Throughout the Bible God does all kinds of miracles, often in response to someone’s prayer. Jesus tells his disciples that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed (i.e. very little) to move a mountain. So why do we have so much trouble moving mountains? Do we really have such tiny faith? Or are we missing some crucial steps in our prayers? A look at Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18 shows how Elijah called down fire from heaven.
Step One: Obedience
Being a prophet was a dangerous job. People often didn’t like what God had to say, and they most definitely blamed the messenger. Elijah has been on King Ahab’s bad side ever since he condemned the king for worshipping Baal. Since then, he’s been hiding out in the wilderness, getting fed by ravens. Then God tells Elijah it’s time to go back and face Ahab. Elijah knows Ahab wants to kill him, but he obeys God and returns to Israel, setting up his confrontation with Baal’s prophets.
If we don’t obey God, we won’t be in the right place at the right time to see His power at work. If Elijah had let his fear keep him in the wilderness, 1 Kings 18 never would have happened.
Step Two: Risky Faith
When Elijah returns to Israel, he sets up a public confrontation with the prophets of Baal to see who the true God is. Elijah was so convinced that the God of Israel would win that he had no problem setting himself up for defeat if he was wrong. Not only would Elijah have been publicly humiliated if he had lost, he would have been executed. And yet he trusted God to answer his prayer and win the day.
How often do you find yourself making excuses for why God might not answer even as you’re praying? Are you ever reluctant to tell people what you’re praying for until after you know the outcome? True faith isn’t just words. It’s taking risks, believing that God will come through when you need Him.
Step Three: Big Faith
Not only does Elijah set himself up for disaster if God doesn’t answer his prayer, but he makes sure that if he’s going down, he’s going down big. It hasn’t rained for three years. It wouldn’t take much of a spark to get a big fire going. But Elijah wants to prove that God can do much more than light a tiny spark. He has the people soak the altar down with twelve big jars of water. He wants people to know that if this altar goes up in flames, it’s only by the power of God.
If God isn’t answering our prayers, the problem probably isn’t that we’re asking for too much. It’s more likely that we’re not asking for enough. There is no limit to what God can do. Don’t be afraid to pray for big things. The bigger the miracle, the more glory God gets from it.
Step Four: Be Specific
Speaking of glory, the more specific we are in our prayers, the more obvious it is that God has answered. Elijah very specifically asks God to burn up this particular altar right now. Elijah isn’t waiting for just any event that he can claim is a demonstration of God’s power. He wants a very specific sign so that there is no doubt that God has answered.
The more specific we are in our prayers, the more obvious it is when God answers. This builds up our faith so that we can pray even more confidently in the future. It also makes it harder for other people to ignore the fact that God is at work in response to what we ask.
Step Five: Give God the Glory
Elijah didn’t arrange this showdown so that he could show off. It isn’t about Elijah’s skill in presenting a sacrifice or praying for fire. It’s about God’s ability to answer prayer. 1 Kings 18:37 says, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
If you’re struggling with your prayers, a good first step is to check your attitude. Do you really want all the glory to go to God, or are you trying to make yourself the center of attention?
It’s Not All Flaming Altars
God is still answering prayers in powerful ways, but the five steps outlined here aren’t a magical solution to all of life’s problems. In the very next chapter of 1 Kings, Elijah is back in the wilderness, once again running for his life. Winning the showdown against Baal’s prophets actually put him in even more danger from Queen Jezebel than ever.
But it’s not about us, right? It’s about displaying God’s power so that the whole world can see that He is the Lord.