The story of Elijah running before Ahab in 1 Kings 18:41–46 is a strange and spectacular portrayal of the power and victory of the one true God over Baal and of the humility and gospel ministry of God’s prophet. Yet if we focus our attention solely on Elijah’s girding up his loins and running the seventeen miles from Mount Carmel to Jezreel by the hand of Yahweh, we will miss Elijah’s running first to God in prayer, and thus we will fail to learn what the “man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17) has to teach us about prayer.

Recall that this story takes place immediately on the heels of the contest on Mount Carmel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Yahweh had proven in a stunning manner that He is the only God of heaven and earth, and in so doing He had brought repentance to the idolatrous hearts of His rebellious people. The drought that Israel was suffering as a result of its idolatry could finally end, for that idolatry had been dealt with decisively by the execution of the prophets of Baal at the Brook Kishon. Yet the rains did not immediately fall, for God ordinarily sends His blessings through the channel of prayer. Thus Elijah, who had asked God to turn the spigots off three and a half years earlier, asked God to turn them back on. This is almost certainly the passage that James has in view when he says that Elijah prayed, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. As we watch Elijah pray, we learn much about how to pray.

We should pray with confident faith in the promises of God.

Down at the bottom of Mount Carmel, at the Brook Kishon, Elijah told Ahab to go back up and eat and drink, “for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” Elijah wasn’t hearing literal thunder in the distance, for as we see in the following verses, there were no clouds in the sky. Rather, Elijah was hearing with the ears of faith in God’s promises. He knew that God had promised in verse 1, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon earth”(1 Kings 18:1). In light of God’s promises, he prayed. He knew that God’s promises were not intended to impede prayer but to impel and incite prayer—the promises don’t render prayer unnecessary but show us what to pray for and encourage us to ask and expect His answers with faith and assurance. In the words of the children’s catechism, “Prayer is asking God for things that He has promised to give.” God certainly can work apart from prayer, but He normally works through our prayers. Thus, we must pray with confident faith in His promises.

May the Lord teach us how to run to Him in prayer through the running prophet.
We should pray earnestly.

In James 5:17, we read that Elijah, a man with a nature just like ours, prayed earnestly—literally, he “prayed with prayer.” We see his earnestness, his intensity, his fervency, even in his posture—“he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees” (1 Kings 18:42). This was no half-hearted praying—now that repentance had come, he deeply longed for the rains to come, for God’s promises to be fulfilled. He was fully engaged, importuning the Lord for rain, seeking, knocking, asking, crying, pouring out his soul, striving, struggling, wrestling with God in prayer. Yet how often do we pray without prayer, without any real earnestness about the thing we’re bringing before the Lord, without any real seriousness or desire or yearning for it? Even the prophets of Baal put our praying to shame with their earnestness to false gods. We must pray with prayer, believing that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

We should pray with our eyes open.

I don’t necessarily mean with our physical eyes open. Rather, Elijah teaches us to keep watch for the answers to our prayers. Seven times Elijah sends his servant to the top of Mount Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, to see if God has sent an answer to his prayer. He’s making definite, specific requests for rain, and he is expectantly looking for God’s answer (see Ps. 5:3). Yet how often do we pray, for ourselves or for someone else, and not watch for an answer to our prayers? If we don’t care if God answers, then why do we pray? If we do care, then why do we not watch for an answer, that we might rejoice with thanksgiving? Let us pray in the same manner that we eagerly await the arrival of the package from Amazon that we ordered two days ago.

We should pray persistently.

Elijah didn’t get his answer right away, the way God answered his prayer in 1 Kings 18:38. Yet he sticks with it, he doesn’t lose heart or give up when God’s answer is “No.” He keeps praying with patience and with perseverance, sending the servant back and back and back until he sees that little cloud like a man’s hand over the horizon. Like the persistent widow of Luke 18, we are to keep praying until God in His providence makes clear that the time for prayer has ceased. It’s hard to wait on God, it’s hard to pray for the sixth or six-hundredth time. Yet because we know that nothing is too difficult for God (see Jer. 32:17), because we know that God loves us and wants the best for us, and because we know He is all-wise to know what the best for us is and when to send His best for us, we can pray with believing persistence.

May the Lord teach us how to run to Him in prayer through the running prophet.

Why the Reformation?

The Priority of Preaching