"I'm going in to surgery at 1:05pm, so please, everyone make a reminder to pray at that time..."
"Janice has an appointment to get that lump checked at 3:30, so let's all pray so that she'll get good news."
"Shout louder! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. (1 Kings 18:27-28)
I wonder, are Christians taking too many pages from the pagans in regard to prayer? Is there some mystic significance to walking around a building seven times? Why not eight? Why not skip, or stand on one's head? What if we cross ourselves at every intersection and say some chant? How about if we face the East, or get to the highest point in our house and only pray on clear days so the reception is clearest?
Sadly, there will be those that will have tried a few of those ridiculous things. Just like the prophets of Baal in the confrontation with Elijah. I'll point out that the people of Israel considered themselves God's people, even as they burned incense and had holy shrines to Baal. They still had the Temple. They still had priests. They still had their Jewish customs.
What they didn't have was a pure heart toward God. They were soiled with internal and external idol worship.
Of course, no one in America, much less the American churches worships idols! Folks in this modern age barely worship God, let alone a statue built, most likely in China.
And yet, everyone wants to do something that will turn "fate" in their favor. Hang a crystal on the north window to assist an aura or post the crucifix on doors and over entryways. Give money to a pastor to ensure favor with God and reap some bounty in material comfort or health.
It's all Baal worship.
What did Elijah do on Mount Carmel? After he had made it impossible for anyone to claim he had a secret spark hidden in the altar (he'd had three barrels of water poured over the alter so it was completely waterlogged), he "stepped forward and prayed." (1 Kings 18:36).
There was no jumping, marching, cutting, wailing, etc. from Elijah.
But wait, there's more! He did do something that is of note and that might help us understand the secret of prayer. In the Biblical narrative we go from Elijah giving the challenge to Ahab to the confrontation. They are one verse after the next. Ahab, however, had to assemble the prophets of Baal (400 of them) throughout all of Israel. So, this wasn't something that happened within five minutes. The instruction from Ahab went out and the prophets had to be assembled.
What did Elijah do? We're not told, but we know that the people and Ahab met Elijah on Mount Carmel. So, he gave the challenge according to the word of God that he'd been entrusted, and he went up the mountain. For as much as a week or more, depending on the quickness of Ahab's messengers, Elijah stayed on the mountain, communing with God in prayer. He prepared his heart for the confrontation with the world.
What would be the elements of prayer? How could we have the effective prayer of an Elijah?
First, Elijah prayed what God wanted. He didn't tack on a request for some better sandals or other personal item. His soul was stirred with the thought of God's glory and he wanted Israel to turn away from the pagan worship to the true God. Our prayers will be effective when we do the same thing.
Second, Elijah was pure of any defiling sinful lifestyle. He kept himself separate from the people and their sinful drift away from true worship. He didn't take part in their social life, which was saturated with Baals and other pagan things. He spent time with God, alone.
Last, Elijah had become totally dependent on God. He'd spent the drought at a dwindling river being fed by crows. He waited as the water ran down to a trickle and only moved when God gave him direction.
How often we think, "God doesn't drive parked cars!" and we forge ahead on our own steam. We pray as an afterthought, hoping to call down a blessing on our own initiative. We think, mistakenly, that we're the captains of our fate.
So, where does that lead us? If we want to be self-willed, independent, soiled in the world, we must, like the prophets of Baal, find another way to incur God's notice and favor. So, we think that by praying at the exact time that something will happen, we will catch God's notice at the right time so He'll answer. Or, if we walk around a building seven times (since that kind of sounds kind of Biblical) will that garner God's grace?
The answer is no. In fact, it is exactly what Jesus said NOT to do: "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others." Matthew 6:5 Jesus goes on to say, "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the pagans do, for they think they will be heard for their many words." Matthew 6:7
God will hear the prayer of his children in secret, when they pray to their Father in the nature of Christ, who was submissive to the Father's will. No one can be rebellious to God's will and expect to have their prayers heard. Even if they walk around a building seven times on their hands, reciting the "prayer of Jabez."