Clinging to the Promises of God
Call to Worship
“I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Ps. 34:1, 3 KJV).
*Praise # 323 “I’m a Child of the King”
*Invocation (Lord’s Prayer) Father, open now our eyes that we may see with clear vision. Open our hearts that we may feel with deep conviction. Open our minds that we may know you with certainty. Make us ready to serve you and others with compassion. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
*Gloria Patri (Sung together) #575
Psalm for Today Psalm 33:12-22
12 Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
13 The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind.
14 From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth—
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.
16 A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.
18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield.
21 Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
Our Offering to God “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isa. 58:10 NIV).
*Prayer of Dedication Father, as we walk the pilgrimage of faith, give us generous hearts and willing spirits. Bless and multiply these offerings for the cause of your Kingdom and allow them to be used for the good of all people in every circumstance of life.
*Hymn of Prayer # 311 “My Anchor Holds”
Pastoral Prayer Holy One, to you forever, let all thanks be sung! Father, may we be glad when it is said to us, “Let us go into the house of the Lord!” Let it be our delight, as well as our responsibility, to worship you in the fellowship of your church. Prepare us in mind and spirit for our worship, and tune our hearts to sing and speak your praise. May we receive all that you have to give to us and offer all that you require from us. May our lives, as well as our lips, glorify you. Right now, we come to you in silence, Amidst this silence we are overawed by the thoughts of your love for us; for you love us so much that you gave your only Son to suffer and die for us. Yet to think that you love us like that makes us long to break our silence—to shout for joy and sing your praise. You have given us new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In him we are loved, ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven. This morning give us a heart to praise you, our God and Father. Accept our worship and praise, whether silent, spoken, or sung, to the glory of your holy name.—Larry Ellis
*Hymn of Praise # 225 “Standing on the Promises”
Scripture Text 1 Kings 18: 41-46
Elijah said to Ahab, “Up on your feet! Eat and drink—celebrate! Rain is on the way; I hear it coming.”
Ahab did it: got up and ate and drank. Meanwhile, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bowed deeply in prayer, his face between his knees. Then he said to his young servant, “On your feet now! Look toward the sea.”
He went, looked, and reported back, “I don’t see a thing.” “Keep looking,” said Elijah, “seven times if necessary.”
And sure enough, the seventh time he said, “Oh yes, a cloud! But very small, no bigger than someone’s hand, rising out of the sea.”
Quickly then, on your way. Tell Ahab, ‘Saddle up and get down from the mountain before the rain stops you.’ ”
Things happened fast. The sky grew black with wind-driven clouds, and then a huge cloudburst of rain, with Ahab hightailing it in his chariot for Jezreel. And God strengthened Elijah mightily. Pulling up his robe and tying it around his waist, Elijah ran in front of Ahab’s chariot until they reached Jezreel.
Message Clinging to the Promises of God
Christians who do not know how to appropriate the promises of God remind me of a story about Crowfoot, the great chief of the Blackfoot confederacy in southern Alberta, Canada. When Crowfoot gave the Canadian Pacific Railroad permission to cross tribal land from Medicine Hat to Calgary, the railway commission wanted to do something special for the chief. So in return for his gracious act, Crowfoot received a lifetime railway pass, which he could use anywhere in Canada.
Crowfoot treasured the pass. He put it in a leather case and proudly wore it around his neck for the rest of his life. // Yet there is no record that the chief ever once availed himself of the right to travel on the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
Tragically, many Christians treat the promises of God the same way. They may hang them on the wall, they may recite them to their children, they may believe them in their heads – but they do not know how to appropriate God’s Promises.
Think of it this way – if you give me a check and I never deposit it or cash it, the check is useless to me; I never appropriated your gift. Similarly, the Holy Spirit has given us promises: They are recorded in God’s word. But what you do with these promises, how you apply them in your life, is up to you.
Because of the ease with which promises are made and broken today, and because we get away with not keeping our word, we think it’s all right to break our promises, the result is that some Christians have trouble taking God at His Word.
God DID NOT make frivolous promises that He does not intend to keep. God is faithful to all His promises. God’s promises may not be fulfilled exactly the way we want them to be, or at the time we want them to be, but He always keeps His promises.
Let’s look again at the biblical record and see how Elijah clung to the promises of God. There are two principles we need to learn about God’s promises. One principle is that some of God’s promises are conditional and others are unconditional; the second is that some promises are universal and some are personal.
The Nature of God’s promises
An unconditional promise is not dependent on our actions; its fulfillment is strictly up to God. A conditional promise has a condition attached to it. It depends on us to do something in obedience to God before the promise can be fulfilled. “If you will do this” God says, “then I will do this.” 2 Chronicles 7:14. We are familiar with “IF…Then's.
The second principle relating to the nature of God’s promises is that some are personal and some are universal. A personal promise is limited to one person at one particular time. A universal promise has no limitations and no expiration date; it is for all believers in all time periods.
As we get back to our story of Elijah, we must examine the nature of God’s promises to his prophet. God’s promise to withhold rain and then send rain at Elijah’s word was a personal promise. God never made a universal promise that believers could decide whenever they wanted it to rain and He would be obligated to open the floodgates.
We get into trouble when we make personal promises into universal promises.
God’s promise to Elijah was not only personal, it was also conditional. When Elijah obeyed God, meeting the conditions of the promise, then God fulfilled it.
Immediately after God’s incredible intervention on Mount Carmel, when the fire fell from heaven and supernaturally consumed everything in sight – stones and wood and ox and water – Elijah told King Ahab to celebrate now because before long he would have to get home because of heavy rains.
Elijah tells Ahab, in the original language, I hear the feet of rain approaching.
Ahab descended the mountain to eat and drink. But where did Elijah go? He climbed to the very top of Mount Carmel to pray, because when he heard the sound of rain there was not a single cloud in the sky.
Why did Elijah confidently tell the king there was about to be a downpour? He had just met God’s condition for the fulfillment of the promise. When Elijah was still in Zarephath, at the widow’s home, God had said to him, “go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain.”
That was the condition for rain. When Elijah confronted Ahab and Jezebel and the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah, he met God’s condition. Elijah’s obedience was about to bring the fulfillment of God’s promise, and that’s why he told Ahab to prepare for a deluge.
Meeting God’s Conditions
So many of the promises in Scripture are conditional promises. Most Christians today love to claim the promises, and multitudes are following the “name-it-and-claim-it” preachers, who have centered their entire ministries on claiming promises.
But when a person claims a promise—without understanding its conditional or personal nature—and then nothing happens, she feels devastated. Then brokenhearted Christian asks, “What happened? Why didn’t God answer my prayer?”/ Sadly, some people have had their faith shattered because they have not understood the biblical principles involved. They have tried to appropriate God’s promises in error, either claiming a personal promise that was never intended to apply to them, or not realizing that the promise they claimed was contingent on their meeting God’s conditions for the fulfillment of that promise.
If God’s promise is conditional, you cannot escape the conditions. God must be true to His Word. He set these things in motion. So if you want to receive the promise, you must meet God’s conditions.
Not only must you meet God’s conditions, you must wait for His timing. The Bible says that you will reap what you sow. A farmer who plants corn is going to harvest corn, not wheat or oats or rye. What you sow is what you reap—in due season.
Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:7—9)
There is a waiting period between the time you sow the seed and the time you reap the harvest. A farmer does not plant seed and then dig it up the next day to see how it’s doing.
Some Christians want to short-circuit God’s law of sowing and reaping. They want to sow wild oats spiritually and then reap a harvest of wheat. They want to claim the promises of God without having to meet the conditions. They want to believe only portions of Scripture and ignore anything else that doesn’t suit them. Youssef calls these people Cafeteria Christians, because they pick what they like from Scripture and leave the rest alone. But it doesn’t work that way. God’s Word is not a spiritual smorgasbord.
These pick-and–choose Christians are like three little sisters who had just returned from a wedding. They decided to play their own game of wedding, and each child had a role to play: bride, groom and minister. As the little bride and groom stood next to each other, the one playing the minister asked, “Do you take this man for richer or for poorer?” Without hesitation the make believe bride replied, “for richer.”
In the real world, it just doesn’t work that way. You cannot pick and choose what portions of Scripture you want to believe or what commandments of God you will obey. You cannot receive God’s promises without meeting his conditions.
Let me give you a couple of examples of conditional promises that are misused or misunderstood.
Look at Psalm 37:3-5: Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.
This is a conditional promise: If you delight yourself in the Lord and commit your way to Him, then He will give you the desires of your heart. But if you want to pilot your own ship your own way and then cry out to God to bail you out when you are in trouble, you have violated the condition of the promise and therefore the fulfillment of it.
Another conditional promise that is often misused is 1 John 1:9. This verse is often rattled off, almost like dialing 9-1-1. Some think that they can sin freely, then “dial” 1 John 1:9 for forgiveness. But what that verse says is this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” It’s conditional: If you confess, then He will forgive. You can’t just live any way you please and then claim 1 John 1:9 for forgiveness.
Some people will claim they have confessed, when all they really did was mouth some words. Confession without the determination to change is cheap repentance and does not obligate God to forgive you. True confession must include the decision to forsake your sin.
Let me ask you this: What are you doing with the conditional promises of God? Are you refusing to keep the conditions, rationalizing that you don’t really have to? Or have you simply given up, tired of waiting for God?/////
Do you want to be blessed financially? Examine your checkbook and see how much seed you have sown lately. Do you want to be blessed spiritually by having victory in a certain area in your life? Examine your calendar to see how much time you have spent in the Word and in prayer, specifically seeking that victory. Do you want your family to be blessed? Take a good look at your time spent with them for instruction, teaching and praying.
God is true to His laws that He has set in motion, and when you meet the condition of the promise, He will fulfill it. Once you have met that condition, your job is to remain faithful in prayer until God intervenes. Trust that God will fulfill the promise – in due season.
The promises of God are certain, but they don’t always mature in ninety days. When God makes a promise, faith believes it, hope anticipates it, and patience quietly awaits it.
God’s timing is not always our timing. Meet the conditions for God’s promise, then trust Him – day by day – and he will fulfill it.
Elijah understood that whenever you align obedience to God with God’s promises, God will answer. Whenever you fulfill the condition of the promise— this is true “naming-it-and-claiming-it”—you can safely claim the promise and it will be fulfilled.
Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel to kneel on the promises of God, while Ahab went down to eat and drink. Both men had just seen the power of God manifested in the greatest supernatural intervention since the Exodus. But one went off to eat and drink, and the other went up in humility before God, clinging to His promises.
Miracles happened right before Ahab’s eyes, but they did not pierce his heart. When you are engulfed in spiritual blindness, a miracle makes no difference.
There is something else that I want you to note about Elijah’s prayer. When Elijah went up to pray, he prayed specifically. Can you see his specific prayer in the text?
That was a trick question. There is no prayer recorded in the Old Testament account of this event. The Holy Spirit, who authored the Bible, did not record Elijah’s prayer in 1 Kings 18. Instead, He recorded it some eight hundred years later in the book of James. “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” (5:17—18).
What do you think Elijah was praying for on top of that mountain—”Oh, Lord, bless everybody everywhere”? I am convinced in my heart that he was praying, “Lord, You promised me that if I stood before Ahab it would rain. I obeyed Your command, and I believe You’re going to fulfill Your promise now.”
Do you know why prayer is such a burden to so many people? It is because of the ambiguity of our prayers. We look upon prayer as if it is a task. We feel the task is too heavy, so we end up with a “bless everyone everywhere” type of prayer.
If you were to ask me for my street address, and I told you 166 Pinehurst Ave, but was ambiguous about the unit number. “I’m not sure, just come anyway.” You would quickly inform me that normal people don’t give information that way. That’s true. And in that same sense, none of the great prayers in the Bible are ambiguous prayers. They are always prayers that came to God with specific requests.
Sometimes, out of reverence for God, we are afraid to be specific with God. But Jesus gave us the example of being very specific and closing with “not my will, but yours.”
Elijah obeyed God, and he prayed specifically. He also prayed persistently, clinging to the promises of God.
This is the part that is the greatest challenge for me: persisting in prayer. Jesus often taught that it is not the length of prayer, it is not the language of prayer, it is not the posture of prayer, but it is persistence in prayer that He desires. I don’t completely understand persistence in prayer, but in Scripture it is obvious that there is something about persistence that belongs together with God’s promises. I am not talking about personal desires or wants; I am talking about persisting in prayer in order to receive God’s promises.
Let’s look at some examples of persistent prayer. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus Himself persisted in prayer about the will of the Father (Matt. 26:36—46). The Syro-Phoenician woman, who came and sought Jesus on behalf of her daughter, would not take no for an answer. She stayed until He answered (Mark 7:24—30).
In Luke 18, Jesus told of the woman who pestered the ungodly judge and kept beating on his door. The judge finally grew tired of her persistence. “Even though I don’t fear God,” he said, “yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice” (vv. 4—5). The Bible makes it quite clear why Jesus told the disciples this woman’s story: “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (v. 1).
How did Elijah persist in prayer? Scripture says that while Elijah was praying on Mount Carmel, he sent his servant to look for clouds.
“There’s nothing there,” the servant said. Elijah said, “Go back and look again.” The scene must have been almost comical as the servant went back and forth between Elijah and the sea, searching the skies for a sign of rain. Elijah kept sending him back until, on his seventh trip, the servant spotted a tiny cloud.
After the first time Elijah could have given up. He might have thought, Maybe I didn’t hear God right. After the second time he could have said, “Looks like God is not going to answer me.” After the third time he could have said, “I’ve had about enough victory for one day.”
But he never doubted God, and he never got angry at God. He just kept looking for a cloud to appear. He was persistent in prayer. He sent his servant back a fourth time, and a fifth time, and a sixth time, even to the seventh time.
Elijah prayed obediently, specifically and persistently and he also prayed expectantly. He believed with all of his heart that God would keep His word. Most of us are surprised when our prayers are answered, but Elijah would have been shocked if God had not answered. And that is why, 2,800 years later, we are still reading about Elijah.
We can tell how expectant Elijah was by his reaction when the servant finally spotted a tiny cloud “as small as a man’s hand.” At that moment Elijah started handing out umbrellas—that’s expectancy in prayer. At the very first sign of a cloud, Elijah sent word to Ahab that he had better get his chariot moving unless he wanted to get drenched.
I want you to notice one last thing about Elijah’s prayer. When God fulfilled His promise, when He sent rain in answer to Elijah’s prayer, the prophet stayed humble before God. We see Elijah’s humility in the fact that he tucked his cloak and ran ahead of the king’s chariot. This was an act of submission and humility in Middle Eastern culture. To run before the king meant to subordinate yourself to him as a servant.
Elijah could have said, “Now I have Ahab exactly where I want him.” But he didn’t. He could have looked the king in the eye and said, “Ahab, I’m in and you’re out.” But he didn’t. Why? Elijah was adamant that everybody know that this great act was God’s act, not his own doing.
I have seen in the Christian community that some people do not know how to handle victory. They can handle a crisis, but somehow they can’t handle blessings. I’ve seen others who, when victory comes, begin to take credit for it. “It was my hard work that accomplished this.” Still others try to project human rationalism onto victory. “It would have happened anyway.”
You don’t have to be a great theologian to know that this kind of attitude is not honoring to God. Elijah, after this great victory, tucked his cloak and ran in humility before King Ahab.
Yet Elijah also shows us another problem that often travels with victory: depression and discouragement. A moment of great victory can be swiftly followed by great discouragement. Next time we will look at how to handle this post-victory depression.
*Hymn of Response # 312 “”Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus”