Sunday – July 19, 2015 Introduction of Revelation- “The Purpose of Prophecy”

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2 Peter 1:19-21
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

By its very nature, prophecy is mysterious. That can be good, but it also can be a hindrance. Curiosity can be a dangerous commodity. Suppose someone comes to you and says, “I want to confess that I….” It is possible, even likely, that curiosity is the source of your listening, not genuine concern. The same curiosity can be aroused by our study of prophecy. We would like to know certain details more to satisfy our curiosity than conforming our lives to Christ.

It is very easy to deceive ourselves here by the use of semantics. We may speak of prophecy as “deep” spiritual truth. Truth that is deep, in my estimation, is that which leads to mature Christian living. The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this is what we intend to do, if God permits” (Hebrews 6:1-3).

Let us beware, then, when someone refers to prophetic study as “deep.” Often what we call deep is only obscure and speculative. The reason why others (naturally those less spiritual than we) cannot see the “deep truths” we see is because they are not there, not because they are on a higher spiritual plane. What is truly important, I believe, is what God says most frequently and most frankly. The disciples also had an unhealthy interest in their role in the kingdom. They thought about the future in terms of their prestige, their power, and their position, an attitude which Jesus often sought to correct (Mark 10:35-45).

Is it any wonder that American Christians are so interested in where America fits into God’s prophetic scheme? Common sport among Christians is to play the game of “Who’s who in prophecy.” Is the antichrist Saddam Hussein? Is a powerful computer in Europe a part of the satanic program? Of course Satan is constantly grooming a man for the job. But we are not often profited by speculation. The same could be said for date setting. This practice has only served to make Christians a laughing stock. The words of Peter should serve to warn us about the dangers of speculation or, in his words, “private interpretations.”

Let us seek to avoid the pitfalls which Satan would use to distort or distract us from the purpose God has for us in this prophecy. And let this prophecy stir our souls to worship, obedience, and perseverance. May the person of Christ and our reunion with Him be our goal and our consuming desire.

Sunday – July 12, 2015 “The Men Who Had Connections with God” Ezekiel 14 verses 12 to 20

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Ezekiel 14 verse 19 & 20
“Or if I should send a plague against that country and pour out My wrath in blood on it to cut off man and beast from it, even though Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.”

But maybe you’re thinking, “Does God have favorites? I thought that He received everyone equally.” The answer is, God may not have favorites, but He does have intimates. Some people have connections with God in a way that others do not. When they pray, God listens. In at least two Scriptures, God acknowledges that certain men had special influence with Him. In Jeremiah 15:1 , God tells the prophet that even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before Him, His heart would not be with this people, so great is their sin. The implication is that these two men normally had special influence, although in this case, even they would not prevail. This week we will look at Ezekiel 14, where God tells Ezekiel that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were to pray for this people, He would not grant deliverance, except to these men alone

That’s the context of Ezekiel 14. The city of Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed, but it now was inevitable because God had determined that it must be judged as a testimony of His separation from His people’s sin. God had graciously warned them over and over for centuries. But finally they had crossed the line. Now, not even the prayers of righteous Noah, Daniel, or Job could prevail.

We make a serious mistake if we think that God’s patience has no limit. His grace is great. His patience goes much farther than human patience ever could go. But there is a limit. There’s a limit nationally, when God as sovereign says, “That’s enough!” He told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in another land for 400 years and then they would return to the land of Canaan. Then God added, “for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). God was patient with the immoral Canaanites for more than 400 years, but then He said, “That’s enough!” and commanded Israel to destroy them in judgment. Nations, like ours, that turn from the knowledge of God are presuming on His grace.

Also, there is a limit to God’s patience personally. If we have not responded to His grace, we face that limit at death, which can strike at any moment. But, also, it can come when a person repeatedly hardens his heart against God. He crosses a line where he is so confirmed in sin that even the prayers of the righteous for his salvation will not prevail. We never know for sure when that line is crossed. We know that God is both just and merciful. But the fact that the line exists ought to make us tremble at the thought of continuing in our sinful ways. “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” (Isaiah 55:6)

Sunday – July 5, 2015 Thom Rachford “America, Where Are You?”

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America, Where Are You?

America has a history of Christian heritage. From the beginning of the nation, true Christian men guided the country and wrote the constitution. They set up the best ever series of checks and balances to insure peace and the opportunity for prosperity. The government was structured to provide individual liberty and fairness under the law.

The laws were based on God’s laws from the Bible and society’s moral conduct followed Biblical principles. Sure, there have always been those who did not follow the principles, but the principles were publicly held up as an example of how one should behave in the eyes of God and before and with their fellow man.

However, as men do, they rebelled against these principles when they felt deprived of something they wanted. The rebellion continued throughout the years. But the principles held firm. Slowly however, other more modern men pressed for a new interpretation of what principles should govern legal and social activities. The new principles of law and morality claim to be the best for men, better than God intended, or even more insidiously, they gave God’s principles a “new and better” interpretation.

The new interpretation presented man’s view as the highest, most moral and most right view. Man’s decision must be the highest and best decision since there is no God involved with men, they reasoned. The theory of evolution was held up as scientific evidence that man and his ideas evolved not from a creator God, but from crystals (yes, crystals as the modern evolutionists claim – but cannot explain how it happened) and developed over the centuries into the highest thought and judgment. Included in this view is the idea that man’s ideas continue to evolve. Therefore, since ideas evolve, new ideas must be better than the previous ideas. And the plunge into rebellion deepens.

Sunday – June 28, 2015 “The Man Who Rejoiced in an Invasion” Habakkuk 1 to 3

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Habakkuk 1:2-4
“How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted. “

Every Christian wrestles with two problems: Why doesn’t God answer my prayers sometimes? And, why does God allow the evil to prosper while the righteous suffer? What is the purpose of God when sin is celebrated by a nation and yet, from our position, it seems God sits in the distance not hearing the cries of the righteous? We especially wrestle with these two questions when they converge on us personally. When an evil person is harming us or someone we love, and we pray, but God does not answer, it is especially tough.

The prophet Habakkuk wrestled with these sorts of questions. He is unique among the prophets in that he did not, in his written message, speak for God to the people, but rather spoke to God about his struggles over these basic human questions. Why does God allow evil to go unchecked, especially when the righteous cry out to Him for justice?

Habakkuk took his questions and complaints to the Lord and worked through them in prayer, waiting on God for answers. When you wrestle with doubts on difficult issues like the problem of evil, you must proceed with caution. Some wrongly withdraw from God and His people into their own world of depression and pouting. Others angrily pull the plug on God entirely and go their own way into the world, convincing themselves that God must not exist or He wouldn’t allow the terrible things that go on every day in this evil world. Still others hang on to their faith, but it becomes a mindless, anti-intellectual, subjective experience where they just don’t think about disturbing questions.

That’s what Habakkuk did. He kept crying out to God for an answer, and when God’s even more difficult answer came, he stationed himself at his guard post to keep watch until the Lord would speak and reprove him (2:1). God’s second answer to Habakkuk included the great verse, “The righteous will live by his faith” (2:4b). When Habakkuk comes to his final prayer in chapter 3:1-19 he doesn’t have all the answers, just as you and I often do not have all the answers to why issues of pain and suffering have come upon us. We cannot fully understand the ways of the sovereign God, just as Habakkuk did not understand God’s ways. But he had grown in understanding and he could by faith pray with joy, knowing that God was his salvation and strength.

Sunday – June 14, 2015 “The Man Who Bought Property in a War Zone” Jeremiah 32

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Jeremiah 32:6-8
“And Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.”‘ “Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the Lord and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.”

Buying real estate is always a speculative idea. Buying real estate after you have been prophesying the nation that land was in would be taken captive by the Babylonians and utterly destroyed is completely insane.  Yet that’s exactly what God asked His prophet Jeremiah to do. Jerusalem was under siege, on the brink of falling to the Chaldeans. Jeremiah was in prison because he had been preaching that the nation was going to fall and that God wanted them to surrender.

Jeremiah obeyed, but then he got a bit confused. Had he done something dumb? If God was going to overthrow Israel by the Chaldeans, as Jeremiah had been preaching and as seemed imminent, then why did God tell him to buy this land? So after the transaction was completed, Jeremiah prayed, and God granted him the answer he needed to endure. His prayer teaches us some lessons on how to pray by faith in a bleak, confusing situation.

Jeremiah wasn’t crazy; he was being obedient to God’s difficult command. The point was to illustrate, by faith, that houses and fields and vineyards would again be bought in Israel (32:15). In Jeremiah 31, God had promised and Jeremiah had proclaimed that the days were coming when God would form a new covenant with His disobedient people, where He would write His laws on their hearts and forgive their sin, where they would be His people and He would be their God. By purchasing this field, God was asking Jeremiah to put his money where his mouth was. To pray by faith that God would fulfill His promises of restoring His people, Jeremiah had to be obedient to this difficult command. The principle is just as valid today as it was then. You cannot pray by faith for God to fulfill His promises to you or to His church if you’re not obeying Him at whatever points obedience is difficult.

Remember, Jeremiah never lived to see those promises fulfilled. But because he believed in a sovereign God who would fulfill all of His promises to His people, Jeremiah could obey God’s difficult commands and trust that God would do the humanly impossible. Through Jeremiah’s prayer in this difficult and confusing situation, God granted him the understanding he needed to endure.

Sunday June 7, 2015 “The Man Who Cried for God to Come Down” Isaiah 63

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Isaiah 63:17
“Why, O Lord, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.”

Through God’s Spirit, the prophet Isaiah saw a desperate future time in Israel’s history. Because Isaiah predicted conditions that would take place about 100 years after he wrote (after the Babylonians conquered Judah), liberal critics have said that Isaiah couldn’t have written this. But I believe that God revealed the future to the prophet and led him to pray this prayer as a gracious way of teaching us how to lay hold of Him and His power in times of great spiritual need.

Isaiah pictures God as shut up in heaven, removed from His people who are suffering because of their sin. In an emotional outburst, the prophet calls upon God to rend the heavens and come down in great power, even as He did at Sinai, to restore His people and to make His name known among the nations. His point is that complacency with the existing low spiritual condition among God’s people is the enemy of revival. Remember the lukewarm church at Laodicea? They were content: “We’re rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” But God’s evaluation was that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

I know of two ways to keep from lapsing into lukewarmness and thinking that it is normal. First, steep yourself in the Bible so much that when you hear of the worldliness of the modern church, you are appalled. God’s Word must shape our worldview.Second, read church history and read some of the great men of God from the past. You will learn how God has worked in history, and you will read men who were not tainted by our modern worldview. But the fact that they wrote in a different time and culture will often jar you to see how far we have drifted. That is the start of revival praying – when some of God’s people begin to feel the lack of His working in our day.

Never before has the church had so many methods available to us, but at the same time, so little experience of the power of God. Christians need to know the living God in a deeper way. Also, we need to entreat God to pour out His Spirit through a revived church, so that His power in salvation would turn millions in repentance and faith to Him.

Sunday May 31, 2015 “The Man Who Won a War Without Fighting” 2 Chronicles 20:1-30

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2 Chronicles 20:5-6
“Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord before the new court, and he said, “O Lord, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You.”

The story of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, provides us with helpful instruction on the subject of prayer and trusting God when we face severe trials. Jehoshaphat was basically a good king who sought to follow the Lord and bring God’s people back to Him (19:4-11). He ruled in the southern kingdom at the same time that the wicked Ahab ruled in the north. But although he was a good king, Jehoshaphat had a character flaw: He made wrongful alliances with the godless Ahab. His motive in these alliances may have been good, to reunite the divided kingdom. But he was unwise and wrong.

One morning Jehoshaphat was shaken when his intelligence sources came running in with the horrifying news: the enemy army was about 15 miles south of Jerusalem, on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Jehoshaphat’s life and his entire kingdom were on the brink of extinction. What would you do if you heard some threatening news that affected your future and maybe your life? This godly king did the right thing: He called a national prayer meeting and encouraged the people to trust God in the face of this overwhelming crisis. They did it, and literally won the war by prayer alone, without swinging a single sword.

It’s easy to read this story and miss what a great thing it was for Jehoshaphat to call the nation to prayer over this crisis. It would have been very human to panic. When he heard the news of this army within his borders, we could understand if he yelled, “Call all my top generals. Get the army mobilized immediately. We don’t have a second to waste.” As soon as the troops were mustered, if there was time, he could have stopped for a quick word of prayer. But for Jehoshaphat to turn his attention to seek the Lord and to call the nation to prayer and fasting was not automatic.

God never fails those who trust Him and obey His Word. That is not to say that He delivers everyone who trusts Him from suffering or even death. There are many who have trusted God and lost their heads (Heb. 11:36-40)! But this earthly life isn’t the final chapter. All who suffer loss for Jesus will be richly rewarded in heaven or God is a liar. Just as Israel was enriched literally by the spoils of victory, so we will always be enriched spiritually through our trials if we recognize our great need, pray to our great God, and trust in Him alone, not in the arm of the flesh.

Sunday May 17, 2015 “The Man Who Saw the Unseen” 2 Kings 6 verses 8 to 23

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2 Kings 6:15-17
“Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Each time the Syrians would make a raid into Israel their plans were spoiled through the revelation given by God to Elisha. Elisha would inform the king of Israel who would then take precautions against their invasions. This naturally enraged the heart of the king of Aram (Syria) who first thought that he had an informer in his camp. When he was then told of Elisha’s ability as a prophet of Israel to know of the king’s plans, the king of Aram knew that if his plans were to be successful, he would have to do away with Elisha. This meant the prophet became the object of his attack.

This event shows us the omniscience of God Who knows the plans of the enemy and has provided special revelation for us that we might be informed to protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks. If, when we are warned, we do not appropriate God’s provision and armor against Satan’s devices, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Unfortunately, though the king of Israel was quick to listen to the warnings regarding the physical attacks of the Syrians, he was slow to heed the warnings of Elisha regarding his sin and refusal to truly follow the Lord. I am always amazed at how people are ready to heed the counsel of doctors regarding our health, but slow to listen to the counsel of the Word of God.

Elisha’s attendant went out seemingly oblivious to both the fact of the enemy and of God’s provision. As is the case for many Christians, the new day simply meant business as usual for the attendant. He was going to take care of his chores and with no concern for the spiritual battle around him, which meant he was also completely unprepared for what he faced. Christians can be the same way. Too often we don’t take our spiritual warfare seriously. We act as though Satan and his kingdom were asleep or posed no problem to us. We go out unprepared spiritually. Consequently, when faced with some form of spiritual warfare, as Elisha’s attendant was, our response is consternation, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

How can we minister to the fears of people? Just as Elijah did! We need to show personal concern and involvement, provide biblical instruction, and go to the Lord in personal dependence on Him to illuminate them to His resources and sufficiency. Unless the Lord prospers our ministry, our work is futile (1 Cor. 3:7). Our tendency, however, is to neglect one or the other of these important ingredients. Whether we are impersonal and cold in our teaching and relationships with people or we are warm and personable, we may still fail to communicate God’s truth because we are trusting in our personality or skill as a teacher and we fail to pray. We need to grasp the balance here. God uses people. And God uses His Word because it is alive and powerful in spite of us. Yet, it is prayer that gives power to our personal love and teaching.

Sunday May 10, 2015 “The Woman Who Gave Away Her Son” –I Samuel 1 & 2

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1 Samuel 1:9-11
“Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. She made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.”

Hannah’s story is one of perseverance though adversity. Hannah was a great woman, the mother of Samuel, one of Israel’s outstanding prophets. Had it not been for her agony and the adversity in her life, the birth of her first child would soon have been forgotten. But her years of agony and her tears of distress make the birth of her son Samuel an incident to be remembered. They form the backdrop for her psalm of praise, which has become a comfort and inspiration to saints down through the ages.

Unlike Peniannah, Hannah had the biblical perspective of the goal of motherhood. The biblical perspective sees children as stewardships, gifts from the Lord to be returned to Him. It’s the perspective of preparing children to become servants of God rather than servants of themselves, the parents, or the world. One of the great lessons of this passage is the value of godly mothers, mothers who are devoted to raising their children to know the Lord and who are willing to give their children to God and His service in accord with God’s will for their children.

Hannah’s psalm could not have been written without the suffering which precedes it. It is God who closes Hannah’s womb. It is God who purposes for her to suffer at the hand of her cruel counterpart, Peninnah. It is God who orchestrates all of the painful and pleasant events in Hannah’s life, so that the resulting psalm could become the masterpiece it is. This is the way God employs the human and the divine in the writing of all the Scriptures. While you and I do not write Scripture today, I believe God orchestrates our background and our lives in a way which uniquely prepares and equips us for the ministry He has for us. Let us refuse to see our past difficulties as hindrances to the present or the future. As we look back upon the painful memories of our past, let us look upon them as the foundation stones for our present and future ministry, and then let us rejoice in our tribulations and trials in light of the way God purposes to use them for our good and for His glory.

As Paul makes so clear in his epistles, God’s power is demonstrated at the point of our weaknesses. That is grace. God’s grace does not seek out our strong points and enhance them, so much as His grace seeks out our weakest points so that it may be absolutely clear to all that it is God who accomplishes great things through us. Those things which cause Hannah the greatest sorrow, the greatest pain, are the very things God uses to produce Hannah’s greatest joys. For those who trust in Him, it will always be this way.

Sunday May 3, 2015 “The Man Who Prayed About the Weather” -1st Kings 17-19

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1 Kings 18:36-37
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said: “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.”

Elijah came on the scene in the midst of the most corrupt reign in Israel’s history. The weak-willed Ahab had married the Phoenician princess, Jezebel, who introduced and aggressively promoted Baal worship on a wide scale (16:31-33). She had exterminated the prophets of Yahweh, except for 100 who were hidden by Obadiah, Ahab’s chief of staff, who was a secret believer (18:3, 13). Though they survived, those 100 prophets seemed to be silenced for the time being.

Certainly our times rival Elijah’s times for ungodliness. The American church desperately needs revival. Although polls show that at least one-third of Americans claim to be born again, a surface glance at our culture tells you that they understand something quite different than the Bible does by that term. Most Americans believe that there is no absolute standard of morality. Church people, including Christian leaders, are falling into sin at alarming rates. Many American Christians are entangled with greed and self-centered living.

I suspect that one of the reasons we are so ineffective in evangelism is that we are so much like the people around us that we have very little to which we can call them. We hang around church buildings a little more. We abstain from a few things. But we simply aren’t that different. As a result of this unfortunate accommodation, Christianity is reduced to little more than a spiritual crutch to help us through the minefields of the upwardly mobile life. God is there to help us get our promotions, our house in the suburbs, and our bills paid. Somehow God has become a co-conspirator in our agendas instead of our becoming a co-conspirator in His.

We desperately need God to send His fire to cleanse our sins and His showers of blessing to refresh us, that everyone would know that He alone is God, so that many sinners would turn to Him. It may not happen dramatically every time. But God wants us to join Elijah in praying about the weather – the spiritual weather – in our land. Though it is an ungodly time, through the prayers of the godly, God can make His glory known by turning many sinners to Himself.