isn’t always going to shout in order to get our attention. God isn’t always in the loudest voice, the hottest trend or the most earth shattering new experience. God is often seen and experienced and heard in stillness and silence and if we don’t learn how to be still and silent, we will miss God’s voice and we won’t hear the words of hope, encouragement and direction that we so desperately need.
Elijah’s experience on the mountain teaches us the importance of silence when we pray, but for most of us silence is uncomfortable. Why do you think they play music in many elevators? It’s because standing in a small box with other people who are invading our sense of personal space in total silence is awkward. Why do you think they install state of the art music systems in cars? It’s because unless you have been married for 25 or more years, driving in silence with someone in the car for more than about 5 minutes is awkward. Try it. Next time your family or friends get in your car to drive to State College, see what if feels like to drive in silence. See how many miles it is before someone actually starts talking – or laughing. If you hang around your family or friends in silence for too long people will think you’re mad at them. We just don’t do silence well.
How many of us when we get home turn on the TV or radio or find something to distract ourselves? People run with ipods, feel the need to talk to others on their phone constantly and even fall asleep to music, movies, TV or social media because silence is so uncomfortable. We don’t like silence and yet God is reminding us here that he is often only found in the still and silent moments of life, so silence needs to be part of our prayers.
Let me share with you one reason why silence is so important, if we are not silent we may never hear God because aren’t meant to do two things at the same time. Believe it or not, we were not created to multi-task. I know that you think you are able to do several things all at the same time and do them really well, but studies prove that this is not true. In his book The One Thing, Gary Keller says, multi-tasking is a lie. People can actually do two or more things at once, but what we can’t do is focus on two things at once. Our attention bounces back and forth.
What happens when we try to do two things at the same time is that very quickly our brains bounce back and forth between these two things and each time it does it has to reorient itself to what it is doing and thinking and this takes time and that time, as miniscule as it is, creates a sense of distraction and inefficiency. A 2009 Stanford University study proved that multitasking isn’t as effective as people think it is and what this means for our prayer life is that we need silence in order to hear God. We can’t hear God if we are doing several other things at the same time.
If we are always talking to God, we can’t listen for him. If we spend our time with God always reading His word – as GOOD as that is – we may miss hearing His word to us. If we think we can pray and be quiet as we drive – our minds are really focused on driving and not listening. To really hear God and experience his presence we need moments of stillness and silence. We need moments where we stop the activity, stop the madness of our schedules, turn off the noise of our lives and simply listen for God.
Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 37:7 – Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.
Lamentations 3:26 – It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord
God said to Moses and his people, Exodus 14:14 – The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still
One reason why we don’t like being still and silent is that when we are – we are not in control. As long as we are talking and moving we are in control – we are in control of our schedule, our activities and our lives, but as soon as we stop we become vulnerable and yet is only when we are willing to be vulnerable with God by becoming still and silent that God is able to speak to us.
Another value of being silent is that when we are still and quiet all of our senses become more acute. There is an old proverb that says, the man who opens his mouth, closes his eyes. When we are able to be quiet we will not only hear better but we will see better. In the silence, Elijah not only heard God but he saw God, which was why he pulled the clock over his face. Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline says, the purpose of silence is to be able to see and hear.
So when we are silent we not only hear better but we see better and we not only see better with our eyes but with our hearts and minds and spirits. Silence helps us because more aware of God’s presence and spirit and it allows us to hear God’s word which is often spoken not to our ears but to our hearts.
So being silent is important in our lives of prayer and is a difficult practice for us to make part of our lives. We are surrounded by noise and activity and distraction so to be still so we can be silent will call for us to be intentional. We have to make time for silence. We have to guard our times of silence by making sure we aren’t interrupted by phones, text, tweets and email alerts. At first it might feel awkward and uncomfortable, like silence in a crowded elevator riding to the top floor, but in time the silence can bring the outpouring of God’s word spoken directly to us.
Elijah heard God in the stillness and silence, Jesus heard his father in the stillness and the silence of his early morning times of prayer and we will be able to hear and see and experience the presence of God if we can learn how to be silent. We are going to practice now as we close with a minute or so of silence. Let us pray… (SILENCE)
Prayer Part 2 ~ Being Silent
1. On a scale of 1 – 10, how noisy would you rate your life? Are there ever moments of silence? When?
2. Are you uncomfortable in silence? If so, try to identify why.
3. Do you multi-task often thinking that you are being efficient and effective? How might multi-tasking be keeping you from being able to really listen to your family, friends and God?
4. Stillness and silence will not suddenly enter into our lives; we have to intentionally create it. What is one way your life can simply be quieter this week? (Not silent, but quieter)
5. What is one “noise” you can turn off for one day this week?
TV – Social Media – Radio in the car – ipod – tablet – games
6. Set aside 5 minutes of genuine stillness and silence in one of your days this week?