Israel in the Old Testament was a complicated place. It was God’s special nation, yet very often the people chose to serve other gods and idols instead of their own God. However, there were always a few who remained faithful to the Lord. Elijah was one of these few.
Elijah was a prophet during the days of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Jezebel was a fierce queen who worshiped Baal (a false god), and her influence had poisoned the nation of Israel. Elijah, however, continued to serve the Lord and oppose the king and queen’s idolatry.
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenged all the prophets of Baal to a contest in front of the entire nation of Israel. When everyone was assembled, Elijah told the people they needed to choose whether they were going to serve God or Baal. Then he turned to the prophets of Baal (did I mention there were 450 of them?) and presented his challenge: Each side would choose a bull and prepare it as a burnt offering. However, neither side was allowed to use their own fire. Instead, the 450 prophets would ask Baal to send fire to consume the offering and Elijah would ask God to send fire. Whoever answered was the true God. The prophets of Baal agreed, and the contest was on.
Elijah let the Baal prophets go first. They cut up their bull and placed it on the wood, and then began to cry out to their god. To make a long story short, Baal never showed up. His prophets cried out literally from morning till evening, and nothing ever happened.
Then, it was Elijah’s turn. He rebuilt the altar of the Lord that had been torn down, dug a trench around it, and placed his sacrifice on top. Then, he had people pour 4 jars of water over the altar – 3 times. Also, he filled up the trench with water. He was going to make sure that there would be no doubt that God sent the fire for this offering.
As everyone watched Elijah prepare, they were probably wondering at his confidence. After all, the Baal prophets had been disappointed – what made Elijah so sure that his God would answer? How did he know?
After Elijah finished preparing the altar and the sacrifice, he did something very simple. He prayed. He prayed out loud and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Immediately, God sent fire from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice. The people were amazed and afraid. They knew that they had just seen the true God at work. After watching Baal’s prophets fail, there was no longer any doubt about whose God was real.
I don’t know about you, but I want to learn to pray like Elijah did. With utter, unshakable confidence in the almighty God who does and will answer. When we pray, we don’t have to be afraid that God doesn’t hear us. He’s not like Baal – He is alive and He is listening. When you pray, think about that. Think about the fact that you are praying to God – the creator of the universe, the One who made you, the One who has the whole world in His hands. That’s who you’re talking to. And He is listening.