Prayers that Bless a Nation

Title: Prayers that Bless a Nation

Bible Book: James 5 : 17-18

Author: John C. Bryan

Subject: Memorial Day; Prayer; America



On this Memorial Day weekend we are reminded of the price that Jesus Christ paid to give us the ultimate freedom that we share. It's the principle upon which our nation was built - that Jesus Christ saves, that God redeems, that the Lord wants His people to be drawn back to Himself whenever they might wander away. I want to guide you to James 5:17-18 as we see what God was saying because of a man who chose to follow after God's will and design for his life. The text reads: Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed and the heavens gave rain and the earth produced its crops.

Would you pray with me? "Our Father and our God, many of our lives can be transformed and completely renewed through prayer. Would you draw us back to that communion with you? Would you draw us again to see that not only do our prayers change lives but they can change the course of a nation, they can bless a nation and they can bring about a restoration of a nation. We honor you, we memorialize you, we thank you for Jesus and His death so that we might have life. In His Name we pray. Amen."

I'm going talk about a very common symbol of the nation of the United States and I'm going to pair it with a less common symbol of a nation that is very distanced from us. Picture with me the American flag waving with honor and pride. It reminds us of the 50 states united together, and of the thirteen colonies, and by the red stripes of the blood that was spilled, and the purity that God expects for us by the white background. Let's compare now the flag of Israel, which reminds us of a nation that also was founded on God. At the top of the mast is the Star of David, the focal point of the flag, and the blue and white of the flag represents loyalty and purity. In America we too are responsible for having the hand of God remain upon us and for being found faithful as a nation that will remain close to His heart, and for being an obedient gathering of God's people who are seeking to do His very best. This scripture takes us back in time and history and

I'd like to draw four principles from the two verses above to draw our attention to what we can   become and how we too can bless our nation. Since September 11, 2001, our nation has been awakened. We've found ourselves looking to God for answers. It was a wakeup call of sorts. But through these months we've become more and more complacent, thinking in terms of, "Its safe now, we're alright." Even with the warnings that seem to come from Vice President Cheney and from President Bush that continuing terrorist activity is not only possible but it is imminent, we still find ourselves sheltered in our emotions of security and thinking it can't happen again, it surely won't.

I. The Background That Caused This Prayer (1 Kings 17- 18)

The first principle is to understand the background that caused this prayer. As Elijah began to pray, there was a background for his original prayer. We investigate that by looking at 1st Kings, chapters 17 and 18. We'll look at Elijah because James said that he was a man just like us, but he was a man who was righteous and effective in his praying.

What was the background that was happening? Remember with me that there was the king whose name was Ahab and the wicked queen whose name was Jezebel, and they were confiding together to take down the cause of God. They said that there would be another god for their nation and his name was Baal. This false god, Baal, was one whom they said should deserve and demand the worship of the people of this nation. It was away from Jehovah and away form Yaweh's design, the one true Living God who had expressed Himself through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and who through the lineage of belief and faith had scattered Himself among the nation of Israel and said, "I am that one whom you should serve. I am the one to whom you should come." It reminds us that Israel was led away from God.

A. Israel Was Led Away From The Lord

Perhaps today you find yourself in a similar dilemma and you look at our nation and think we've been led away. There have been those with political and military persuasion who have not kept God as the focus. And we, like Israel, though we have a wave of patriotism that has rushed through our nation, find ourselves in similar dilemmas. That's the reason I parallel the United States and Israel together. We need a blessing of God and we need to be reminded by God that there is a time in our lives when we need a wake up call, just like they did then.

B. God Punished The Nation (Drought)

Do you know that God does not bless disobedience and when people wander away from Him, under the influence of whoever it may be or by their own temptation and their own design, He brings about   a punishment? God punished that nation with a drought of three and a half long years through the prayer of Elijah who prayed that there would be a drought upon the nation to wake them up and to remind them that the one true God was longing to have their hearts again. Imagine the sun as it parched the ground and as that dried ground cracked before the scorching sun, heated, melted and leaving no crops. The Bible said that the sky was as a frozen brass.

No rain! Now we've suffered through a drought in the southeast and particularly in the CSRA for several years. Evidence of that is every time you cross over the Little River Bridge going across  Clarks Hill, or Lake Thurmond as we may choose to call it, and look at those exposed clay banks that shout to us, "I want some water; I need some help." We're reminded of the lawn watering   prohibitions that we have and the alternating days that we're about to get back into and already are under, according to our county legislation. We're in a drought, but it's nothing like what they experienced for three and a half years. Can you imagine what it would be like to be that long without ever hearing thunder roll and without feeling the refreshment that God can bring from the skies? For three and a half years the heavens were as brass and the earth was unable to produce crops.

Then Elijah challenged the priests of Baal and said to them, "I want you to call out, to cry to your god."

And they did and Elijah even coached them and coached and said, "Cry louder, cry louder," and you know the result? Nothing! That which they'd placed on their altar was untouched by their god because there was no god to listen to their voice of cry. Elijah rebuilt the altar of God that had been displaced. He placed upon it the sacrifice that was poured with water bucket and jars of water upon water, even to the point where it filled the trough around it. Then the scripture says that Elijah prayed once and fire from heaven consumed that sacrifice, proving that the one true God was still there. He had not forsaken the nation of Israel. He had not wandered from the people of God. God was reminding them, through Elijah, that prayers can be answered if they are prayed with a heart that is hungry for the Lord.

Perhaps you've made bad choices in these past few weeks. Maybe you are the recipient now of the discipline of God because you made choices that were less than the best years ago. Maybe it was a bad relationship, a financial downturn because you were looking for a quick fix and easy dollar or maybe because God called you into a special ministry or service but you backed away saying, "No, it's not the time in my life," and you know today that you are a recipient of the drought and the spiritual dryness that seems as harsh as the sun and the sun baked land I've described.

I don't know what dry period you're going through, but I do know that God has a Mount Carmel experience for every one of us. He wants us to see the proven power of God. Some of us have been on the mountain with God but it seems today that we're so far away from when we used to be hot and glowing and glorious for the Lord and now we're cold and clammy and not Christ-like. God is returning us and drawing us back to Himself. I want you to remember the past so we can build on  our present to move toward our future.

II. The Blessing That Came From This Prayer

Secondly, I want you to note with me the blessing that came from this prayer. There's always a blessing when the people of God begin to pray. People have debated with me throughout my ministry saying, "I can't ever bless God." Oh yes you can! In fact He expects you to bless Him and He longs to hear your prayers. Some of us have quit praying for God to do something because we think He doesn't want to hear it. Oh but He does! He longs to hear the voice of His children just like you long to hear the voice of your children - those who live in your home, those who live outside of your home, those who call you back and those who aren't speaking to you any longer - you long to hear from them. God longs to hear from His children as well.

A. Elijah Prayed with Purpose (I Kings 18:37)

There's a blessing that came from this prayer. You see the nation still needed rain. Even though God had been proven to be God and had consumed the altar sacrifice and proved His power, the nation was still in a drought. So Elijah, listening to the Lord, followed in obedience and went to the top of Mount Carmel and fell before the Lord in prayer. Then he sent a servant out seven times to see if God had answered this prayer. Folks, he prayed with purpose!

The powerful purpose that he prayed with is found in I Kings 18:37. "Answer me," Elijah prayed, "O LORD, answer me, so that these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." You see many times we pray, but without purpose.

I believe God longs to give specific answers to specific prayers. Too many of us as Christians pray in generalization. We pray, "Oh God, bless my life; bless my family." There's nothing wrong with that, but wouldn't it be better if we said, "Lord I need a blessing in my life, but particularly with the temptation that I have to look at the wrong things and listen to the wrong things and say the wrong words." God hears that and He longs to answer that; and you can hear specifically from Him when you begin to pray specifically to Him about the needs in your life.

Elijah prayed with a purpose. He said, "Lord let them know you, let their hearts be turned back to you." Do you think that there was evidence for Elijah to be able to gauge whether or not God answered that prayer? You better believe it! If they know God, they will turn away from the false god of Baal. If their hearts are turned back to you, they will turn back to worship again. So it was a very specific, purpose-filled prayer and that's the way God longs to hear from us. Then, my friends, showers of blessings will begin to come upon our lives.

B. Showers of Blessing Came from the Cloud

As Elijah was praying, "God would you return the rain again, would you bring it back so that our parched and drought-filled land can be filled with the evidence of your refreshment and your revival and your love," storm clouds began to form. The Bible says it was only the size of a man's hand and the seventh time when the servant returned he said, "There's a cloud out there, but it's just an insignificant little cloud." Elijah knew, as his spirit leapt within him, that it was the beginning of God's answer! The storm clouds began to form and as they did he heard a noise, thunder in the distance. Could it be rain? Ah yes, it was rain! Rain clouds began to form from that one small cloud and the large gathering of the groupings of clouds moved together and the parched earth was refreshed again.

What's the lesson for us? Some of us have been praying and we've seen just this small amount of evidence that God is answering, so we've backed away from it. We've said, "Now wait a minute Lord,  I want a large expression, I want you to consume a whole sacrifice that I've laid before you. I want you to prove yourself in power." And what God says is, "I start sometimes in small little ways and I begin to build because I know what you need and when you need it. The problem is that too many of us are playing God. We begin to say to the Lord, "I know what I need best and when I need it most." When we get the answers from God and when He proves Himself in small ways, sometimes we back  away from Him thinking that He's not really answering the way we want Him to so we move a distance from Him. The blessing comes when we hold on to all that God has given us.

III. The Belief That Created This Prayer

The third expression is simply to see that God can do a mighty work through the creation of this prayer. I think there was a belief in Elijah's spirit that was a faith filled belief that God would do something mighty.

Do you believe? You say, "Well sure I do, that's why I'm here this morning. I believe that God answers prayer." Oh do you really? Do you have a feeling based prayer life or a faith based prayer life? A feeling based prayer life is one that says, "Whenever I get hurt, whenever I'm damaged, whenever my emotions are upside down, that's when I go to God. Whenever the circumstances in my life don't match up with what I think God ought to be blessing my life with, that's when I go to God." That's feelings. Elijah didn't base his prayers on feelings. He based them on faith. God promised that it would bless him. God promised that He would answer his prayers. God promised that He would  turn not only others back to Himself, but that He would take a nation and turn it back to Him.

A. Elijah was a Righteous Man (5:16)

Do you know why? I think the basis of his belief was his righteousness. According to James in the passage above, Elijah was a righteous man. Note in James 5 how God expresses this: "The prayers of a righteous man bring power." And that's exactly what happened in the life of Elijah and that's exactly what could happen in our lives as well. As you go back and see that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, so you see the life example of Elijah. Some of you might be debating with me today saying, "Well that's because he was a prophet; that's because he was the man that God had chosen. God doesn't answer my prayers in such dramatic fashion like he does a person like Elijah." Well no wonder James wrote in verse 17 that Elijah was a man just like us. He was the person who sits on the pew, just like you do. He was a person who heard from God and was discouraged by God, just like you and me. Did you know the scripture also teaches us that after Elijah's Mount Carmel experience and after he met with God and after he saw the power and the might of God and was obedient to follow the plea that God had given to him, Elijah wandered and went into a period of depression and discouragement; and during that time of fear in his life, God got a hold of his life once more.

B. Faith Produces Power (I Kings 18:1)

Maybe that's where you are. Maybe you've had a mountaintop experience with God, but it's been so long ago and you've come down from the mountain and found yourself wandering away once more from the call God has given to you. I want to remind you that faith produces power! By the faith in Elijah and by the faith in each one of us, there can be a time again of the expression of the power of God. First Kings 18:1 tells us, "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.' Now if we had gotten an assignment like that, I imagine we would have had words like this: "Well God you know he doesn't believe in you and you know his wife ... I mean she's worse than he is... and God you know that if I come to them in the name of You, they're not going to listen to me and they're not going to do anything any different. They are more powerful than I am, God. They have persuasion over all of the nation." But because of Elijah's faith, this man just like you and me, went to a person who had great power and influence and said, "God's going to send rain; my God said that if I pray it's going to come," and rain did come!

I wonder, is your faith based on feelings or on belief? No matter where God may call you, if it's to your employer or if it's to your worst enemy or if it's to the person who brings you greatest fear and you think there's been a fragmentation in your relationship and they'll not listen to you, all the while God will be faithful if you will. Elijah was a man of belief.

Here' a truth I want to share with you: Prayer is not getting man's will done in heaven; it's getting God's will done on earth. Too many times we pray, "Father, here's my prayer; change your mind please. Please do what I think is best. Oh God, not your will, but mine be done. God you surely understand, I can't take it any longer." And all the while the Father longs for His children to simply ask for His will to be done because it's best for us. Even when He puts you into uncomfortable relationships, going before people who you know have more power and more persuasion and whose resume is far more glowing than yours, God will use the tiny grain like a mustard seed of faith to move mountains more than He will use the power and forces of this world.

IV. The Begging That Continued This Prayer

Last, I want you to see the begging that continued this prayer. Some of you might be thinking, "Begging, I don't want to be a beggar!" Let me remind you what begging is all about. Begging means putting yourself into a posture where you evidence that you have less than the one who is able to give you more. Begging is going to someone whose resources are far greater than what you have right now. Begging is asking, not once, but continually because you have a need.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus gives a powerful parable. Let me show you from Luke 18 why I've chosen to use the word begging here. Beginning with Luke 18:1: Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to Him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me (begging me), I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones (Israel, the United States, the people of God called Christians) who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly."

A. He Prayed - Again He Prayed (vv. 17-18)

My friend, God is never wearied with our persistence in prayer. Note with me back in James 5:17-18 that Elijah prayed and the scripture says in verse 18, "He prayed again." He prayed and he prayed again. He was consistent and persistent. He didn't quit talking to God. Some of us have quit talking  to God! Oh it's not because you don't love Him; it's just that you don't sense Him like you used to. You don't feel His power. The reason that our nation has wandered from its roots in the very beginning is because we have become so dependent upon what we have accomplished, rather than what He wants to accomplish through us. Yes, may God bless America, but may God turn the hearts of His people back to Him so that as the writer of 2nd Chronicles 7:14 said, "If my people (speaking for God), who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray (I will answer them) and seek my face (I will answer them) and turn from their wicked ways (I will answer them), then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Who is He speaking to but the church -    you and me. If we will but turn again to God and come back, He will answer us. No wonder Elijah was used by God to turn the godless people back to a Living God. But He was also turning those who  had wandered away from the Lord to come back to be with Him. Our nation needs memories, yes; and we look back to those who've given their lives for the cause of freedom in our nation. But our nation also needs current momentum to continue to be found faithful before a Father who gave His Son so that we might have life and have it everlasting.

B. He Prayed In Prayer (Earnestly)

Why do you think God answered Elijah's prayer? I know, because the Bible teaches us, according to verse 17 in James 5, that he prayed earnestly. Earnestly, do you know what this means? According to the Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, it literally means that he prayed in prayer. You say that makes no sense in English. Well let me try to unwind it. In other words, Elijah prayed from his heart; he prayed in prayer. Some of us speak in prayer. We just say the words and expect that if we just say the right words, if we just repeat certain words that we've heard others say, if we use the Christian language and if we just go on with God language, then God will answer our prayer. All the while God reminds us that He wants us before He wants our words, and our words must be an expression of our heart.

Perhaps some of you remember Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount as He stood before those thousands who were there at the Sea of Galilee, with that amphitheater - like voice projection coming off of the sea. He spoke to them and said that He would not honor us for much praying. Was He talking about our continued prayer? No! He was talking about our prayer of vain repetition. He was talking about the Pharisaical kind of prayer. He was talking about the kind of prayers that we sometimes just shout to God without any feeling without any emotion or without any heart behind it. The reason Elijah's prayers were answered is because He prayed in prayer. He really brought the heart of the matter before the one who could change the hearts.

There's a huge difference between vain repetition and believing persistence in prayer. Some of you have quit praying for certain people. For many months, maybe years, you've prayed for a lost one in your family who doesn't know Christ as Savior; and they've wandered, it seems, even deeper in sin and you've quit praying. God didn't quit on you. Some of you've quit praying about your job situation. You say, "It's hopeless, my employer is nothing but a tyrant, we'll never get along, it's not going to work out, I've got to find another job," and you've quit praying for him or for her. God answers persistent prayer.

Some of us have quit on our children because they've become so disobedient and so ornery and so offensive and we just decided, we can't handle it so we quit. God honors persistent prayer. I believe that the example and model of Elijah is good for the church today. I believe that God will bless America because of the persistent prayers of people like you and me. I believe that God can transform and renew the Body of Christ and bring reviving rains again to a drought filled parched land that is hungry for showers from our Savior.


I have several questions in closing.

1. Number one, has our nation been led away from the Lord?

Do you wrestle with that like I do? I think most of us in Christian America today would say, "Yes, we've wandered." But you know where the problem comes? It's that we say, "It's their fault; they know where God is and they could come back if they want to."

2. So let me make this question a bit more personal: Have you wandered away from the Lord?

There was a time of Mount Carmel in some of our lives where we saw God work, but we don't see Him like that anymore. God says, "Return unto me and I will return unto you." Next, do your prayers produce power? Do you feel like the heavens are as brass and every time you pray before God it just sort of bounces right back? That's not the way it is with God. God wants power in your praying because He knows that when you pray in prayer with an earnest heart before the Lord and you pour yourself out that He will pour Himself on His people today. If your prayers don't produce power, don't look for an outside excuse; look on the inside and say, "Where have I gone where I need to return?"

3. The final question is, have you given up on prayer, any prayer or any person that God has given you a burden to pray for?

I am the product of persistent prayer. When people saw me in my rebellious days, in my teenage years, they said, "He's too far, he's too gone." God answered that prayer because people didn't give up on me and God isn't giving up on you.

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