COLLINS COLUMN: The Power of Bold Prayer and Persistent Faith

Published 10:00 am Friday, May 31, 2024

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As I read 1 Kings 18 this morning, I was struck by two aspects of Elijah’s behavior and his words. He was bold, and he was persistent. I suspect that most of us tend to admire those we know or observe who do things with great persistence. We respect the athlete who has great talent but still practices day in and day out to improve. Or we respect the pastor or nonprofit leader who, in spite of great challenges, continues to do the work God called them to. Or maybe it is the single parent who is saddled with responsibility in both needing to work to provide for her family and to care for her children. We admire persistence.

When it comes to boldness, I suspect we admire the individual who boldly shares their faith or who faces injustice and doesn’t waiver. On the other hand, we might cringe when we think someone boldly confronts another or makes a significant request of someone when they don’t appear to have the relational capital to do so.

1 Kings 18:37 is a bold prayer:

“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.”

When we pray, we are talking directly to our Father in heaven. However, sometimes I think we are influenced by the scripts and memories we have from our interactions with our earthly fathers. If I had told my dad to “answer me,” I might have found myself on the floor. It was never a good idea to push my dad or demand a request. I learned early in life that asking my dad for something required perfect timing and caution. And I needed to have been on my best behavior if I had a chance of getting my request. The result of all my caution was that I rarely asked my dad for anything. It was easier to do it myself than to find the right moment and take the risk of rejection.

But our Heavenly Father is completely wise, generous, loving, and available at all times. He loves to hear from us. I believe he is especially eager to bless us when our requests are for the benefit of others. Look again at Elijah’s prayer: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God!” Even as Elijah had faced threats from Ahab and was outnumbered significantly by the prophets of Baal, he prayed that God would deliver his request so that all the people would see the one true God of heaven.

We have many examples in both the Old and the New Testaments of David, the prophets, and the apostles praying with boldness that God would reveal himself, intervene, and rescue his servants. These prayers were offered so God’s mission would be accomplished, both for his glory and for the accomplishment of his mission. When our prayers are focused on revealing God to others, we can have full assurance that God hears, smiles, and answers our prayers.

Similarly, when Jesus told us to love one another the way he loves others, the purpose of expressing his love was that everyone would know that we are his disciples. We pray and we love for the benefit of God’s kingdom being revealed here and now.

Elijah prayed boldly and God sent fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice that had been drenched by water. Keep in mind that it had not rained in three years so water was precious, and Elijah would have been seen as wasteful to have told his servants to drench the sacrifice three times with water. God sent fire from heaven and proved that he was the one true God.

Remember, though, that Elijah also prayed for rain. This is where we see his persistence in prayer. On his knees with his head to the ground, the prophet prayed for God to send rain. But the rain did not come quickly like the fire had moments earlier. Even before Elijah prayed for rain, he told his adversary, King Ahab, that he better get back to his palace and celebrate the coming rain and avoid getting his chariot stuck in the mud. But the rain did not immediately fall.

Elijah paused his prayers and sent his servant to run and look at the horizon to see if rain was on the way, but there were no rain clouds. Elijah prayed again and again, stopping after each prayer and sending his servant to survey the situation for the rain clouds. I suspect by the seventh time of his persistent prayers, Elijah may have considered that God had forgotten him. But after the seventh time, his servant returned and told the prophet that out in the distance a small cloud was rising from the sea.

The persistence of Elijah reminds us of one of Jesus’ parables about prayer. Remember the parable of the widow and the unjust judge? The woman kept going to the judge over and over with her request and finally the judge granted her request. Remember how Jesus summarized this parable for the us?

“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

If an unjust judge will respond to persistent requests, how much more likely is it that our loving Father sees our faith in action as we boldly and repeatedly bring our requests to him?

Father, forgive us when we pray lazily and inconsistently. As we read your word, give us the confidence to trust in your promises. Thank you for the reminders in scripture that we can come to you without fear and boldly make our requests. Give us the clarity to pray that you would use us and answer us in ways that reveal your glory to those around us. We pray that our friends, our family, and our community might know that you are Lord of all. Father, fill us with your compassion that we might love others the way that you love us so that they might know that we follow the one true God who sent his only son Jesus to save us all and to renew and restore all of creation. In Jesus’ name, amen.