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From Chris's Heart

September 2011
Principles of an Effective Prayer Life
by Nick Harris

Virtually every time we see Elijah in I Kings, he is praying. The prophet was a man who prayed often. In fact, James, the half brother of Jesus tells us that Elijah is the greatest example we can find anywhere of a man who knew how to pray effectively and fervently. So, if any of us want to see our prayer lives become effective and productive, we should examine the prayer life of this man Elijah, right?

There are three things about his prayer life which jump out of the text of I Kings 17 and 18! The first thing I see is this: whenever Elijah prayed, he always humbled himself before God. He usually fell on his face, as he did in I Kings 18:41. The Apostle Peter understood this attitude of humility on the part of Elijah. In I Peter 5:6, he declares this:

"Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He might exalt you in due time."

One of my favorite writers, Phillip Keller, once wrote these words about the prayer life of Elijah:

"Elijah knew that before there could be blessings from above there had to be a brokenness before God."

I know something about this! Several days ago, I was reading the 51st Psalm. I had some struggles going on in my life and I needed Godís help and the answer suddenly appeared. Listen to what Psalms 51:17 declares:

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. These, O God, you will not despise."

As I read those words, I knew that they did not describe me; I am not often broken and contrite and I know it. In fact, the sad truth is, rather than being broken and contrite, I am often find myself being prideful and arrogant.

But I can tell you this; even though Psalm 51:17 does not describe me, it does describe Elijah and it describes him perfectly. He was a broken and contrite man. And how did he display his brokenness and contrition? As I just said, he fell to the ground with his head between his knees. I believe he assumed this posture as an act of humility. Therefore, according to His Word, God was about to draw near to him. That is prayer principle one that we learn from Elijah: we must humble ourselves if we are to pray effectively and fervently.

However, Elijah not only prayed humbly, he also prayed specifically. Let me share something that God had to teach me about effective prayer. God had to teach me this secret, because at one time my prayer life stank; it really did. The sad truth is, when I prayed, I got little or no results and I was the pastor of a church. I grew weary of this, so one day, I got on my face before God and I said, "God I am not going to get up until you tell me what is wrong with my prayer life."

Eventually, God said to me, "Your prayers are too general; be specific when you pray."

And I soon realized that God was right. My prayers were so general that I really didnít know if or when God answered my prayers. It was then that I understood that if I would only pray definite specific prayers, I would get definite specific answers."And, of course, God was right!

Elijah was not like I used to be; he knew exactly what he wanted God to do. And in this case, he wanted God to send rain; he wanted the drought broken. And that is what he asked God to do and when he asked, he asked expressly and specifically.

He said something like this: "God you said you would make it rain and now I ask you in faith believing to send that rain." So, how would he know when his prayers had been answered? He would know when it began to rain. So, remember this: the second principle in effectual fervent prayer is to pray specifically.

Then, in the third place, effectual fervent prayer demands a sense of expectancy. And this is where true faith comes into play. Let me make this clear. You can be as humble as Uriah Heap and you can be totally specific when you pray, but if you do not expect God to answer your prayer nothing will happen; I can promise you that!

I can also promise you that Elijah certainly expected something to happen. In fact, once he had prayed, he knew that God had heard him so he told his servant to go higher on the mountain and look toward the sea. I believe that Elijah expected his servant to see a storm brewing, don't you?

The servant quickly did as he was told., but when he returned all he could report is that he could see nothing but blue skies; not a cloud in sight. So, what did the man of God do? Did he give up? Did he say, "I knew there was nothing to this prayer business?" No, Elijah just kept praying and when he felt that he had touched God again, he told the servant to go look again. The servant went to the top of the mountain again with the same response---he saw no storm approaching. So, Elijah continued to pray and this same process was repeated six times.

Let me explain something I have learned: in Godís world there is something I call the FIT-FAT principle. FIT stands for faith initiation time, while FAT stands for fact accumulation time. FIT represents the moment we believe God to provide something He has promised--- and, in Elijahís case, it was rain.

Remember, now, the Bible tells us this:

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

And Elijah had not yet seen a thing yet; there was not a cloud in the sky. But had God said that it was going to rain, so Elijah was expecting it to rain. But now here is something you must see in this text---God did not tell Elijah WHEN He would send the rain; only that He would. And that is often the case. Sometimes a great period of time passes between the moment we initiate our faith (Iím talking about FIT) and that moment when we accumulate the fact (Iím talking about FAT).

Think about Father Abraham---God had promised to gave him a son, remember? And Abraham believed Godís promise, and the Bible says that his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness.

In other words, God accepted him because of it. But after Abraham initiated his faith, guess what? Twenty-five years passed and no son appeared.

Donít you think he was tempted to doubt the veracity of Godís promise? I do! And that is the problem with FIT-FAT; in the interim between the initiation of faith and the accumulation of the fact, we can lose our sense of expectation. We begin to think that God has failed. But the failure is not with God; He never fails, but we often surrender to doubt and unbelief when God refuses to operate on our time table.

But not Abraham; he refused to give in. And, after twenty-five years, he got his long-promised son. And the same was true of Elijah and the promise of an abundance of rain. It did not matter to Elijah that his servant had been to the top of the mountain six times and had seen nothing. It did not matter that there was no indication in the sky of a building storm.

You know, I am so very glad that Elijah was not like me. If I had sent my servant to the top of the mountain six times and he had seen nothing, I would have probably said something like this to God:

"God you're making me look bad here; I told the king that rain is on the way, but where is it?"
My friends, I say this because I know myself; I tend to allow circumstances to dictate my faith at times! How about you?

Well, as I said, Elijah was not like me! Thank God! When his servant returned for the sixth time, and had seen no sign of a storm, Elijah did not give up; he simply prayed for a seventh time. And, then, he sent his servant out once again, and this time when his servant returned he offered this report:

"There is a cloud, as small as a manís hand rising out of the sea."
In other words, this cloud did not look like some major storm front. It was a small thing; nothing to get excited about; not to the natural man or woman." But Elijah was not dominated by his natural man. He was a man of faith and he had heard the sound of an abundance of rain--he knew it was coming. He knew that even if the cloud was small, his God was great. So, a little cloud was enough for him.

So, there are the three principles of effectual, fervent prayer: pray humbly, pray specifically, and pray expectantly.

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