Prayer is a conversation with our heavenly Father, a conversation more times than not best conducted privately. When we pray aloud in front of others, it is far too easy to become distracted by the wrong concerns: the choice of our vocabulary,
the length of our prayers, or the reaction of others to what we are saying. That is why Jesus advised that we pray in private: "When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father sees what is done in secret will reward you" (Mt 6:6).
That does not mean we should never pray in front of others. Jesus occasionally prayed publicly, often before He performed a miracle, such as the feeding of the five thousand or the raising of Lazarus from the dead. But the secret of Jesus's extraordinary life and ministry was the priority He placed on private time spent in conversation with His Father. In fact, the day after the busiest day of His ministry, we find these words: "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there" (Mk 1:35).
If anyone could have made a case for sleeping in the next day after a jam-packed day of ministry, it could have been Jesus. Jesus had a regular time ("in the early morning") and a location ("a secluded place") where He regularly met with God-and so should we. While talking with God throughout the day should be as natural and frequent as breathing, there needs to also be an uninterrupted time and place where we meet with God. It really does not matter when or where you make your regular appointment with God. You may not be a morning person-that's fine. Your time can be after lunch or before you go to sleep. Your location may be a favorite place in your backyard or in a comfortable chair by your bed. Elijah prayed publicly for God to send the fire from heaven and consume the sacrifice--and God did just that. But it was in the solitary moments with God that the Lord answered Elijah's prayer for rain.
In his secret prayer, Elijah "crouched down on the earth and put his face between his knees" and called down the rain (1Ki 18:42). The Hebrew word for "crouched" is the idea of someone stretching on or throwing themselves to the ground. It is the same verb used in 2Ki 4:34 when Elisha "stretched himself" over the lifeless body of a young boy and prayed for the raise him from the dead by sending breath. In the same way, Elijah stretched himself over the ground and prayed for the Lord to raise the land from the dead by sending rain. Why is Elijah's posture during this prayer significant? This was no folded-hands, "now I lay me down to sleep" kind of prayer. Instead, Elijah was passionately pouring out to God what was really in his heart-that God would end the drought and send rain.
Too often we censor our prayers, thinking, God wouldn't want me to ask for that. So instead we offer up "safe prayer," not prayers that could be labeled as "selfish prayer." We pray for missionaries or starving children in faraway lands. Yet Paul encouraged us to pray about anything and everything that truly concerns us. He wrote, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Phil 4:6).
Yes, we should pray for those things we know God desires: the conversion of unbelievers, God's glory in the world, reconciliation of broken relationships, and our own moral purity. But we should also be honest with God about the other things we desire. Do you need a raise in your salary? Would you like your boss to commend you for your hard work? Are you ready for God to bring you a mate? Tell God what is really in your heart, not just what you think should be in your heart. After all, He already knows. Just make sure you add to that request, no matter how audacious it seems, a sincere addendum: "Not my will, but Your will be done.“
Few of us experience immediate and dramatic answers to our prayers on a regular basis. But Elijah did, and here is one reason why: he prayed with laserlike specificity. When James encouraged Christians to pray for healing for those who were ill, he encouraged them to pray specifically, noting, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (James 5:16). James illustrates what an "effective prayer" is by Elijah's example: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit" (vv17-18).
Whenever Elijah prayed, he pleaded with the Lord to grant very specific requests: the drought in Israel for three years, the raising of the widow's son from the dead, the fire to fall from heaven on Mount Carmel, and the rain to pour on Israel again.
Sometimes God answers our specific request immediately, just as He did when Elijah prayed for Him to consume the animal sacrifice on Mount Carmel. Other times God delays His answer, just like He did when Elijah prayed for the rain to return to Israel. Look at the account again, "Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth and put his face between his knees. He said to his servant, 'Go up now, look toward the sea.' And he said, 'Go back' seven times. It came about at the seventh time, that he said, 'Behold, a cloud as small as a man's hand is coming up from the sea'" (1Ki 18:42-44).
Just imagine what might have happened-or not happened-had Elijah stopped asking God for rain after the first or sixth time, reasoning, This isn't working. Rain is obviously not part of God's will. Elijah and the entire nation would have missed God's supernatural blessing had he not persisted in prayer.
The same is true for you and me. One reason we miss out on an extraordinary life is that we give up too easily in our praying. If you want to experience an extraordinary life, then it is essential to learn how to pray at all times and not lose heart (Lk 18:1). Do not just pray when the answer seems possible but also when the answer seems impossible. And do not just pray a "one and done" prayer. Keep on praying until God answers with a definitive yes or no-just as Elijah did while alone with God on the top of Mount Carmel.
Today is the first Sunday of the new year. You may have a new year's resolution. You may have a new hope and determination for the new year. Again, you are not alone, but pray God to be with you, pray God to lead you, guide you and help you for starting the new year. You start with God, continue with God, and end with God. Whatever you do, wherever you go, always with God.