Pray

Scripture: 1st Kings 17:8-24

Title: Pray

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Prayer is listening in faith
  • Prayer is asking in hope
  • Prayer is confessing in truth
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Today is the first of three Sundays when we focus on the work of Tranzsend and our NZ Baptist missionaries serving overseas

 

The framework for the three weeks of the campaign is…

  • Week 1 – Pray (Inoi)
  • Week 2 – Shine (Tiaho), and
  • Week 3 – Thank (Mihi)

 

The Scripture story Tranzsend suggest for, this, the first week of the appeal is…

  • 1st Kings chapters 17 & 18 – which focuses on the story of Elijah and the drought in Israel

 

Elijah was one of the great prophets of the Old Testament

  • He lived at the time when Ahab was king of Israel
  • Ahab was the worst king in the entire history of the nation
  • Ahab married Jezebel and together they committed all sorts of evil
  • In particular Ahab encouraged the Hebrew people to turn away from the one true living God, by building a temple for Baal worship

 

In the ancient world Baal was thought by some to be the god of fertility and rain

  • So pagans who wanted a good harvest or rain to water their crops would offer sacrifices to Baal in order to appease him and find favour with him
  • Baal worshippers did all sorts of cruel things including child sacrifice

 

God was not happy with this and wanted to show the people that Baal worship was a lie, so the Lord sent Elijah to tell king Ahab there would be no rain for a few years

  • By stopping the rain God intended to show the people Baal was false
  • Of course, without any rain, the crops failed and there was a terrible famine throughout the region

 

Please turn with me to 1st Kings 17, verse 8 – page 357 toward the front of your pew Bibles

  • At this point in the story the drought & famine have been in progress for some time and people are really feeling the pinch
  • From 1st Kings, chapter 17, verse 8 we read…

 

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Now go to the town of Zarephath, near Sidon, and stay there. I have commanded a widow who lives there to feed you.” 10 So Elijah went to Zarephath, and as he came to the town gate, he saw a widow gathering firewood. “Please bring me a drink of water,” he said to her. 11 And as she was going to get it, he called out, “And please bring me some bread, too.”

 

12 She answered, “By the living Lord your God I swear that I don’t have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour in a bowl and a bit of olive oil in a jar. I came here to gather some firewood to take back home and prepare what little I have for my son and me. That will be our last meal, and then we will starve to death.”

 

13 “Don’t worry,” Elijah said to her. “Go on and prepare your meal. But first make a small loaf from what you have and bring it to me, and then prepare the rest for you and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The bowl will not run out of flour or the jar run out of oil before the day that I, the Lord, send rain.’”

 

15 The widow went and did as Elijah had told her, and all of them had enough food for many days. 16 As the Lord had promised through Elijah, the bowl did not run out of flour nor did the jar run out of oil.

 

17 Some time later the widow’s son got sick; he got worse and worse, and finally he died. 18 She said to Elijah, “Man of God, why did you do this to me? Did you come here to remind God of my sins and so cause my son’s death?”

 

19 “Give the boy to me,” Elijah said. He took the boy from her arms, carried him upstairs to the room where he was staying, and laid him on the bed. 20 Then he prayed aloud, “O Lord my God, why have you done such a terrible thing to this widow? She has been kind enough to take care of me, and now you kill her son!” 21 Then Elijah stretched himself out on the boy three times and prayed, “O Lord my God, restore this child to life!” 22 The Lord answered Elijah’s prayer; the child started breathing again and revived.

 

23 Elijah took the boy back downstairs to his mother and said to her, “Look, your son is alive!”

24 She answered, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the Lord really speaks through you!”

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s word for us

 

In this passage we see how prayer is listening in faith

  • Asking in hope, and
  • Confessing in truth

 

Prayer is listening in faith:

First let’s consider prayer as listening in faith

  • Listening is about paying attention
  • Being aware of what’s going on around you
  • Taking heed of what God is saying and doing, so that we can respond in obedience to God – so we can work in harmony with Him

 

The story is told of a man who had lost his job and was unemployed [1]

  • Not being able to find work he was facing a personal famine of sorts

 

One cold winter’s night as he was driving home he noticed an old lady stranded on the side of the road – he could see she had a flat tyre and needed help

  • So he pulled over in his Holden Belmont, parked behind her Mercedes Benz and got out

Even with the smile on his face the woman felt anxious and vulnerable

  • It was a quiet road and no one had been past in the last hour
  • The man looked a bit rough – he was missing a tooth and he hadn’t shaved in a few days

 

He could see the woman was cold and frightened, so he tried to make her feel more comfortable…

  • “I’m here to help you. You look freezing. Why don’t you wait in the car where it’s warm? By the way, my name is Sam.”
  • The woman decided to trust Sam – she sat in her car and popped the boot open, so he could get the spare tyre out

 

Sam soon had the tyre changed

  • Feeling relieved the lady offered to pay him
  • But Sam just smiled and said, “You don’t owe me a thing. This is what it means to be human – to help people”

 

Humbled by Sam’s kindness she thanked him, got back in her car & drove away

  • A few miles down the road the lady saw a small café
  • Feeling hungry she went in for a coffee and a bite to eat

 

The waitress had a sweet smile even after being on her feet all day and being 8 months pregnant

  • She went out of her way for the old lady, moving the heater closer for her to sit beside

 

As the old lady drank her coffee she remembered Sam’s kindness to her

  • She wanted to help someone too
  • Not wanting to embarrass the waitress the old lady wrote a note on a paper serviette, “Someone once helped me out the way I’m helping you.”
  • When the waitress returned to the table the old lady had left her a $100

 

Later that night when the waitress got home from work and climbed into bed, she thought about the money and what the lady had written

  • How could she have known how much she and her husband needed it?
  • With the baby due next month it was going to be hard
  • She knew how worried her husband was since he had lost his job
  • As he lay sleeping beside her she kissed him softly and whispered…
  • “It’s going to be okay. I love you Sam.”

 

Prayer is listening in faith

 

Our reading from 1st Kings earlier began with Elijah listening to God in faith

  • God told Elijah to go to the town of Zarephath, near Sidon, and stay with a widow there
  • I’m not sure exactly how Elijah heard God but I’m pretty sure it would have taken a fair bit of faith for him do what God said

 

Zarephath was not part of Israel

  • This means Elijah had to leave his home country
  • In a very real way this was cross-cultural mission – representing God in a culture which was not his own

 

The other thing about Zarephath is that it was near where Jezebel came from

  • Jezebel, the queen married to Ahab, was Elijah’s nemesis
  • God was sending Elijah into enemy territory – but Elijah listened in faith and obeyed God

 

Our Tranzsend missionaries serve God overseas in a cross-cultural context

  • And like Elijah they are often called to live with and amongst people like the widow of Zarephath
  • People who are poor and vulnerable and barely scrapping to get by

 

Just as Elijah listened in faith to God, so too the widow of Zarephath listened in faith to Elijah

  • When Elijah asked for bread and water she said…
  • “All I have is a handful of flour and a drop of olive oil… That will be our last meal and then we will starve to death”
  • But Elijah said to her…
  • “Don’t worry… The bowl will not run out of flour or the jar run out of oil before the day that the Lord sends rain.”

 

Despite the fact she and her son faced starvation, the widow listened in faith and prepared some bread for Elijah

  • That’s some faith – sharing your last meal with a complete stranger
  • But this act of faith saved the woman
  • She discovered the flour and oil did not run out and there was always enough for the three of them

 

Tranzsend call their campaign Self Denial

  • The implication being that we deny ourselves something in order to identify with the poor and support the work of overseas mission
  • We appreciate that everyone is in a different position financially
  • Some people are able to give more than others – that’s okay
  • From a human perspective the amount you give does matter
  • But from God’s perspective the faith and love with which it is given matters more

 

People should decide how much to give after listening to God in faith

  • So I encourage you to try and hear God on this
  • Is there something you could give up (like a daily cup of coffee or some other treat) in order to put the money toward the Self Denial appeal
  • Or do you have a stash of loose coins sitting in your car that you could clear out to give to Tranzsend at the end of the month
  • Or is God saying, “Be more generous than that. Give a day’s pay”

 

I’m not here to tell you how much to give – that’s between you and God

  • What I can say is that when we give as God directs, like the widow of Zarephath, we find that our needs are met

 

Prayer is listening in faith, and prayer is asking in hope

 

Prayer is asking in hope:

Things seemed to be going along okay for the widow and her son until sometime later the boy fell ill

  • He got worse and worse until finally he died

 

I can only imagine how hard it would be to lose a child

  • But for this poor widow it was worse
  • She had already lost her husband
  • And her only son was her whole life – her present and her future

 

At this point the widow says to Elijah…

  • “Man of God, why did you do this to me? Did you come here to remind God of my sins and so cause my son’s death?”
  • Ouch – these are the words of a mother in pain
  • The woman blames everyone – she blames Elijah, God and herself
  • She thinks God is punishing her for her sins

 

The widow’s words reveal a lot about what she believes

  • She had been brought up to think like a pagan
  • A pagan lives in fear of the gods
  • A pagan thinks, ‘If something bad happens to me it’s my fault and I’m being punished’
  • That was part of the lie and the evil of Baal worship

 

Sometimes we can believe the lie that God doesn’t like us

  • We may suffer some misfortune and wonder…
  • ‘What have I done wrong this time? Is God punishing me?’
  • We may have this concept of God as a harsh judge and cold executioner
  • And while the Lord is judge of all the earth, He is not harsh or detached
  • God is more like a loving Father and a caring coach – he likes us
  • God is not our critic – He doesn’t want us to fail
  • God is our strength and our support – He wants us to prevail
  • Whatever might happen to us – God still loves us
  • So when things go wrong we have hope – we can ask God for a solution

 

The widow wasn’t feeling God’s love though – she was feeling judgment

  • Elijah knows that her perception of God is out of balance and he goes about giving her a new (more accurate) concept of God

 

Because Elijah has hope – he takes the boy in his arms, carries him upstairs and asks God for a solution. Crying out with heartfelt emotion he says…

  • “O Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die? Let this boy’s life return to him.”

 

The Good News version, which you have in your pews, has Elijah saying to the Lord, “…why have you done such a terrible thing to this widow?”

  • I think that translation may have taken a few liberties with the original text – it almost sounds like Elijah is accusing God
  • Rather Elijah asks God respectfully “…have you brought tragedy on this widow?…”, as if to say…
  • ‘I don’t believe it is your will for this widow to suffer like this’

 

Elijah can’t tell God what to do – but he can ask God in hope – and when he does the Lord restores the boy’s life

 

Prayer is listening in faith, asking in hope and confessing in truth

 

Prayer is confessing in truth:

The famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once said…

 

“True prayer is measured by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.”

 

On seeing her son restored to life the widow confesses in truth, saying…

  • “Now I know you are a man of God and the Lord really speaks through you”

 

What we notice here is that the widow’s confession of truth is hard won

  • It’s not just loosely patched on the outside – she owns it on the inside
  • The crucible of loss & despair gives weight & substance to her confession

 

In John 17, Jesus talks about how his disciples have been sanctified by the truth

  • To be sanctified is to be made holy, purified, cleansed
  • In a way this woman has been sanctified by the truth
  • Not only has Elijah been proved a bona fide prophet of God
  • The widow has also come to know, through personal experience, that Yahweh is Lord of life and death – Baal is just an imposter
  • And knowing that truth sets her free from the fear of Baal

 

What God did for the widow of Zarephath is kind of a story in miniature (a living parable) of what he was doing for Israel through the drought

  • Israel had to go through the crucible of the famine to realise the truth that Yahweh is the Lord of life & death and Baal is just a fraud
  • It’s the truth that sets people free
  • It’s the truth that sanctifies us
  • But getting the truth through a hard heart takes tough love
  • And Ahab, it seems, had the hardest of hearts

 

In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel Brennan Manning (a recovering alcoholic) tells the true story of a group therapy session he participated in once [2]

  • It was April 1975 and there were 25 chemically dependent men in this rehab facility for drug addicts and alcoholics

 

The leader of the group was a skilled therapist by the name of Sean Murphy-O’Connor

  • Sean told one of the patients, Max, to sit in the hot seat in the centre of the group
  • Max was a nominal Christian, married with 5 children and the owner of a successful company
  • He was wealthy, affable and gifted with remarkable poise – it was hard to rattle him

 

Sean, the group leader, started bluntly…

  • “How long have you been drinking like a pig, Max?”
  • Max winced, “That’s a bit unfair”
  • “We’ll see”, replied Sean. “How much do you drink each day?”
  • “Two drinks before lunch, two after work, two before dinner and two before bed”
  • “So that’s a total of 8 drinks a day, Max?” Sean inquired
  • “Yes, not a drop more and not a drop less”

 

“You’re lying”, Sean replied

  • Max didn’t like Sean’s tone and insisted that his word was his bond but Sean wasn’t buying it
  • “Get me a phone” said Sean
  • A phone was brought in and Sean consulted a memo pad for a number
  • The phone was on speaker so everyone in the room could hear

 

Sean dialled Max’s local and spoke to Hank Shea the bartender

  • After introducing himself Sean asked Hank if he knew Max
  • “Yea, I know Max well”, Hank replied, “He has his standard six martinis every afternoon”
  • Max leapt to his feet and unleashed a stream of profanities that would make a stevedore blush
  • Then, after regaining his composure, he sat down again

 

One of the addicts in the group, a guy named Fred, spoke up…

  • “Have you ever been unkind to one of your kids, Max?”
  • “Glad you brought that up Fred. I have a fantastic rapport with my four boys. Last year I took them on a fishing expedition to the Rockies, a great time. Two of my sons graduated from Harvard you know…”
  • “I didn’t ask you that Max. At least once in his life every father has been unkind to one of his kids… Now give us a specific example.”

 

There was a long pause while Max tried hard to think

  • “Well, I was a little thoughtless with my 9 year old daughter last Christmas Eve”
  • “What happened?”
  • “I don’t remember exactly. I just get this heavy feeling whenever I think about it”
  • “Where did it happen? What were the circumstances?”
  • “Now wait one minute!” I told you I don’t remember.”

 

Sean dialled Max’s home number to speak with his wife

  • “Sean Murphy-O’Connor here ma’am. We’re in a group therapy session and your husband just told us he was unkind to your daughter last Christmas Eve. Can you give me the details please?”

 

A soft voice filled the room.

  • “Yes, I can tell you the whole thing. Our daughter Debbie wanted a pair of shoes for her Christmas present.
  • On the afternoon of December 24th my husband drove her downtown, gave her $60 and told her to buy the best pair of shoes in the store.
  • That is exactly what she did
  • When she climbed back in the car, she kissed her father on the cheek and said he was the best daddy in the whole world
  • Max was preening himself like a peacock and decided to celebrate on the way home
  • He stopped at the Cork n’ Bottle and told her he would be right out
  • It was a clear, extremely cold day, so Max left the motor running and locked both doors of the car from the outside so no one could get in
  • It was a little after three in the afternoon…”

 

Max’s wife began to cry.

  • “My husband met some old Army buddies in the tavern… He lost track of time and didn’t make it out of the Cork n’ Bottle until midnight
  • He was drunk
  • The motor had stopped running and the car windows were frozen shut
  • Debbie was badly frostbitten on both ears and on her fingers.
  • When we got her to the hospital, the doctors had to amputate her thumb and forefinger.”

 

On hearing his wife speak the reality of what he had done Max collapsed on the floor and sobbed hysterically – undone by the truth about himself

 

Max was a liar: his lie consisted in appearing to be something he was not – a social drinker

  • Truth for him meant acknowledging that he was an alcoholic and his drinking was hurting those closest to him

 

Like Max, king Ahab and much of Israel were lying to themselves – appearing to be something they were not – righteous

  • Truth for them meant acknowledging that their religion was false and that their worship of Baal was hurting those closest to them
  • God had to turn the rain off to get the message through
  • Israel had to go through a crucible of loss and despair to realise the truth – to be able to pray in truth

 

It’s the truth which sets us free – the truth that sanctifies us

  • I’m not sure what your truth is
  • Maybe you’re not an alcoholic, maybe you are a workaholic
  • Or maybe you’re addicted to something else
  • We all have a tendency to lie to ourselves in some way
  • The point is: prayer requires us to be honest with God
  • But before we can be honest with Him we need to be honest with ourselves
  • Prayer isn’t just reciting a few words from a book
  • Prayer is confessing in truth
  • Being real and owning what we say before God, personally

Conclusion:

They call it the Tranzsend Prayer and Self Denial campaign, because prayer is essential to mission – without prayer there is no mission

  • Prayer means listening in faith
  • Asking in hope, and
  • Confessing in truth

[1] This story is adapted from the story, By the way, my name is Joe, in “Stories for a Man’s Heart, compiled by Al and Alice Gray, pages 17-18.

[2] Refer pages 123-130 of Brennan Manning’s book, ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’.

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