Sermon August 8, 2021 by David Hodgson

Our Monsoon Devotionals

“Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand

is rising out of the sea.”  1 Kings 18:44

As I trust you know by now, I’ve prepared ten devotionals for August titled Monsoon Devotionals ~ each finding inspiration in a biblical reference to rain.  Though rain and floods are devastating other parts of the world, here in the southwest we seem to be stuck in a decades’ long drought.

So, well, I thought that since the prayer life of this church clearly understands the privilege of prayer and celebrates the answers to prayer, that maybe we could pray together for the southwest to be blessed by a generous monsoon season.  And after careful consideration, I figured that ten days of devotion should be enough to take care of it!

We may smile at the thought of it ~ may even chuckle or laugh ~ but the Bible is quick to remind us that such humor is dismissive of the power of prayer, and that an effective prayer life begins with the confidence that great things are about to happen because of it.

My mother taught me the relationship between praying and living into the answers to prayer with the well-warn saying:  Get down on your knees and pray as though everything depends on God, and then get up and live as though everything depends on you. 

For decades  I thought it meant that we should pray as though we expected God to take care of everything, and then, just in case God didn’t, that we should live as though we needed to take care of everything by ourselves.  I tried that for decades until it almost burned me out, and then I discovered what it really meant.   It means that when we pray with confidence we can then live with a prayerful countenance into the answers that God provides.   Praying with confidence, and then living with a prayerful countenance, not as two separate experiences, but as two dimensions of a dynamic prayer life!

Remember how the people greeted Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem?  As they waved palm branches and spread their garments before him they shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Hosanna is a fascinating word as it relates to our prayer life.  It is formed of two Hebrew words meaning Help! Now!  It was a cry for help for deliverance that at once became the celebratory exclamation of help arriving triumphantly ~ as though their prayer for help was also the shout that responded to the help that comes!

So it is that praying confidently is at once the joyful sound of celebration, for the very presence of God in whom we pray is the help for which we pray, and together we live into the answers that God provides.  We may not always recognize them, but it is enough to know that praying with confidence and living with a prayerful countenance can become the stuff of which miracles are made.

God shows us how the miracle of prayer works by introducing us to Elijah’s prayer life.  The environmental setting of the passage was a drought ~ not unlike our own ~ and so King Ahab did what politicians used to do in those days, he asked the prophet to pray for rain.  And Elijah, who had some rather amazing experiences of the spirit world, replied, “I can already hear the sound of rain falling!” ~ and he went off to Mt. Horeb to pray!  How’s that for praying with confidence!

The king, apparently not so confident in the power of prayer took his troops out and camped in the lowlands ~ in the flood plain (giving some credence to the notion that when politicians ask for prayers they do not acknowledge an authority higher than their own.)

On top of Mt. Horeb, Elijah got down on his knees, put his forehead to the ground with his face between his knees, and began to pray.  His confidence in prayer is revealed in the conversation he had with his trusted servant.  “I’ll stay here and pray,” he instructed, “and you go and look out upon the sea for the sign that my prayer is being answered.”

So Elijah began to pray, and the servant went and looked out upon the sea, and could find no evidence that the prayer was being answered.  “I’m sorry, my Lord, I have looked; there is no sign.”  Elijah said, “Go again.  I will pray harder.”  Six times he came back empty-handed.  But the confidence of the prophet was so strong he sent him out again.

This time the servant came back and said, “Well, my Lord, it’s not much of a sign, but in the distance on the horizon there is a little bitty cloud, about the size of a person’s hand, rising up out of the sea.”  And Elijah got up from his knees and rejoiced because he knew his prayer was being answered!

The contrast here is between the smallness of the sign and the abundance that Elijah knew would come of it.  So sure was he that the Almighty had heard his prayer and was answering it that he sent his servant to tell the king, “Get your troops out of the lowland because the floods are on their way,”  and he ran before Ahab to Jezreel!

Is that not how answers to our prayers come?  We seldom wake up in the morning and discover that a prayer we prayed has been fully answered.  What happens most often is that we see a little sign that indicates that God may have heard something we had whispered in the night.  We live into it and discover great abundance that comes from it. 

We pray for help with problems.  We pray for unmet needs.  We pray for relationship to heal ~ we pray for loved ones ~ we pray for opportunities ~ we pray for wisdom and insight and patience and perseverance.  Seldom do the answers come in their fullness, but we get just a little sign that indicates that the prayer has been heard and is being answered, and we live with greater confidence and celebratory gratitude.

The beauty of answered prayer is that no one size fits all.  There is no such thing as a stock answer for prayer.  Every answer is uniquely tailored to the needs of the situation from which the prayer emerges.  And we discover as ineffable mystery that answers come, always in the right time, in the right measure, in the right way.  Even the absence of an obvious answer sometimes is the profoundest of answers.

Have you ever discovered that God answered a prayer you hadn’t prayed?  You know, one you thought that someday you and God needed to have a serious conversation about the matter, but even before you got down on your knees that the prayer was being answered?

In those moments, I am convinced, it is the soul that whispers its prayer confidently to God, and that it is for me to live with joy and gladness into the answers.

Well now, I prepared monsoon devotionals for the first ten days of August and this is already the 8th.  So yesterday I put the hard top on my little convertible ~ you know, to protect it from the monsoon storms that will surely come.  And then to give God some incentive, I took it to the hand carwash and gave it a bath!  And towel-dried it.  (It always rains when I do that!)

Yet, God uses droughts to create deserts, and God may be a bit puzzled that so many of us move to the desert and then pray for rain.  However, this I know:  when we pray with confidence and live with a prayerful countenance, great things always come of it!

David S. Hodgson

Peoria Presbyterian Church

August 8, 2021