Bible Reading: Mark 9:14-29

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When I read this story, I often wondered why Jesus seemed frustrated by the situation. Upon hearing the father’s request for healing and deliverance of his son, Jesus replies by saying, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” Why does Jesus seem annoyed with this father’s request. We have to take the entire story into account. Jesus is not approached by a father seeking help, but Jesus comes down the mountain after the Transfiguration, and he sees the people are arguing with his disciples. The argument is over the disciples’ failure to do what the people wanted. They want signs, wonders and miracles, and they were not satisfied with failure.

All attention turns to Jesus when he walks up, and this father comes seeking help once again, and he is getting desperate. Jesus disciples had failed, and he is possibly doubting whether or not Jesus can save his son. Not to excuse the lack of faith in Jesus, but the man’s logic is likely something like: since the students failed, and they learned from this teacher, then this teacher will likely fail as well. Students reflect their teachers, so this father may think Jesus is not equipped to cast out a demon. And this is the core of Jesus frustration. He has come to make the Father known and to do the Father’s will, yet people desire the miracles more than the Miracle-Maker. In this moment we read an amazing exchange that should always lead us to reflect on our approach to prayer.

The Dad - But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.

Jesus - ‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.

In a desperate cry for faith and help, Jesus delivers the man’s son from the demon. His mercy and grace know no bounds, even when met with discouraged, doubtful consent to faith. The disciples may have failed, but this dad learned that day that Jesus does not and cannot fail.

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Application: How many times have circumstances caused you to doubt God’s ability to answer prayers? What we learn from Jesus here is that our focus should not be on what we are asking for, but on the One whom we are asking. Situations can cause us to doubt or half-heartedly ask because we already feel defeated, but God is greater than our situations! If you have anything that needs prayer, do not look at the problem, but look to God, the problem solver! Nothing is impossible for God, so pray to God with bold, confident faith.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the times I have doubted you because I looked at my circumstances instead of you. I know and believe you are greater, and that there is nothing you cannot do. Strengthen my faith within me, and help me to know and remember forever that you are God, and you can do anything. I love you, Heavenly Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Matthew 21:23-27

Most people, at some time or another, have issues with authority. It could be you did not approve of your parents’ authority over you when they forbid you from watching a movie or staying out past curfew with your friends. Maybe you did not agree with the authority of the police officer who clocked you for speeding five miles over the limit. Or perhaps, like the Pharisees in Matthew 21:23-27, you do not care for the authority Jesus uses when He speaks to your heart.

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The Pharisees demand to know why Jesus is challenging the spiritual-quo of the day. Jesus has broken many of the spiritual laws of the day. He has healed on the Sabbath, touched unclean people (lepers and the woman with bleeding issues), and has declared the forgiveness of sins for some people. Jesus speaks and acts with an authority uncommon to the Pharisees and spiritual leaders of the day. How dare Jesus try to overthrow and undo the work the Pharisees had been working so hard to accomplish! They demand to know where Jesus received this authority He acts in. Jesus says He will tell them, but only if they can answer His question first. The question: Where did the authority in John’s baptism ministry come from? From heaven, or from men? The Pharisees get nervous. The people loved John the Baptist, so they do not want to risk insulting or demeaning his ministry. But if they say the authority came from God in heaven, they will have no grounds to question Jesus’ authority. They are stuck, and they give no answer. Because they do not give an answer, neither does Jesus.

Application: There are times that God speaks to us directly concerning matters near and dear to us. He calls us out on an idol we have set up, or forgiveness we have withheld, or even over the secret sins of our hearts that nobody knows. When God does this, we tend to not appreciate His authority. We must remember that God’s authority is not meant to berate us and shame us, but God uses His authority in love to transform us. God does not abuse His authority, nor does He shy away from using it in our lives. God is working in us to perfect His spiritual work of salvation. His authority is used to guide us and help us, even when it seems uncomfortable and unpleasant. Trust in God’s authority. He is for you, and not against you. He loves you, and will not do you harm.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I know your authority is meant to help guide and teach me. You have always sought to do good by me, even when I did not want to follow you. Forgive me for the times I question and rebel against your authority, Teach me and help me to honor and respect you as my perfect and holy Father who is in heaven. I love you. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 15:1-19

I truly love the story of Naaman! I imagine a mighty warrior who is respected by his king, admired by his fellow soldiers, and loved by the people he fights for and protects. He is in an almost dream-like position among the people, and yet not many people would dare swap places with him. Why wouldn’t they swap places with the amazing Naaman? 2 Kings 15:1 ends by telling us, “[Naaman] was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.” Naaman had power and prestige, but he could do nothing with the disease that would eventually claim his life.

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Through a set of circumstances that only God could orchestrate, Naaman finds himself at the front door of Elisha’s house. What we see unfold from here is the battle between pride and humility. Elisha does not come and put on a healing show in front of Naaman. Elisha actually does not even come out to meet the mighty man of valor! Instead, Elisha’s servant acts as a messenger and tells Naaman to go dip himself in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman is furious. He expected a grand showing on his behalf, but he only received the words of a lowly messenger. Thanks to the wise counsel of one of his own servants, Naaman agrees to enter the Jordan River, and finds himself cleansed. Naaman has been healed physically, but his heart was also made clean that day.

Application: More often than not, we tend to get in our own way. Because Naaman desired a grand gesture on Elisha’s part, he almost missed a healing. Sometimes we expect God to make grand gestures on our behalf as well. We want to see God part the skies, cause the sun to shine down on us extra brightly, and have heavenly glitter rain on us and fix our problems. God is able to do that, but His desire is to grow our faith in the work He does. He teaches us humility, perseverance, and obedience. God can and does heal and answer prayers, but there is also more that He does we don’t always see. Be confident and courageous in your prayers, knowing that God will work in your life and in your heart.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for taking notice of me and for hearing my prayers. Thank you for going above and beyond all that I have ever asked you. Thank you for teaching me to be more like Christ in how I live in this world. I love you. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Isaiah 33:20-24

Our heart is involved in a constant battle.  Every day we have to make a conscious decision who the king of our life is: God or idols.  In our society, there is no shortage of false gods and idols vying for the throne of our hearts.  Money tries to be our king and dictate our life decisions.  Careers try to control our time and loyalty.  Even our political parties try to judge our stances and viewpoints of our home, nation and world.  We battle to keep our hearts, minds and lives centered on Christ, and some days we fight better than others.  We can get caught up in the stressors of work and finances, and bogged down by the constant back-and-forth of politics and media.  The good news, though, is that our God will save us from it all!

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When we read from Isaiah 33:20-24, we are getting a small glimpse of God's eternal kingdom.  When we look to God's Jerusalem, we see a homeland that is at peace.  We glimpse upon the tabernacle of worship and praise, and it is grounded into our new home that it can never be shaken or moved.  Greater still, the majestic Lord will be for us.  We will no longer have to hope for and await God's presence, peace and protection, because it will be there fully and completely.  There will be no more threats of false-gods and idols trying to steal away our hearts, but only God will be there.  He will have defeated ever enemy that posed a threat to us, and God Himself will take His proper place as our judge, lawgiver and king.  As our Lord and King, God Himself will have saved us from the sinfulness and wickedness of this fallen world, and brought us into His eternal kingdom of peace and salvation.  What a wonderful day that will be!

Application:  It is such a great comfort for us today to think about the peace of the future.  One day, there will be nothing to fear, as God will have wiped out all threats of illness, violence and death.  If there are any tears in God's kingdom, they will be tears of joy and laughter.  If there is any pain, it will be from smiling too big for too long.  As this world works to dethrone Christ in your heart, fight all the more to keep Him there.  Look to His Word and be reminded of the hope you have in Jesus.  Let this hope renew your strength and fill you with excitement and determination.  You are a born-again, redeemed child of God.  He has saved you, and He will save you for Himself in His kingdom.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for saving me and taking your place upon the throne of my heart.  Daily I fight to not give that throne over to sin, and I ask for you to keep my eyes set on you.  May I not stray to the right or left, but walk straight in the light of your ways.  Keep me wholly for yourself, and save me from these lies and temptations.  May I walk and live in hope of your peace.  I love you, Father.  Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Hebrews 4:1-16

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Rest.  A small word with big meaning!  Throughout history there has been a collective groaning for rest.  Just when a person thinks they have found rest in this world, it slips through their fingers.  The reason rest seems to elusive is due to where it is being searched for.  People are looking to find rest in financial stability, job security, marriage, friendships, and numerous other worldly things.  Although they search for rest in many places, it evades them because they cannot find rest in the things of this world.   

When we read Hebrews 4, we learn that there is a true rest for the people of God, but we must not take it for granted.  The opening verse reads, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”  What would cause the author to write such a thing?  Well, in Hebrews 3, we read that God had promised the Israelites a land to call their own and enter into his rest, but they were rebellious and sinned against God.  The promise to enter His rest was theirs, but they failed to follow Him.  Likewise, we too have received the promise of entering God’s rest.  But, if we are disobedient and fail to follow God, then in His wrath He will withhold His rest. 

The author’s logic makes sense.  Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, yet this was not ultimate rest.  We know this because God has promised a still greater rest than receiving an earthly kingdom to call our own.  Still, we read, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God…Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” 

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Application:  What is the author getting at in Hebrews 4?  The point being made is about remaining faithful to God all the days of your life.  There are plenty of idols and distractions vying for our hearts affections, and we must remain alert to keep our hearts totally for God.  The chapter ends by reminding us of our great high priest, Jesus.  Jesus knows what it is like to lack rest, and He also knows what it is like to face temptations to surrender to worldly, lesser rests.  Don’t take advantage of God’s saving grace towards you, but daily devote yourself to putting your life in His hands.  The only safe place for our lives is in the hands of God, and the only true rest that can be found for our souls is in the God of our salvation.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for your great patience in working in us.  We are your children, and that is only possible because of your love and mercy.  Keep us from falling into temptation and from searching for rest in this world.  Teach what it means to rest in you alone, so that we will keep our hearts and minds free from sin and disobedience.  We love you, Father.  Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

 As my daughter gets earlier, I am learning more and more that there are things I cannot do anymore.  She loves to be flipped backwards and forwards, but then she asks for Daddy to flip.  In my desire to be a good dad, I attempted to do a front flip onto the ground.  I used to be able to do this no problem, but my bones are not as young as they once were.  As I landed the less than graceful finish on my back, my daughter laughed with joy.  I, on the other hand, realized that in the future I would not be able to do all the cool things she wanted me to do.

It is funny how this moment, and sadly too many others, made me think about how I stack up to our Heavenly Father.  In just 23 months, I have realized I cannot do all the things my daughter asks of me.  Our Heavenly Father, however, can do anything.  Indeed, nothing is impossible for God!  I love the words of Ephesians 3:20-21 we read at the start of this devotion.  If we could compile a list of everything we could think to ask of God, He is able to do infinitely more.  Consider that for a moment.  Has there ever been anything you did not ask God for because you thought it was too much to ask for, or not important enough to land on His radar?  The Bible teaches us and shows us a God who is able to handle so much more than we give Him credit for. 

We fear the diagnosis of cancer, and many other diseases, but God does not fear them.  Truly, God is able to do more than heal that disease but is able to eradicate it once and for all.  We crumble beneath the anxiety and heartbreak of a broken-marriage and divorce, but our God is able to heal hearts and mend relationships.  Our greatest fear, that paralyzes us at certain times in life, is death.  But our Heavenly Father has defeated death once and for all through the resurrection of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

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Application:  The next time something scares you, or the next time you want to pray and ask God for something, remind yourself that He is able.  There is nothing too hard for our God, and there is nothing that He cannot do.  Even greater still, that God has told us that He is willing to do these things.  God has redeemed and cleansed you from sin, invited you into His presence, and offered you the gift of prayer.  This is a great and precious gift.  Do not doubt, but by faith pray and make your requests and anxieties known to God.  Know this with all your heart, God can do more abundantly than all you can ask or imagine.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for being the amazing and able God that you are.  Forgive us for the times we doubt you or your love for us.  We know you care for the anxieties and pains of our hearts.  Teach us to pray with faith and expectation.  We love you, Father.  Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Genesis 1; 1 Timothy 2:5

In an effort to both avoid plagiarism and give credit where it is due, I must start off by saying that this blog post was motivated by an excerpt from Pastor Timothy Keller's book entitled, "Prayer.  It reads:

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“Aristotle, for example, said that while it might be possible to venerate and appease the gods, actual intimate friendship with a god was impossible.  The philosopher reasoned that friendship requires that both parties share much in common as equals.  They must be alike.  But since God is infinitely greater than human beings, ‘the possibility of friendship ceases.’  Now, however, we have the ultimate mediator and priest to end all priests (Heb. 4:14-15).  He eliminates the gap so that we can know God as friend (cf. Ex 33:11)."

One of the most amazing and unique things about the Christian faith is the deep relationship believers have with God.  He is not far off and uninvolved with our daily affairs, but He is quite close and in them all.  When God first created all that we see and know, He was intimately involved with it all.  But the crown of His creation was mankind, which is the only part of the created order made in God's image.  He breathed His life into Adam's lungs, and humanity was set in motion.  In the beginning, God was close to His creation.  But once sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, the relationship was damaged.  But even then, God made a way to be close to His people.  He desired to know them and be known by them, so He made a way.  And when that way did not fully satisfy due to our constant sinfulness, God, at the right time, sent His Son to heal the relationship fully.

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Application: This may seem like a deep subject for a blog post, but it is so crucial to how we think about our relationship to God.  We were made to know Him and have a real, deep, meaningful relationship with Him.  But our sin keeps getting in the way and separating us from Him.  Who can save us from this wicked cycle?  It is Jesus, the one and only Son of God.  Jesus is our mediator to God, meaning He brings us together.  He takes away our sins and gives us His righteousness, which means we can have that pure and undefiled relationship with God.  Knowing that God went to such great lengths so we can have a close relationship with Him again should bring your heart to joy and praise!  What an amazing hope and joy we have in our relationship with God our Father.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for desiring us.  You spared no expense, even giving up your Son, so we could be saved from sin and have a redeemed relationship with you.  May we never take this for granted, but this truth always bring us to praise and worship you with thanksgiving.  We love you, Father God.  Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11; Matthew 6:25-34

As a child, one of my favorite movies was, “The Jungle Book.”  I loved all the animals talking to Mowgli, and I especially loved the music.  One of my favorite songs from the movie was Baloo the bear’s song, the “Bear” Necessities of life.  All Baloo needed was food to eat, a place to sleep and a tall tree to scratch his back.  In looking at the culture around us today, we are beginning to see some people abandon our affluent, materialistic society in favor of a more minimalist lifestyle.  People are leaving large suburban homes to move into tiny houses.  Large chain stores are closing as more and more people are no longer willing to pay outlandish prices.  Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, either give-me-more or give-me-less, there is still this apparent lack of peace.  No matter what path we choose to walk, we find them all to be empty of meaning, except for that one path; the path of God.

In Ecclesiastes 2, we read that King Solomon is searching for fulfillment and happiness in this life.  With his great wealth, Solomon set out to get everything he could imagine.  He built houses, planted vineyards, made himself gardens and parks, accumulated servants, herds and flocks.  The kin gathered a large amount of gold, silver and riches.  To his own confession, Solomon says, “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.  I kept my heart from no pleasure.”  It is hard for me to imagine a person being in the right set of circumstances to possess everything their heart desired, no matter how silly the desire may be.  Solomon spent years not denying his desires.  But after Solomon surveyed all he had gathered, built, and given to himself, he found that it was all empty of meaning and value in his heart.  “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil that I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity.

As we read through the Bible, we quickly realize that this earth promises many things that it cannot deliver.  The older we get, the more we see that many things may be nice and enjoyable, but we know that it is a temporary joy.  A wise person sees how far short the things of this work fall, and they must find something else to put their hope in.  Truly, even the bare necessities of life cannot fulfill the human heart.  The only true peace and joy that can fulfill a person’s heart can only be found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Application: What would you do if you could attempt the Solomon Experiment?  Which desires of your heart would you fulfill first? 

I challenge you to write out a list of the top five things you would do in your Solomon Experiment.  List the first five desires of your heart you would fulfill with your wealth.  After you make your list, ask yourself these questions:

-          Are your purchased desires for you alone, or do they involve other people?

-          Is your spending on frivolous things, or lasting things?

-          If these desires were fulfilled this very moment, would you have complete peace and joy in your heart?

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus teaches us to seek first God’s Kingdom, and then all our needs will be taken care of.  The secret to a content heart is not more or less things.  To have a content heart is to have peace with God; to know God as your Heavenly Father.  Don’t be swayed by the trends of this world but keep your eyes focused and your heart grounded.  When you have a relationship with God, you have all you will ever need.  May we all find our peace in Him and kiss vanity goodbye.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are more than enough for me.  All the things in this world are gifts, but you are the Giver of those gifts.  Teach us to love you more than the gifts you have given.  You are greater, Lord.  We love you, and may our love for you grow deeper.  Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Psalm 77

There is not a time when more people cry out to God than when trouble strikes.  When things are going well, we are content to enjoy them, and occasionally, we pause to look up and tell God, “Thank you.”  But when trouble strikes, we find ourselves looking to God more.  Sadly, most of our looking to God is questioning Him.  “Why did you let this happen, Lord?”  “How long will you standby and watch this?”  “God, where are you in this mess?”  If this is true for you, as it is true for most of us Christians, then Psalm 77 has a lot to teach us. 

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Asaph captures a lot of our emotions and thoughts during times of trouble.  Some of the questions Asaph asks are, “Has his steadfast love forever ceased?” and “Has God forgotten to be gracious?”  We can relate to such questions, but it is where Asaph turns after asking them that is the most important.  In verses 11-12, Asaph takes time to remember and ponder the mighty works God has done for His people.  It is after remembering these things that Asaph writes, “Your way, O God, is holy.  What god is great like our God?”  When Asaph considers the holiness of God, and remembers His steadfast love, then he finds peace to face his troubles. 

God is always involved with His people, and we are always in the palms of His hands.  In a fallen world, troubles will come our way, but nothing can separate us from the love of God.  God’s love and strength are always with us, even when we cannot see it.  This wonderful thought is captured beautifully in 77:19, which says, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.”  Asaph is remembering the Exodus story of God parting the Red Sea.  This was a time of great fear and trouble for God’s people, and God acted mightily on their behalf.  God led them to safety and then into a land to call their home, yet there were no specific footprints for them to follow.  God led them, but there were no trail markers.  Just as His people had to walk by faith, so must Asaph do, and so must we.

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Application: In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.”  We will have troubles in this life.  If that was where Jesus had ended His statement, it would have been true, but not very encouraging.  Praise be to God that there is more to what Jesus was saying.  The verse ends with Jesus saying, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  It is unrealistic to ask for a life without troubles.  In a world infected with sin, troubles will arise constantly.  What is realistic is the hope and peace that is found in being a child of God.  Just as He once parted the sea for His people to walk through, so God will lead you now.  When troubles arise, and you feel fear and anxiety rising within your heart, remember the mighty things God has done.  Let the history of God’s love and might comfort your heart.  He will make you to overcome because He has already overcome the world.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you and praise you for the mighty things you have done for your people.  When troubles come my way, help me to remember your great strength.  I know that you are holy, and that you are my God.  My hope and my life are in your hands, and I know that I will never be moved.  I love you.  Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: 1 Kings 17:1-7; James 5:13-18

One of my favorite people to read about in Scripture is the prophet Elijah.  His story is filled with these moments of great faith, boldness and courage, as well as times of fear and sadness.  Elijah is one of those great men of the Bible who we see him at his best and his worst.  The reason I say this encourages me is due to the hero-worship many of us are so prone to.  If all we read about was Elijah's bold proclamations to King Ahab, and his epic battle with the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, we may leave thinking he is a spiritual superhero that we cannot relate to.  Instead, we see a man just like us.  Elijah was man who prayed, and like us, had to have faith that God would hear and answer.  In our passage today, we see the prayer that would forever change the course of Elijah's faith and life.

in 1 Kings 17, Elijah is introduced, and right out of the gate we see him confronting the wicked king, Ahab.  Elijah says, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."  Ahab is king over Israel, but Israel belongs to God.  Elijah comes as a prophet called by God, and he calls for a drought to strike the land.  Without rain, the water supply will dwindle and the agriculture will suffer.  Crops will not grow, which means families will go hungry, prices for food will climb, and work will suffer due to the malnutrition and exhaustion of the workers and the animals.  Life is about to get difficult.  However, we see that Elijah will be cared for.  God has instructed Elijah to go and live in the wilderness near the brook Cherith, and there Elijah will have the brook for drinking water, and ravens will deliver food to him daily.  Elijah has a good setup to withstand the drought, until we read verse seven.  "And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land."

James 5:17 reminds us that, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth."  God stopped the rain in response to a prayer of faith.  Faith became even more important when as a result Elijah's drinking water vanished.  It was a result of his prayer that Elijah is faced with no more water.  With his life on the line, Elijah must continue to look to God to provide for his life.  In his flesh, Elijah may have been nervous, or even anxious, about how he would survive with the brook dried up.  In his faith, however, Elijah knew God would provide for his life, even in a drought.

Application:  To restate what I began with, I love Elijah's story.  He was a man with a nature like ours, and we see it on display throughout his recorded story.  In Elijah's circumstances, faith was needed to pray for the drought, and to withstand him during it.  We are no different.  It takes having faith in God to pray for something.  Prayer is looking to God, asking for His involvement in a situation, and trusting it to Him to do what He will.  It takes faith to pray.  To add to that, it takes faith to live with God's answer to prayer.  God may withhold the rain, but will you have faith for Him to provide during the drought?  Have faith to pray like Elijah, and have faith that God will carry you through His answer.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I have faith that you hear my prayers.  I also believe that you answer all of them according to your will and purposes.  As you work all things together for my good, strengthen my faith.  Help me to stay true and stand strong as you glorify your name and build up your kingdom in and through my life.  I love you, Father.  Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin