This article on 1 Kings 18:42-44 discusses answered prayers. The author also looks at James 5:17.

Source: The Outlook, 1987. 3 pages.

1 Kings 18:42-44 – An Answer with the Seventh Prayer

Elijah climbed to the top of Mt. Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 'Go and look towards the sea' he said. Seven times Elijah said, 'Go back.' The seventh time the servant reported, 'A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea'

1 Kings 12:42-44

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

James 5:17

Elijah, the man of God, prophet of judgment, had preached repentance to the people of Israel. But they refused. Thereupon the prophet prayed that it would not rain. And it didn't rain. Now, after the great demonstration of fire on Mt. Carmel, and the people responding saying, "the Lord is God," Elijah prayed for rain. He instructed his servant to look towards the west for signs of rain in the sky. But there wasn't a cloud to be seen. Elijah told him to go back and look again. The servant came back with the same negative answer. This was repeated six times. After the seventh prayer the servant saw a cloud as small as a man's hand. Soon the sky became dark and it poured rain.

Why did Elijah keep on praying? Why didn't Elijah give up in despair after the third or fourth prayer? And why did the Lord answer only after the seventh prayer?

The number seven has a symbolic meaning in the Bible, as do also other numbers. Ten, for example, symbolizes a fulness. Ten plagues in Egypt are the fulness of God's wrath. Ten commandments are the fulness of the Lord's will. The number seven as the number of the covenant, is often used in the Old Testament. The heart of the covenant is God's faithfulness and His promises of unfailing love. Elijah knew this. He persevered in his prayer for rain, trusting that God in His faithfulness would answer.

We, too, must persevere in prayer. He will answer. This doesn't mean that He will answer us immediately, or that He will give us what we want. It does mean that He, the eternally faithful One, promises that He will give His dear children what they need, accompanied with His grace and Holy Spirit.

Let's take another example of this same truth. Consider the story of Naaman, the "five star" general of the Syrian army. The great man was a leper. In his hopeless condition he went to Elisha in Israel for healing. Elisha instructed him to dip himself in the Jordan river seven times. Although he at first resented this instruction, he finally did what the prophet told him to do. And on the seventh immersion he was miraculously healed. I can imagine Naaman questioning on the third or fourth dipping, "Does this make any sense?" But he persevered, and healing came with the seventh immersion.

He, with his limited knowledge of the Lord, had to learn that simple faith in the instruction of this faithful God through Elisha did marvelous things for him.

For us this means, not that we must always pray seven times, but that in our prayer life we must continue praying, being assured that we have a faithful God who always answers true prayers. Do not doubt, therefore, but keep on praying.

You may have pleaded with God for years. Do not give up in unbelief. Remember the seven prayers. We are encouraged to plead fervently with the ever faithful God. Although we may want an answer immediately, we must learn to wait for God's time. Because we have to wait, our faith often becomes weak. As Elijah's prayers were answered, will not yours and mine also be answered? Our heavenly Father always gives good gifts and rich blessings upon persevering prayers. Elijah knew the Lord in His faithfulness and trusted in Him. The Lord may answer in a way completely different from what we expect, and at a different time, but answer He will. Who knows why the Lord delays in answering prayers? In His infinite wisdom and love, He may have good reasons to answer in a different way or have us wait. He is the majestic God and Father who loves His children with an indescribable love, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Remember, there are three answers to our prayers, "yes," "no," and "wait." Often we have to wait. Sometimes "no" and "wait" go together. Even when we have to wait we know that all true prayers are first of all answered by the Lord giving us grace to wait. No earthly father would give to his son, when he asks, a snake instead of a fish, a scorpion instead of an egg, or a stone instead of a loaf of bread. Our heavenly Father surely will not treat His pleading children that way.

The Scriptures tell us that the Lord "inclines His ears" to our cries. Picture a grown-up reaching over to hear what his child is saying to him. What a thought ... that the heavenly Father so inclines His ears to our cries, even though these may be only faint whispers from a weak patient in a bed.

When he waits, there is a divine purpose in that. Tears may be shed during that time of waiting. But He remembers them, "puts them in a bottle," says Psalm 56:8.

Knowing all this, we pray,

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear;
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Does this mean that the Lord answers all prayers of all people who pray? Of course not. He does not hear the cries of the wicked, nor of His people when they live in sin.

Thinking Christians also ask, "For what may we pray?" This is a difficult question for many people. The Heidelberg Catechism says that we may and should pray for all things we need for body and soul. It is possible that what we think we need is different from what the Lord considers to be our need. He gives us what we really need and He will answer. "Seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened unto you, ask and you shall receive."

James says that in the end the Lord, who is full of compassion and mercy, blessed Job. Job, too, had to wait. James speaks of the perseverance of Job. Who knows how long he suffered before this blessing came upon him?

The Scripture contains more examples of a saint who persevered in prayer. Think of Joseph. At 17 he was sold as a slave. Later he was unjustly jailed by Potiphar. We know how he was released. But he didn't know that when he was imprisoned, and the hope of being released was very dim. Joseph, a godly man, had to wait.

Think also of Abraham. A son had been promised. But time went on, Abraham and Sarah grew older, and soon they were beyond the normal age of having children. They had to wait 25 years. But they persevered in prayer and faith.

Another example is that of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. He was an old man when Gabriel appeared to him and said that his prayers had been heard. Assuming that this couple was married at a normal age, think how long they prayed for the birth of a child or children. But now, when they are old their prayers are heard. How they, too, had to persevere and wait in prayer.

The true suppliant gathers force as he proceeds and grows more fervent when God delays to answer. The longer the gate is closed, the more vehemently does he use the knocker, and the longer the angel lingers the more resolved he is that he will never let go without the blessing. Beautiful in God's sight is the fearful, agonizing, unconquerable perseverance of the saints. It means praying humbly for the Spirit. We shall never sing Gloria in Excelsis except we first pray to God de profundis.Charles Spurgeon

Another requirement is that we pray regularly. Daniel did, three times per day. Think of the regular prayer life of our Lord Jesus.

Would you know the secret of always abiding in a state of prayerfulness? The answer is clear. Realize first that God is near you, and within you; then you will feel how natural it is to talk with Him, each moment about your needs and desires. For the true Christian, life is a constant abiding with the Father ...The intercourse between the Father and His child should be continuous. Prayer must be a daily activity, like breathing or sleeping, instead of something that is brought into use only once per day. The principle of complete dependence on the unseen God and the holy habit of claiming His presence with us each moment of the day – is the secret of a life of true godliness.Andrew Murray

Elijah is saying to us here, "God will answer. Be patient and persevere".

God's word again and again encourages us to persist in praying:

Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

With prayers and supplications praying at all seasons in the Spirit. (Ephesians 6:16)

Continue in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

Night and day praying exceedingly. (1 Thessalonians 3:10)

Crying unto Him, day and night. (Luke 18:7)

They continued steadfastly in fellowship and prayers. (Acts 2:42)

Persevering prayer has unbelievable power with our heavenly Father when it comes from our hearts that are yielded to Him in faith and obedience.

This Elijah also knew when he continued to pray and received an answer upon the seventh prayer.

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