1 Kings 18:37 “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”
This incident is by far one of my personal favorites in the Old Testament, all brought about as answer to prayer. Before you relegate this chapter to that of a dusty, irrelevant bin of history, may I remind you that it records the prayer of Elijah, “a man of like passions” (Ja. 5:17), and the response of the immutable God that we still worship and pray to today.
Here are two steps to seeing God answer your prayer with unmistakable fire:
Pray for the exclusive glory of God to be known by fire.
The central question posed before this nation grappling with idolatry is: “Is Jehovah the one and only true God, or is Baal also a true god?” The proof would be that sacrifices would be made by each party and “the God who answers by fire, He is God” (v. 24). Too often we, like the prophets of Baal, are too busy putting on a show to remember WHO prayer is all about.
Elijah’s prayer appeals to the God of covenant with “Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel” (v. 36). As the God who is in covenant with his people, let him, Elijah pleads, do three things for his people: let Him reveal Himself, let Him vindicate His servant, and let Him draw His people back into Himself once more-notice all the possessive pronouns referencing God (v. 37). When we, like Elijah, are in covenant with God through saving faith, we have personal knowledge of Him and hearts that are devoted to the distinct, tangible expression of His fiery glory.
Could it be the reason that so few of our prayers lead to God’s fiery response is because we would make it all about us-including a self-aggrandizing lecture/book tour on “How to Pray Down Fire form God Himself”? Being heard by God is not for our glory but God’s glory! When it is about God’s glory, He tends to show up in a “consume the burnt sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even the cold water” (v. 38) kind of way.
If the anticipated response of others around you to God’s answer of your prayer is anything less than “The Lord, He is the God; the Lord He is the God,” you are not God’s prophet. By the way, there is only one other option. Prayer is a ministry, not a personal platform. Make it about Him and watch the unmistakable fire fall.
Pray for fire that produces conversion, not consumption of spiritual holdouts.
We naturally associate “fire from heaven” with singular judgment from God. James and John—the “sons of thunder”—have this in mind when, after Jesus is rejected by Samaritan villagers, they ask him, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” They are referring to the incidents recorded in 2 Kings 1. Jesus rebukes them, pointing out that he did not come “to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Lu. 9:54–56). Fire does indeed represent judgment. The soldiers sent to seize Elijah perish by the direct judgment of God. On the earlier occasion in our text, when Elijah has his encounter with the priests of Baal, the fire of judgment comes down in a different way—a way that speaks of redemption and revival for God’s people.
God answers with the descent of incredible fire. This miraculously consumes the sacrifice (v. 38) and is followed by the people confessing that he is indeed the Lord God (v. 39). Notice that the fire is still representative of judgment—but the judgment falls on the sacrifice, which is offered in the place of the sins of the people. For this reason, mercy flows to God’s people, who receive the grace represented in the sacrifice as their substitute, ultimately a foreshadowing of Christ upon the cross.
“Calling down fire from heaven” is reserved for those whose motive is one of evangelistic/restorative love, not dismissive rage. The proper application is not to pray for “fire from heaven” to consume the wicked. It is rather to pray for the “tongues of fire”—the work of the Holy Spirit from the first Pentecost into our day of spiritual malaise—to save the lost and revive the apathetic. Jesus went through the fires of divine judgment so that lost sinners might, through faith in him, be reconciled to God. If it has been awhile since your prayer invoked a passionate response from God, check your motives. Lose the “sons of thunder” mindset and beg God to fall afresh upon those around you who are on the fence spiritually.
The closing prayer of the writer of Hebrews captures and models the faithful spirit of Elijah best when he says:
He 13:20-21 “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”