Each unique season of Elijah’s journey had given the prophet an opportunity to experience Yahweh in a distinctive way—as a provider, a covenant keeper, a protector, and a life-giver. The consistency of his ongoing friendship with his God undergirded this intense moment on Carmel in 1 Kings 18:36-37:
"At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah approached the altar and said, 'Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.'”
He didn’t need to overcompensate by filling the air with superfluous words. Confident trust had been cemented during these three years. His prayer on Mount Carmel was rooted in relationship, and that’s where our prayers can be rooted as well.
Too often we tend to think the only way to get God to move is to pray louder, pray longer, pray harder—to pray as if we’re hunting for the right magic words, especially if significant time passes and our wait to see God respond continues. And too often when praying in group settings (as Elijah was doing), our goal is mainly to impress people with our flowery grasp of spiritual vocabulary.
But Elijah’s prayer wasn’t driven by panic or public approval. Even with the high stakes atop Mount Carmel, he simply rooted his prayer in three important end results.
The most powerful prayers, whether public or private, are the ones devoid of meaningless, pious platitudes. Instead they’re simple, assured, and include these three important markers.
1. Lord, answer me so that … You will be glorified.
If we’re honest, sometimes our prayers are watered down with a number of different self-motivated objectives: fulfilling our personal interests, impressing other people, or even just checking a box on our religious to-do list. But Elijah’s focus and ultimate goal was spelled out clearly in his simple prayer. His request was unapologetically rooted in a desire for God’s authority to be on display and for His magnificence to be amplified before everyone on that mountain.
In other words, the fire itself was not the goal. Elijah wasn’t trying to be impressive. The fire was only a means to a greater, more eternal end—for Yahweh to be glorified. What a critical reminder for us!
The ultimate goal of our prayers and requests should mirror Elijah’s example. Even as we pray about the most practical aspects of life regarding our children or finances or careers, the ultimate end goal must be to highlight God. To draw attention to Him, not us. To magnify Him, not us. Reframing our priorities in prayer around this goal will shift much of what we ask Him for and how we approach Him in our asking.
So take inventory of your prayer life today. If you cannot see a clear tie between what you’re asking God to do and how He’ll be glorified in doing it, you are out of step with the overarching goal of Jesus Himself—namely, “that the Father may be glorified” (John 14:13). If you recognize that you are not in sync with Him in this area, ask His Spirit to adjust the posture of your heart and the priority of your prayers.
Prayer itself is a gift, not an entitlement. It is God’s gracious idea for giving us a divinely orchestrated mechanism through which we can have ongoing fellowship with Him and where He allows us to be active participants in the outworking of His purposes on Earth. Prayer is the key that gives us access to experiencing His work in our lives and is always designed to set the stage for Him to be seen more clearly and more fully. This is your Father’s goal in prayer. Is it yours?
2. Lord, answer me so that … my relationship with You will be affirmed.
To Ahab, Elijah was the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17)—no more than an antagonizing agitator who’d caused unprecedented problems for the nation. But Elijah could weather the sting of such false accusations because he didn’t need validation from people in high position. Receiving Yahweh’s validation was his chief goal. The highest affirmation he could receive was that of being Yahweh’s representative.
So in prayer, after asking God to glorify Himself, Elijah then entreated Him to affirm their relationship. He wanted people to see that his ambitions, endeavors, and pursuits through the years had not been self-motivated or self-created. None of this “troubling,” if that’s what Ahab insisted on calling it, had been driven by personal agenda or vindication. Elijah had been on a divinely mandated assignment all along. He was God’s servant. His ambassador. And now, everyone would know it.
3. Lord, answer me so that … the people’s hearts will be turned back to you.
Without a doubt, the prophetic writings of the Old Testament are often filled with hard, challenging statements. Condemnation of sin. Evidence of rebellion. Pronouncements of judgment. Threatening of exile. But read deeper, and you won’t hear in God’s voice the exasperated disgust of betrayal but the ready solution of repentance.
God’s desire, even when judgment is warranted, is that people return to Him. No matter who they are or what they’ve done. We can always know we’re praying God’s heart when we, like Elijah, pray for someone to “turn their heart back again.”
The three important elements we’ve looked at today form a sturdy foundation for simple, powerful, effective praying. As you mature and develop in your relationship with God, let them undergird your conversations with Him.
Excerpted from Elijah: Faith and Fire by Priscilla Shirer. © 2020 Priscilla Shirer.