All of us know there is power in prayer.
And most us understand that our priority is to be prayer.
After all, we know that although the disciples observed Jesus
raising the dead, healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, preaching
the Word, walking on water, and casting out demons, they asked Him to
teach them how to do only one thing. They asked Him to do the one
thing they understood to be foundational to everything else He did.
They asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1).
We too understand that there is power in prayer, that our priority
is to be prayer — yet most of us have a problem with prayer because
simple exhortations like the one before us become subtle intimidations
to us. In our text, I suggest the problem lies in three words . . .
James tells us very clearly that it is effectual prayer which
avails much — and uses a man named Elijah as an example of effectual
prayer . . . The first time we meet Elijah, he’s storming into King
Ahab’s court, saying, ‘It’s not going to rain but according to my
word.’ Scripture records that the clouds indeed went away and no rain
fell on Israel for three and a half years (I Kings 17:1).
How could Elijah speak with such boldness?
James tells us something
we wouldn’t know from reading the Old Testament account when he tells
us Elijah prayed earnestly. What does it mean to pray earnestly? The
Greek word translated ‘prayer’ is ‘deesis’, which means’ ‘to bow
down’. The Greek word translated ‘earnestly’ is ‘proseuche’, which
means ‘to pray’.
This means Elijah could speak to Ahab with certainty
and could pray effectively because he was bowed down, submitted to the
Scriptures. You see, Deuteronomy 11:16-17— a text Elijah would surely
have known — says this:
Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye
turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the
Lord’s wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that
there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye
perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord giveth you.
Aware of this promise, Elijah could say to Ahab, ‘Because of what
you have done in this land by introducing Baal worship, it’s not going
to rain.’ Time passed, and in a confrontation with Elijah, the
prophets of Baal found themselves on Mt. Carmel praying hour after
hour for their god to send fire as they danced and screamed and
slashed their bodies. Finally, Elijah said, ‘You’ve been going all
day, boys. Your god has baal-ed out. Now it’s my turn.’
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening
sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of
Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art
God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all
these things at they word. 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. (1 Kings 18:36-37)
And, after praying this prayer which takes about 7 seconds to
utter, fire came down. ‘Do not be like the heathen who think they are
heard because of their much speaking,’ Jesus said (Matthew 6:7) — and
then gave us for a model a prayer 65 words long which takes less than
15 seconds to say slowly.
We think we’ve got to impress God with
lengthy prayers and fancy words. Jesus says, ‘No, that’s the way of
the prophets of Baal, the way of the heathen. Just talk to Me simply.’
Elijah knew the Word, was submitted to the Word, and prayed according
to the Word.
So too, we must understand that to pray effectively is to
combine prayer with reading the Word. You will never again snooze
through a service or doze off during devotions if you are praying
while you’re listening. That is, when a point comes to you that you
know is convicting you, talk to the Lord about it right then.
years, I didn’t know this. I thought the right way to fellowship with
God was to read a chapter or two in the Word and then pray. But that
is as silly as if I called Tammy and said, ‘We’ve got to talk,’ and
then I proceeded to talk for ten minutes straight —talk, talk, talk,
talk, talk — before saying, ‘Now you talk’ — at which point she’d
talk, talk, talk, talk to me.
That’s the way I thought I was supposed
to communicate with the Lord. ‘OK, Father, I know You speak to me
through Your Word, so I’ll listen, listen, listen, listen. Done. Now
it’s my turn. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray.’
I’m not saying you can’t
do it that way, but there’s a much better way. That is, as you are
reading the Word, a phrase or two will strike you and you right then
to talk it over with the Father. You pray about it right then. Then
you read a verse or two or three more until something else stirs your
thinking or strikes your heart. You pause, and talk to the Lord again.
With tens of thousands of precepts, principles, and promises in this
Book, I guarantee you’ll never have a boring devotional time if you
pray with open Bible and talk to the Father about what you read. So
too, if you come in on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening and say,
‘Every time a point hits me, confuses me, or stirs me, I am going to
pray about it right then, Bible studies will never, ever again be
drowsy for you because it’s just impossible to talk to the Father as
you’re taking in the Word and find yourself bored and slumbering.
you abide in Me — stay close to Me — and My words abide in you,’ Jesus
declared, ‘you shall ask whatever you will and it shall be done,’
(John 15:7). ‘If My Word is stirring in you and you’re staying close
to Me, you’ll be able to ask whatever you want as you pray Biblically
and it will happen. You’ll see.’ To pray effectually is to pray
James tells us that it is not only effectual prayer which avails
much, but fervent prayer. And, again, Elijah is our model . . . After
calling down fire with a prayer that took only five or six seconds to
utter, and after telling Ahab it was going to rain, Scripture records
that there, on the top of Mt. Carmel, Elijah placed his head between
his knees and prayed for rain. ‘Any clouds coming?’ he asked his
servant. ‘There’s not a cloud in sight. It’s clear and sunny,’ his
So Elijah put his head between his knees again and prayed some
more. ‘Any clouds yet?’ he asked. ‘It’s as clear as a bell,’ his
servant answered. So Elijah put his head between his knees and prayed
a third time. ‘Any clouds yet?’ ‘Nothing.’ Elijah did this a fourth
time, a fifth time, a sixth time. But when he popped up the seventh
time, his servant said, ‘There’s a little tiny cloud the size of a
man’s fist on the horizon.’ ‘Great!’ said Elijah. ‘Batten down the
hatches! A storm’s coming!’ And indeed it did (I Kings 18:45).
lived in Bible times, you would know that to give birth a woman would
place her head between her knees. That’s exactly what Elijah was
doing. Prior to this, we saw him standing serenely and praying
expectantly. Now we see him praying with fervency, with his head
between his knees.
‘But I thought we didn’t have to go through
contortions when we pray,’ you say. ‘I thought prayer was to be
simple.’ It is. Then what’s Elijah doing? There comes times, gang,
when in prayer I will go to the Father and I will pray like Elijah in
the first example. I’ll pray simply and casually and comfortably. But
the fire doesn’t come down or the heavens don’t open up, and I wonder
I have learned that during such seasons, the Father is saying,
‘Pray fervently. Come back a second time and a third time, an eighth
time and a twelfth time. Why? Because I know what’s ahead.’
as the story unfolds, on the heels of his incredible victory on Mt.
Carmel, we will see Elijah fall into such depression and despondency
that he will despair even of life itself (I Kings 19:4). Knowing this,
God says to Elijah, ‘What you need, Elijah, is not for Me to respond
immediately but to come into My presence repeatedly. I know what’s
coming — and you need to log in time with Me.’
So too, sometimes I
pray, ‘Father, Your Word promises this . . .’ and boom! it happens
immediately. Other times, God says to me, ‘You think you need that
relationship resolved or that ministry opened, or that financial
matter worked out. But I see where you’re going to be tomorrow. I see
that what you’re really craving is not what you’re asking. You’re
craving Me. So come back three times, seven times, 27 times, 42 times
and spend time with Me.’ And you know what I have discovered, dear
precious people? In coming back over and over with my head between my
knees, so to speak, laboring and wondering, I find that what I was so
concerned about fades from importance, for I find in Him everything my
What was birthed by Elijah that day on the mountain
wasn’t a rain cloud. It was a relationship. That’s what it means to
pray fervently — not to get God’s attention, but to birth a deeper
relationship with Him Righteous
James tells us it is not only effectual and fervent prayers which
avail much, but effectual and fervent prayers prayed by a righteous
man. And yet again, Elijah is our example . . . James calls Elijah a
man of like passions — a man who had the same vulnerabilities as we
do. That explains why, after calling down fire from heaven, and
hacking up 450 prophets of Baal single-handedly, frightened by the
words of a woman, Elijah ran 70 miles like a chicken with his head cut
off only to end up in a cave depressed, discouraged, and defeated.
Here’s a man who’s just like me. One minute he’s up on the mountain;
the next minute he’s in a cave. One minute, he’s victorious over Baal;
the next minute, he’s done in by despair.
Yet James refers to Elijah
as a righteous man. Why?
Because in the New Testament particularly,
righteousness is not dependent upon the way we behave. It is dependent
upon what we believe.
How do I know this? In Romans 4, Paul reaches
back through the tunnel of time and grabs a name for our
consideration: Abraham. Simply because Abraham believed God would do
what He said He would, that God is Who He declared Himself to be,
Abraham was declared righteous (Romans 4:3).
Do you believe God? Do
you believe the foundational fact of faith — that Jesus Christ, the
Son of God, died on the Cross for your sin and after three days rose
again? Do you believe He is your Savior? If so, you are righteous.
‘Oh, but you don’t know where I was last year,’ you say. 2
Corinthians 5:17 says that if any man be in Christ — and you are — he
is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things are
become new. Therefore, regardless of where you’ve been or what you’ve
done, you’re a new creation in Christ. You’re righteous.
‘Yes, but I
have sinned greatly even after becoming a new creation, a believer.’
Paul goes on to say, ‘And He made Him who knew no sin to be sin that
we might be the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus,’ (2 Corinthians
5:21). That means God put our sin — past, present, and the stuff we
haven’t even done yet — on the Son.
Therefore, if you are a believer,
you are surrounded by Christ, covered with Christ, and washed by the
blood of Christ. And you can’t get any more righteous than that.
effectual, fervent prayers of a righteous man availeth much.
‘Effectual’, ‘fervent’, and ‘righteous’ are words which, unless
understood Biblically, can intimidate us and keep us from praying
consistently. But once we understand their meaning, all that remains
is to understand the word, ‘much’ — for ‘much’ is what God has done
and wants to continue to do in our lives as we walk with Him and wait
on Him in effectual, fervent prayer. Amen.