Persistent Prayer

It’s hard to believe, but here we are, meeting on the very last Sunday of 2015 just a few days away from entering into a whole new year.
With 2016 right around the corner, I felt that God wanted to encourage us to take an honest look at our prayer life.  After all, our prayer life reveals so much about our faith, how we view God, and the condition of our hearts.  Jesus taught about prayer frequently.  In this one occasion, we can well relate to the circumstances.
Most of our lives could be summarized by one word: busy.  During the holiday seasons this is especially true, but it is just as accurate when looking at the overview of our lives as well.  We keep our calendars full and at the end of each day, we’re often reminded of all of the things that did not get accomplished today and all of the things that we need to get done in the upcoming days.  We often forget that to take time to relax and enjoy the life that we’ve been given is also a gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:13).  In the upcoming year, it would be wise for us to take time not to consider what we did not accomplish, but to rather take time to enjoy all of the blessings that we take for granted and to celebrate what we have accomplished.
Many of our relationships with others suffer when we live so busy and unfortunately, our relationship with God is often the first to be affected.  God desires to reveal so much to us and to do so much in and through our lives.  Unfortunately, when we are so busy, we aren’t listening to His still, small voice.  Our prayer life is watered down to a quick request list of immediate needs instead of being the foundational tool of our relationship with God that it was intended to be.  Think about this fact. If Jesus, God Himself in the flesh, completely sinless, the living Word of God Himself took time to escape the crowds and the work that He was sent to accomplish just to spend time alone in prayer with His Heavenly Father, then how much more do we need to prioritize this time?   The reason that Jesus was able to fulfill His life purpose and mission was summarized by Himself quite simply.
John 5:19
Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
Jesus lead a far busier and more demanding life than many of us could ever imagine.  We get stressed out by just a few phone calls and tasks on our to-do list.  Jesus had thousands of people crowd around Him who needed Him to minister to them.  People even once tore a hole in the roof of a home that He was meeting in so that He could heal the man’s sickness.  His life and ministry was constantly be opposed to the point where paparazzi were sent on a regular basis to trip up Jesus by those who wanted to kill Him and we think that we have drama in our lives.  None of us can even imagine just how demanding His life was!
Being able to full relate to the business of life, Jesus gave us this powerful word of wisdom:
Luke 10:38-42
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
One thing is needed in life, to sit at the feet of Jesus, listening to what He says.  If the busyness of life does not result from doing this, then we are very likely struggling and fighting on our own.  As Solomon wrote:
Psalm 127:1-2
1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
  the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
  the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
  and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
  for he grants sleep to those he loves.
We do not want to be ones that labor in vain.  We want to be successful and see the fruits of our labor in abundance.  God spoke to Joshua and the people of Israel and He still speaks to us today:
Joshua 1:7-8
7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Being prosperous and successful results from working hard, but far more importantly, from cooperating with God.  This requires a healthy relationship with Him.  How can we obey His word if we never take the time to first, before we plan or do anything, hear from Him?  This is all accomplished through prayer.  Prayer is simply speaking with God.  It’s not talking at God, it also involves actively listening to His voice.  Prayer isn’t something that we do as a blind ritual when we wake up or before we go to sleep, it is a continuous act as we live life.  As Paul wrote:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
God would never will for us to do something that we are unable to do; that is contradictory to His nature.  We are able, and it is black and white His will that we rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.
Prayer isn’t shooting up toward the heavens our requests and then forgetting about them with worldly hopes that they might be fulfilled.  Prayer is knowing God through His written word and through an active and living relationship with Him.  It is knowing God’s will in a situation and persevering until things are here on the earth as they are in Heaven.  Prayer is not a fancy act that we do in public to look religious, it is an actual conversation with God.
Luke 18:1-8
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justiceagainst my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
There is a direct correlation between our prayer life and our faith.  When we are faced with adversity or life choices, do we spend more time thinking through possibilities, working hard to overcome them, or praying about it?  This answer reveals much about how we honestly view God.  There is nothing wrong and it is absolutely Biblical to use wisdom and to work hard.  However, as we previously saw, working hard doing what we think is right is futile.  Through prayer, we can hear from God and understand what we are supposed to do in a situation.  After hearing from God, we can work hard in cooperation with Him and be ensured success!
Prayer is powerful because true prayer always results in change.  Prayer either changes something inside of us or changes our circumstances.  There are times that God moves Heaven and Earth on our behalf to deliver us from our circumstances.  There are also times when God grows our faith or character through adversity as He walks with us through it.  Through adversity, we often learn so much about who God is.  Israel had many names for God and they were all based on some new attribute of Him that they were able to experience through some adversity or opposition.
When we pray, we must do so in agreement with God’s word and will.  That is why listening to God is just as important in our prayer life as our approach to Him and words of our prayers are.  Even when we are certain of God’s word and will regarding our circumstances, still we must persevere in prayer and not give up just like Jesus taught us.  I love the book of James.  It is commonly believed that this is the same James who was the brother of Jesus who once made fun of Him and doubted that He was the Messiah.  James obviously came to his senses and accepted the salvation made available through his brother.  He wrote:
James 5:13-18
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
There are many powerful examples of what simple prayer can do through the scriptures, but this one is an awesome example of persevering through prayer.  Our lives should display this same faith that God will honor His word and will not let us down when others put Him to the test.
1 Kings 18:1-2
1 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.
Right away, we see the importance of listening to God’s voice.  When we learn to recognize God’s voice, we’ll be quicker to do what God desires.  There was no conversation involved here.  God told Elijah to go, and he went.  God said that He would send rain when there had been a drought for over three years; something that we can’t even imagine experiencing.  Elijah didn’t doubt or question, he believed in faith that God’s word would be true and His promises would be fulfilled.  The time finally arrived when God’s patience had apparently worn thin.  For many years, God put up with the worship of false Gods and took a back seat to them.  The time had come, however, for truth to be revealed in an undeniable way!
I believe that God does this in our lives as well.  He puts our worship and words to the test as we are challenged with the question of who the god of our lives truly is!
1 Kings 18:16-46
16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah.17 When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”
18 “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
But the people said nothing.
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”
25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.
Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs[a] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.
“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you,Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
40 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
“There is nothing there,” he said.
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”
45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rainstarted falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. 46 The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.
Elijah heard God’s truth that rain was on its way.  He said that there was the sound of heavy rain when there was nothing but drought.  He heard not through his natural ears, but through his spiritual ones.  Even though there was absolute adversity, Elijah believed God’s truth over his facts.  Elijah hit his knees, bowed down before God, and prayed.
He prayed and there was no rain.
He prayed and there was no rain.
He prayed and there was no rain.
He prayed and there was no rain.
He prayed and there was no rain.
He prayed and there was no rain.
He prayed and his servant saw a cloud the size of a man’s hand rising up from the sea.  What Elijah saw was a coming rain so powerful from that small cloud that it would stop his servant from traveling.
It’s time for us to take prayer seriously.  It’s time for us to have a showdown in our lives where we get serious about or faith.  It’s time for God’s people to rise up like Elijah and accept nothing less than the truth of God in their lives.  It’s time for us to stop settling for less simply because we half-heartedly prayed about something and nothing changed.  This is not evidence of God’s will, it is evidence of the lack of our faith.  Jesus taught that we should always pray and never give up.  In regard to this teaching He asked if He would find faith when He returned.  Will He?  Will we be ones who stand firm on God’s word and promises who pray with perseverance and never give up?
This morning, God is challenging us to allow Him to be God.  It’s time not to look at our circumstances and impossibilities as too great for our God.  It’s time for us to tell our enemies to go ahead and pour out some more water, to do their best to damage what we’ve built for God, to cheer on their foolishness.  Why?  They are about to see who God truly is.  They are about to see us rebuild what has been broken down.  They are about to see God send fires of revival that devour all of our impossibilities as His kingdom and truth is established in our lives.
I believe that God is going to bring back to mind those things which we’ve given up hope for.  God is going to give us a new hope as we persevere in prayer never giving up.
Listen carefully because the sounds of a heavy wind and fire are coming!