Guest speaker Rusty Rueff fuels our faith.
We’re landing this theme of sustained together. I’d like to think about something in a little different way than maybe rather common for us. I got to thinking about this some time ago. We’re going to explore this account by a man named Elijah. Last night, my wife and I had the opportunity to go to the Cirque du Soleil. I had never been. One of her coworkers had purchased tickets and wasn’t able to go. So they said, “Why don’t you and your husband go to Cirque du Soleil,” and gave the tickets to us. We thought, “Yes, we’re going. It’s free, they’re in town, I don’t think they come in town every year, and so let’s make this happen.”
I remember making our way to Cirque du Soleil, going into the tent, and seeing all the signs saying, Volta. I didn’t know what that meant, but I didn’t care. It was free. I’ve never been to the Cirque du Soleil, and I was excited. I remember sitting there, I had my popcorn, and it’s a very intimate circle. It’s just the way it’s designed. I’m sure many of you have gone, but it just makes you feel like no matter what seat you have, it’s a good seat. There’s a center stage in the middle, and I remember just sitting there feeling like a kid a little bit. Then witnessing these people come out and just do things that, oh, I didn’t know the human body was able to do. They started being acrobatic. The theme was X games. They were trying to talk about individuality coming out of freedom and conformity. They were expressing this.
They were doing unbelievable things. Something happened. I noticed that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this. That they would do something on the stage. A person would walk out on the stage and all of a sudden they would grab a rope and fly into the air 30 feet. They would twirl and do all these different moves. They’d look like they were being tugged by wires, but they weren’t. They were just hanging on with one arm. Something inside of me thought, “I don’t know. This isn’t right. Is this safe? Is this okay? Something inside of me just started doing that.
The performers would flip, twirl, and then they would land. I would just think when they landed, everything was okay, they were alive and breathing, and if something would happen to me and it would happen to everybody. This word “Wow” would come out. It just came out of me. Next, these guys came out with bicycles. BMX is on ramps. You see people by the ferry building and people on videos, but it is a different thing altogether to see it live in front of you. Where somebody just jumps off a ramp and looks like they threw the bike in the air. Somehow that bike returned right underneath them as they landed. There were times when I would cringe. My wife and I would say, “No, they landed, yeah.” You just feel these things.
I remember feeling this and on the way home thinking to myself, “This is one of the rare moments.” The reason I share this is because of one of those rare moments where I would witness something like a sporting event where I didn’t think to myself, “Yeah, I could do that.” I’ve been to basketball games. I’ve watched basketball games. And I thought, “I could shoot a hoop. I could dribble a ball.”Do you know what I’m not thinking? That I can do that. But beyond that, I remember not thinking, “Yeah, I want to do that. I want to do what they just did. I want to risk my life that way.”
I wish I could tell you they look normal like you and me, but they don’t. The muscle definition is unbelievable. They almost feel otherworldly. In a way, they exhibited one of the highest levels of physical potential in a human being. To witness them, it’s worthy of applause. It’s worth admiring. It’s worth saying, “Wow, now, that is amazing!” It’s inspiring, but it’s never something I could say, “I could do it.” it just feels out of reach.
I share this because a lot of times I think of what we read in the scriptures. If we have any knowledge or experience with coming to terms with the people who lived in these scriptures, which by the way, is a library of books. It is not a single book, but it’s a library of books with different accounts of different people. People whose flaws are never hidden. They live lives that are quite remarkable. If we’re not careful, we witness their lives and we might think to ourselves, “You know what? That’s amazing. It’s honorable. It’s virtuous. It’s worthy of applause, but you know what? I don’t think I could do it.”
It’s otherworldly. It’s just beyond reach. It would be a lie for me to tell you that any of us could do what the acrobats did last night. All you have to do is believe. That would be a lie. But it would be equally a lie for me to tell you that what we see people live and walk out in the scriptures is impossible for us to live and step into. Because if there is one thing they have in common, people whose accounts we might admire, different people that stand out to us from this book, with the athletes, the professionals, and the artists all around us, not just in service to LA, but all around our culture we are inundated with the top level of what humanity can do in so many different places of talent. If there is something that is similar between these two groups of people, it is that they have a way of life that is most likely different from ours. If there’s a degree of intention that is different, there’s a degree of focus. There’s a degree of discipline that’s brought into how they walk their lives out.
Last night was not the first time they did this. Easily more than 10,000 times, we’re told. If we are to step into what this faith journey looks like in terms of what we are supposed to carry out beyond a moment in time, but actually live, what we have to do many times, what it requires us, is to step into a different way of life. One of the things I’d like to suggest in our time here is that one of the keys to a sustaining faith journey is to start to change how we view prayer. To shift it out of a segment, a point, a gathering, a place, or someone else’s thing, and shift it into something that we view as a way of life. In the same way that the body needs to breathe, prayer is breath for the soul. It’s wind for our sails, always meant to help us move forward. Always. Amen.
If you open up your handout, we’ll check out one of these accounts of the prophet Elijah. He is a man that I’ve been exploring each time of being able to share around this theme. Let’s look at 1 Kings 18. We’re told, “After many days, the word of the Lord came to Elijah, and then the third year saying, ‘Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.’ So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria.” What we have to understand is the author of this account is assuming that we would know that Elijah actually ended up stepping into the human domain and public square and spoke to the king of Israel and said, “You know what? God wants to get your attention. You’ve turned away from Him. He’s going to try to get your attention by impacting the environment in which you live. He’s going to suck up all the water. There’s a drought being proclaimed.” Elijah left that gathering and meeting with the king, and he hid by a river.
After a course of events three years later, God spoke to Elijah, who is his spokesman, and said, “I want you to go show yourself to the king and tell him, ‘I’ve got your attention now. I’m going to send rain. I’m going to send rain.'” Because in those days, the rain was a powerful conduit of life, and famine was an equal opportunist. Famine and drought meant simply more than not having fresh water. It meant not having grain, vegetation, food, cattle, or livestock. Drought impacted both rich and poor, privileged and marginalized.
With the entire nation plus those in the royal courts, attentive and ready to listen because of God’s love for them, Elijah steps into the scene. God sends him. God tells Elijah, “I want you to go tell them that rain is coming.” So Elijah goes. He has this power encounter between those who suggested there was a different way of attaining true life and those who were trying to be faithful to God. They had this power encounter where Elijah says, “you know what you guys are like? Your passion for life, it’s so dwindled. It’s been so radically pummeled down, you’re like this drenched sacrifice here. It won’t light. It won’t ignite. Nothing in it speaks of the ability to be able to be combustible. Nothing of passion exists in you. Yet, I’m going to pray to God, and you’re going to see what’s going to happen.”
Fire came down from heaven and consumed not just the sacrifice, but everything around it and licked up every drop of water. Everybody witnessing this miracle dropped to their knees and said, “God’s real. God is real.” Elijah stepped into that moment and dealt out one of the severest consequences for those who dared abuse people in the name of religion. This is what the religion of Baal did in their day, and dealt out capital punishment. Children and adults were abused and mutilated in the name of that worship. The leaders of that need to suffer consequences. It’s just this raw encounter.
We’re told in verse 41, that Elijah said, “Go up and eat and drink, for there’s a sound of the rushing of rain. So Ahab went up to eat and to drink, and Elijah went up to the Mount of Carmel and bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.” This contrast is given in which Elijah sends the King of Israel, Ahab, and he says to them something rather interesting. He says to him, “Hey, I want you who have not been faithful, have not trusted in God, you who don’t deserve this, I want you to go have a meal, and I want you to behave as though there’s no famine in the land. Behave as there’s no concern. There’s no reason. I want you to go and watch what’s about to happen. Enjoy your meal, King Ahab.”
It’s not a setup. The other shoe is not about to drop. It’s a pure expression of God’s goodness to the king who doesn’t deserve it. Elijah said, “I want you to go and have your meal.” The contrast; “I want you to passively watch and receive what’s about to happen.” Then Elijah says, “Do you hear the sound of rushing like rain? There was no rain. There was no water coming from the sky.” Elijah seemed to be connected to something very different than Ahab was. Elijah, we’re told that as the king was sitting on the throne that had been set up for him, enjoying a luxurious meal, as kings would do, feasting in the midst of a famine, what do we do? What do we see? We see Elijah. He went up to Mount Carmel and bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees to pray.
As he’s praying and calling on God, do you know what he says in verse 43? “He said to the servant, ‘Go up now, perhaps after a little bit of time, look toward the sea and see if you see anything.’ He went up and looked and he said, ‘There’s nothing.'” So Elijah continued to pray. As he continues to pray on behalf of his king, who doesn’t deserve it, on behalf of a land that is drought, infested with disease no less, and famine, lack, and need, as he’s praying on behalf of his people, he says, “I want you to go again.” The servant goes, comes back, and says, “There’s nothing, master. There’s nothing.” He continues to pray. Elijah says, after more praying, “I want you to go again.” The servant goes out to the sea and comes back. He says, “Master, there’s nothing.” Elijah does this seven more times. This is a total of seven times he asks his servant to go out and come back in. At the seventh time, verse 44, we’re told, “Behold, the servant goes out to the sea and he sees.” Maybe he doesn’t know exactly what to expect, but he says, “Well, there’s something different in the environment. So I’m going to come back and I’m going to report.” The servant goes back and says to Elijah, “Behold, there’s a little cloud, like a man’s hand. It’s rising from the sea. It’s coming up. It’s this big. There’s something off in the distance coming up.”
Elijah says to him, “Go up and say to Ahab the king, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you, because of the floods that are about to hit this land.'”This is one of those moments in which it just seems like Elijah is otherworldly. He seems to be connecting to something that is so far beyond what is actually happening. This is an unbelievable thing because of the contrast of a king, worry-free, carefree, enjoying a meal in the midst of his people’s suffering, and a prophet connected to the grieving God, asking on behalf of his people, “Will you send rain?” Doing exactly what God asked him to do because he knew he was going to send it, but yet it seemed that Elijah had to pray it out.
The first time nothing happens. The second time nothing happens. The third time, nothing. The fourth, the fifth, the sixth, up until the seventh time. It made me think. I wonder how many times in my own life have I stopped after the first time? I wonder how many of us have actually earnestly asked God for something or come to God on behalf of others for something. We look to see if there is anything occurring? The first time we look and there’s nothing, it’s just nothing but discouragement. I wonder how many of us get to the second time? The third? All the while not knowing there are things going on in the world, moving in our direction.
If only we remained breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out. Do you know why Elijah didn’t stop? He wouldn’t stop breathing, either. He wouldn’t stop living. So he’s not going to stop talking to God. If every other aspect of his being is still operating, why wouldn’t his soul continue to say, “Go again, go again, go again?” I wonder how many times in my own life has rain been meant to be sent my way, but I stopped. It got me thinking, how many times in my life have I been sent rain because there was somebody in my life who didn’t stop. There’s somebody in my life who, on my behalf, asked God, contended with God on my behalf when I didn’t deserve it. When I was carefree, enjoying, not really concerned with anything real. I think of this in my own life. I think of this because I know.
If any of us here in this gathering or wherever we might be online, have every experience, something of the goodness of God, we have it. It’s a fair assessment to say that that goodness went our way because it’s connected to somebody who decided, I will not stop praying for them. I will not stop. I know this to be true in my life because it would be for 15 years that my mom would pray for me in my life, without any results, none to speak of. If there were results, they were bad results. Because it seemed like life was only getting worse and harder. It seemed like the family was about to blow up and explode. I remember getting into contentious environments with my family where love wasn’t existing. Joy didn’t exist. A faith community didn’t exist in our lives. I remember after having one of these blowups where walls would immediately erect, you wouldn’t see them, but you feel them. There’s silence that prevails. I remember walking past my mom’s room and seeing my mom pray. I remember her, hearing her contending.
I remember when I first decided to say, you know what? I’m going to invite the goodness of God in my life. I remember witnessing something that was hard for me to comprehend back then, and maybe now that I get the gift of being a father, I may understand. But I remember seeing in her eyes more joy than I felt inside of me because it was almost as if something of a wrestling match was done and had succeeded. I remember that and I know. There is not one of us who is a result of anything other than something of God’s grace connected to people deciding to pray on our behalf. Many of us answered prayers. Many of us are. What we’re invited into with Elijah is an unbelievable thing. What does he do? He is to pray on behalf of the king. The scriptures, you know what they tell us? They tell us to humbly come before God and ask for His blessing on our city, on our neighbors. Would you bless them? On the people, we might love and care for, on those in authority over us? Yes, in our employment, ask for God’s blessing. Send rain their way. Send provision their way, God. This is what Elijah is doing. Not because he deserves it, but because the Lord has said, “Would you do this for your land? Would you do this?” Yes.
It doesn’t mean agreement. It doesn’t mean condoning. It just means I’m going to trust God that you have wind sending our way. You will send it, and I will contend for it. This is what Elijah is doing. He is praying on behalf of the king of Israel, the unfaithful king, and on behalf of his people. As he does this, he sees a small cloud, which is an unbelievable thing. He doesn’t diminish. He doesn’t expect dark clouds swirling about with water coming, drenching down. No, what does he see? What is the result? A cloud like a fist. That’s the beginning of a flood.
God’s answering. Go to the king, get his chariot ready. Tell him to go, because he’s going to get drenched, he’s going to get stopped. He needs to get home. In verse 45. “In a little while, the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain, and Ahab rode and went to Jezreel, which is his home.” We’re told in verse 46, “The hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and he ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel,” which is an unbelievable thing what we’re told here. It’s an unbelievable thing because what we’re told here is that this wind that came in, brought in the clouds and created a dark night of the sky, and the water started drenching and King Ahab went ahead on the chariot. We’re told that Elijah goes ahead of him on foot, and beats him to Jezreel. It’s just one of those things.
In verse 46, you know how you see the hand of the Lord was on Elijah? Anytime you see that in the scriptures, I’m convinced, I know that it’s true that the hand of the Lord was on the person, but I’m convinced the author said, “You know what? I don’t know what else to say. The hand of the Lord was on him.” I cannot explain it. The best way I can say it was divine intervention. That’s the best way I can say it. the author would say, “Elijah ran ahead of a man in the chariot with the horses.” What? Yeah, the hand of the Lord was on him. I don’t know how else to explain it. God just said, “Run, Elijah.” He ran.
This is one of those things that when I think, wow, that’s just unbelievable. It’s remarkable. It also seems something else is going on here. It might be a little technical, but that word wind is the Hebrew word Ruach. I may not have said that correctly, but that word Ruach is the same word used for breath and spirit of God. It seems as though what’s happening here is that there is something of a physical, yes, wind going on that’s giving Elijah breath as God’s spirit is moving. Do you see that there is something dynamic occurring? It’s one of these moments in which Elijah’s prayers change the environment and you’ve got to believe, yes, perhaps it was simply that God’s hand was with Elijah. I have to believe that if I’m the one praying seven times for water to come down from the sky and I send my servant out to the sea seven times, and the seventh time he comes back and I’m convinced this is going to happen, and it actually does happen, you better believe. Have you ever heard the saying, he got a second wind?
Somebody seems to be motivated beyond reason. Somebody seems to be moving at a different pace, a different clip, and a different focus. There seems to be something internally propelling them in the face of resistance. Elijah touches on something for us to step into. I am convinced what Elijah demonstrates is prayer awakens our senses to the spirit of God. At its core, what it is, it’s a simple, honest, humble conversation with the one who is very evident and real all around us. That is what prayer is. It’s an honest interaction, acknowledging that God exists. When we do that when we pray and we breathe Him in and we breathe out what is on our mind, you know what happens, we become increasingly aware. The world we live in is far more than the material it’s made of. Our days are far more important than the possessions we might have. The education level we might attain, and the different achievements we might think are extremely important.
We may be physical beings, but the scripture says there’s a spiritual side to us that connects us to the one who made us. Prayer is the acknowledgment that our soul needs to breathe Him in. Look at what Jesus said to a very intellectual man, a man who is cerebral, a leader of his people in a political and religious setting. He ended up coming to Jesus in the nighttime. His name was Nicodemus. Jesus is trying to explain this to him. Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it. But you do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone, Nicodemus, who is born of the spirit.” Which again, the word that he uses for wind and the word that he uses for spirit in Greek are one and the same. He says, “Nicodemus, maybe you’re not understanding this faith journey. Maybe you have to understand this. You don’t see the wind, but you see the impact of the wind. You don’t know where it comes from, but you know where it went because you see the trail of it. Let me tell you something, Nicodemus. Such are those who are connected to His spirit. There is something in their senses that is awakened.”
When we start to pray as a way of life, we have an ongoing conversation. Not one that simply is segmented to a portion of our day, as good as that might be. Or segmented to when we are at a certain location, as good as that might be. Or segmented to those who are officially ordained to be able to say such things. But when we ourselves have the ability to communicate and use those morning times as launching times into our conversation. I can’t tell you how many times with my friends I’m on an ongoing text thread. It’s just one thing after another. Sometimes they tell me, “Please stop.” I unsubscribed them.
The ability to relate and conversate is so natural and human. To do that with God is meant to give us the capacity to breathe, to nourish. Do you know what else? To awaken us. You know what it does, what happens to us? Prayer gives us the ability to connect our soul, heart, mind, and internal being to God. It does. It gives us the ability to call upon the wind that only God can send to fill us anew. It gives us the ability to invite God to awaken us. God, I know you’re here. I don’t see you. Would you show me how? Will you show me what you’re doing?
It’s what Elijah was trying to say. “Ahab, don’t you hear the rushing wind and the water and the rain? How could you not hear it?” It’s because Ahab wasn’t living the same way Elijah was. When we start to see, you know what happens? We start to recognize a small cloud rising so much more. We start to see that the people around us are reasons for us to say, “Thank you, God. Thank you for my friends. I may take it for granted too often. Thank you for my family. Thank you for the gift I’ve been given.” Maybe now it’s more important to recognize His goodness. To say, “You know what? There is a multitude of gifts and reasons for us to say, thank you. Thank you, God. Thank you for the opportunities. Thank you. Yes, even the challenges that you use for my good. Thank you for my points of struggle that reminds me I need you. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for the points of joy, excitement, and happiness. Thank you.”
As we start to take Him in, we start to see that there are people He sends our way that they may not know, but their words are meant for us. Their smile is meant for us. Divinely sent. We start to see He’s real. He’s all around us. Do you know what it also does? Prayer aligns our hearts with God’s good desires for us. It aligns us internally with what He desires for us, which is good. Look at what James says to those who were enduring incredible persecution. He says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. Invite people to pray for you. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Almost as if once he says that, a person is right with God when they pray, something happens. Almost as if their reaction would be, “Not me, then. I’m disqualified. I’m not right.” Almost as if that’s what he would be guessing they would say.
In verse 17, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” He’s a human being just like us. He prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. He prayed again and the heaven gave rain and earth bore its fruit. Do you know what James is saying? Elijah’s prayers changed the environment around him. James says our prayers can alter the environment within us. If his prayers changed the climate around us, do we really think that mountains only exist outside of us in nature? Do we not know? Do we not understand that there are things inside of us that are stuck and stubborn to move? They are like mountains. There are droughts within. There are areas within that need water, wind, and need the warmth of his passion.
There is an entire world within each one of us, and James says, “Listen, you pray for each other. You know what happens? You watch your soul shift. You watch an attitude change. You watch something of anger be released. You watch something that locks us up and removes itself.” This is why Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in all things with thanksgiving and supplication, make your requests known to God and the peace of God will enter your heart and your mind and will guard it.” Do you know what he’s saying? It will alter your internal being. When we pray, He will shift our souls into alignment. So many times, some of us may never have prayed. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter. If you think you don’t believe enough, God believes in you. I can invite you to utter these words. Simple. It’s not the last, it’s not the only prayer. I invite you to utter, “God, I give you my life.”
There are so many times I don’t know how to pray. I don’t know what to pray for. I can’t tell you how many times I just say, “God, I surrender to your goodness. I surrender to your kindness in my life right now. I receive it because I know you are good. I know you are kind.” When we do that, we discover something alters within us. What we tried to escape, we discover perhaps this is right where we need to be. What we are so angry and frustrated about, when we have an outlet of breathing out the toxins and an inlet of breathing His life-giving spirit, you know what happens? We discover that we will always go further with prayer than we could ever go without it. Prayer empowers us to go further than we could ever go without it.
If we are tired, pray. If we are grieving, pray. If we are sorrowful, pray. If we’re wounded, pray. If we’re joyful, pray. If we’ve been knocked down, pray. Watch Him get you up. If we’re in need of help, ask somebody to pray. Watch Him heal us. If we are pitched in a battle with people we love and we want to contend with them and against them, we want to convince them of our way, rather than contending against them, contend for them with God. Ask God, will you bless them? Will you love them? Will you show them mercy? Do we show them kindness? Will you prosper them? Will you give them their heart’s desires, God? Would you bring them into the ability to know your love and change my soul along the way?
Watch, because when we see our prayers answered in the relationships and the people we love and care about, you know what happens? There is something of a wind that will rush into our soul and get us up and say, “It’s time for me to run. It’s time for me to get moving. There are more things to be done.” Oh, may that be the case. May we discover we’re right where we need to be when we invite Him into our setting. May He strengthen us and give us the ability to always sustain our journey of faith.
Lord, I thank you. I thank you that you are the one who is able to invite us, not simply into a conversation, but you invite us to receive your goodness, your kindness, and your grace. I pray, God, that you help us shift our lives in such a way that we have an ongoing conversation with you and you continue to awaken us to all the good things, all the beautiful gifts, all the way your mercies and your grace is abundant for our lives. I pray that you would give us the ability to be sustained in this season, the next season, for the rest of the seasons our lives have, in Jesus’s name. Amen.
Our faith is sustained when we live with a life-giving passion.
What praises are we singing in our painful places?