Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
Prayer is a powerful force.
Near the end of the book of James, Elijah is presented as an example of effective prayer. (If you are unfamiliar with Elijah, I highly suggest reading 1 Kings 17-19 to get a good background on Him. God performed amazing miracles through Elijah in order to remind the Israelites that there is only one God.) There are plenty of examples in the scriptures of effective prayer, but James chose Elijah.
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…”
What does that mean?
Although Elijah was a great prophet and performed great miracles, he was still human. He was prone to weakness, despair and anger just as we are. Our prayers to God are just as valuable as Elijah’s. We can pray effectively, just as Elijah did and God will answer. We don’t have to be a great prophet, a well-known orator, a church leader or anyone recognized by people as having great importance. If we have become a child of God through baptism, He has made us righteous and we are important to Him. We can pray to great effect.
1 Kings 18 which details the incident being referenced by James:
“Now Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower.”… Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth and put his face between his knees. He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go back” seven times.
It came about at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is coming up from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.'” In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower.”
~1 Kings 18:41-45 NASB
I want you to notice a few elements present in this passage. First, Elijah prayed seven times and each time had his servant check to see if the rain was on its way. He didn’t stop asking for rain after the third prayer.
Or the fourth.
Or the fifth.
He prayed repeatedly until he saw results.
Another important point: Elijah had confidence the Lord was going to send the rain. He told Ahab rain was coming and then started praying. Third, he kept looking for the results.
This passage points to three key element to effective prayer:
1) Keep asking.
2) Keep watching.
3) Keep trusting.
1) Keep Asking. Persistence pays off.
Elijah prayed 7 times for the rain. He was persistent.
Jesus also encouraged persistent prayer.
“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? (Luke 18:1-7 ESV, emphasis mine)
Jesus shows that if persistence can be effective on an uncaring man, how much more with God!
Marvelous things can happen through persistent, purposeful prayer.
2) Keep Watching.
When we pray for our needs, we are usually looking for the answer to come. Do we exercise the same watchfulness when we pray for others? I have, to my shame, prayed for people and then forgotten that I prayed or simply failed to follow up with them to see how they were doing. The truth of the matter is we may not get to see the results, but we will most certainly see fail to witness ANY results if we don’t follow up with the people we are praying for.
This leads us to the next point…
3) Keep Trusting.
God is faithful to His promises. Elijah had confidence that God would answer his prayer. Jesus encourages us to have confidence. He doesn’t want us to lose heart. If you are having trouble trusting in God to answer your prayer, start digging in the word. If you need some direction on where to look, please check out this series of posts on faithfulness.
If we don’t have confidence in prayer, then why are we asking? If we don’t trust God to do what’s best for us, why are we following Him?
The Word is full of assurance that God will answer our prayers.
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
~I John 5:14-15 NKJV
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.
~ Luke 11:9-10 NASB
This week I want to encourage you to try something new. (If you are already doing something similar, keep on keepin’ on!)
Find one to two people that have a specific need for which they have requested prayer. Write down their name(s) and their specific issue or need. Put this in a place where you pray regularly. Pray for them at least once a day in your prayers, laying out the issue before the Lord. After a week, call the person/people and see how they are doing. If you feel a week is too soon, make it two weeks, but set a date. Write it on your calendar, set an alarm, do something to remind yourself to call, text or simply make time to be with that person to see how things are going with regard to your prayers on their behalf.
Pray and don’t lose heart!