How Can Our Prayers Be More Effective? #136 #PrayLikeElijah
Hello everybody and happy Wednesday to you! As you hear this, I should be well on the way to Colorado, passing through Utah for the first time in my life. If I somehow don’t make it back, you can be sure that the Mormons have captured me, and are torturing me to learn all of the classified and above-top-secret Baptist facts that I know of. Don’t worry, I’ll never tell the Baptist secret fried chicken recipe – DEATH FIRST!
Today’s Bible readings include Numbers 22, which introduces us to a most interesting and strange Bible figure named Balaam. We’re also reading Psalms 62-63, Isaiah 11-12, and James 5, which is our focus passage. Today is an episode on prayer, and James 5 is one of my favorite – and most challenging! – Bible teachings on prayer. It teaches us to pray BIG prayers of faith and to expect an answer to those prayers – let’s read the passage.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. 17 Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.
What a wonderful passage! The centerpiece verse there should be a focus for us, and it should be memorized and meditated on: The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. The preceding verses tell us what kind of effect we are talking about – physical effects, healing effects, noticeable effects and spiritual effects. What does it mean to be righteous? Is James telling us that only the most sinless and holy Christians will have their prayers answered? I believe there is some truth to that – those who are led by the Spirit and who turn from sin and turn towards God will be likely be more effectual in their prayers than those who love the world and the things of the world. The word here for righteous is applied to people like Joseph, father of Jesus, and Cornelius the praying, God-fearing and poor-people helping Roman Centurion – both called righteous before they became Christians.
So, in one sense, the word does indicate a type of moral righteousness characterized by good works and Godly moral choices, but I don’t think this is the primary way that James is using the word here. I believe he is primarily talking about those who have been declared righteous/justified by what Jesus did on the cross. The problem is that, according to Romans 3:10 – NO ONE is ultimately righteous before God. Certainly some are more righteous than others, but none, in and of themselves – are righteous. However, according to Romans 5:19:
19 For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
This means that some are MADE righteous by grace through faith by Jesus, and that is the righteousness out of which Christians pray from – the declared/imputed/imparted righteousness from Jesus. That, of course, does not give one a license to sin, and I do believe that sin muffles our prayers, but ultimately, a Christian’s righteousness is in Christ alone through faith alone by grace alone.
Where does that leave us? In the it leaves us in the position to pray big prayers like Elijah! You might be saying – whoa there, pardner – Elijah was a GREAT man of God – an incredible prophet, and a man of overwhelmingly gargantuan faith – I can’t be like that, can I? And, if I was sitting here with James right now, I bet he’d say something like – “Yes! You can – that’s absolutely the point of what I was writing in this passage.” In other words, the Bible is indeed telling us to pray like Elijah and using Elijah as an illustration of HOW we should pray. Elijah was absolutely a giant of the faith, but as James tells us – he was HUMAN. In other words, he was FLAWED. Consider that Elijah didn’t have some special lineage that he was descended from, and there was no big Burning Bush incident by which Elijah was called to be a prophet. Instead, it went like this:
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from the Gilead settlers, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, in whose presence I stand, there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!”
2 Then the word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan. 4 You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.”
5 So he proceeded to do what the Lord commanded. Elijah left and lived at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan. 6 The ravens kept bringing him bread and meat in the morning and in the evening, and he would drink from the wadi. 7 After a while, the wadi dried up because there had been no rain in the land.
1 Kings 17:1-7
Did you catch that? Elijah – in faith, likely based on God’s Word from Deuteronomy, went up to the king of Israel and made a faith-based pronouncement. He comes out of nowhere! Who is he? We don’t know – He’s from Tishbe…we don’t know his parents, or his people, or his calling. Once he prophesies to Ahab, God sends him to a wadi – which is like a dry riverbed that only has water in it during the rainy season – and there he drinks from the river, and eats bread from ravens. And that’s kind of weird, but so are many of you. (and me too!)
James is showing us – Elijah was a man. Was he a SUPERMAN? He won the big showdown with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel – that was pretty special, expect that he didn’t actually DO anything there, except for pray – God did that whole thing. Elijah caused it to rain after a super-drought that lasted years, except that Elijah didn’t actually DO anything – he just asked God REPEATEDLY until God answered his prayer! Elijah was just a human, not a superman. In fact, there were times in his life that Elijah struggled with depression, loneliness and fear. I’m not talking about merely being unsettled and having a hard time going to sleep at night – I’m talking about the kind of fear that makes you RUN AWAY from the whole world by walking miles into the wilderness and hiding in a cave. Many of us struggle with fear and anxiety from time to time, but most of us haven’t walked miles into the woods to get away from it all, and tried to live in a cave. Elijah did, because Elijah was human just like us. The same vexing emotions and weaknesses – the same ups and downs -the same troubles! In fact, not only was Elijah troubled sometimes, he was downright suicidal! This is the guy that James is pointing us to as an example of prayer. Elijah prayed world-shaking prayers and saw God answer them, but Elijah was just a man – just a human like us. What was his secret then? Well, that’s a silly question in one sense, because Elijah didn’t DO anything apart from praying. His secret, if there is such a thing, is that he prayed PERSISTENTLY without ever giving up!
42 So Ahab went to eat and drink, but Elijah went up to the summit of Carmel. He bent down on the ground and put his face between his knees. 43 Then he said to his servant, “Go up and look toward the sea.”
So he went up, looked, and said, “There’s nothing.”
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
44 On the seventh time, he reported, “There’s a cloud as small as a man’s hand coming up from the sea.”
Then Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Get your chariot ready and go down so the rain doesn’t stop you.’”
45 In a little while, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and there was a downpour. So Ahab got in his chariot and went to Jezreel. 46 The power of the Lord was on Elijah, and he tucked his mantle under his belt and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
1 Kings 18:42-46
Or, as Jesus put it in Luke 18, “ALWAYS Pray, NEVER give up!”