Praying Like Elijah

James 5:16-18

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2011

The topic we will be looking at today is prayer.  God always answers our prayers.  Sometimes the answer is YES. Sometimes the answer is NO and sometimes the answer is WAIT.  The prophet Elijah prayed for God to send fire down from heaven on Mount Carmel and it came right away (I Kings 18).

The early church prayed for the Apostle Peter to be released from prison and their prayer was answered (Acts 12).  In some cases, God not only answers our prayer, He gives us MORE than we asked.  God told King Solomon that he could have anything he wanted.  He had a blank check.  Solomon asked God for wisdom.  God gave him wisdom but He gave him much more (I Kings 3).

Other times we pray and the answer is NO.  That should not bother us.  Prayer is not just about getting our will.  Prayer is about getting God’s will.  There are some times we do not know why the answer is NO.

David’s son from his affair with Bathsheba got sick and David prayed for earnestly for him, fasted and spent nights lying on the ground but God allowed him to die (II Samuel 12).  Paul had a thorn in the flesh from Satan and he prayed three times for God to remove it and God said, “NO” (II Corinthians 12).

Many times God says NO because what we ask is not good for us or He has something better for us.  David asked God if he could build him a temple.  God said, “NO.  I am going to build you a temple” (II Samuel 7).  When Lazarus was sick, Martha and Mary asked him to come heal him.

Jesus said, “No” but then went and performed a greater miracle by raising him from the dead (John 11).  Many times we pray for something.  God says, “No.”  Later in life, as we look back, we are glad that God did not give us what we prayed for.

Sometimes the answer is not “YES” or “No” but “WAIT”.  That is hard.  We don’t like to wait for anything.  Hannah prayed for a child (I Samuel 1).  She got one but she had to wait for him.  Abraham and also wanted and prayed for a child.  He got one but he had to wait until he was a hundred to get one.  God promised him a son in Genesis 12 but he did not get the son God promised him until Genesis 21 and that was twenty-five years later.

Prayer was apparently very important to the author of James.  According to the early church historian named Eusebius, James “was in the habit of entering the temple alone, and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became hard as camel’s.

On account of his exceeding great piety, he was called the Just.” (Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter 23.6).  Prayer is the focus of the end of James 5. As J. Hampton Heathley III notes, “For the size of the epistle, James says more about prayer than any other New Testament book. Over 14 verses in James are devoted specifically to prayer or principles of prayer. Compare 1:5-8, 3:9-10, 4:2-3 (actually everything in between is related), and 5:13-18. This is equivalent to about 15 percent of the book.”

In verses 16-17, James gives Elijah as an example of the power we can have in prayer.  He is the fourth OT character mentioned in this book.  James has mentioned Abraham, Rahab, Job and now Elijah.  Who was Elijah?  Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in the OT.  He lived in the northern part of Israel in the 9th century B.C. during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.

The northern kingdom had nineteen kings and all of them were bad but one of the worst ones was Ahab.  I Kings 16:33 says, “Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.”  What are some things Elijah was able to accomplish through prayer?

Elijah’s Accomplishments

1)  He was able to bring fire down from heaven by his prayers.

James doesn’t mention that one but you can read about his great contest with the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel in I Kings 18:16-40.  His prayer for fire to fall from heaven was actually short.  People prayed to Baal for several hours and they also prayed fervently but not no reply (I Kings 18:26).  Elijah prays a short prayer (only two verses long) but the results were amazing – fire fell from heaven.  He didn’t have to pray long to get results.

2)  He was able to have power over sickness and even death by his prayers.

He was able to raise someone from the dead by his prayers (I Kings 17:17-24).  This is significant because it had never been done before.

3)  He was able to change the weather by his prayers (bring a drought, cause rain to fall).

The OT only mentions Elijah praying for rain (I Kings 18:42-45).  James mentions Elijah praying for both (5:17-18). We know why Elijah would pray for rain but why would he pray for drought?  Why did he pray for it not to rain?

The nation was in rebellion to God.  It was living in idolatry.  When the Ten Tribes began, they worshiped the true God in a false manner.  They didn’t worship in Jerusalem and began worshiping Jehovah through an idol (golden calf at Dan and Bethel).  It started with false Jehovah worship.

They didn’t try to start a whole new religion, just to make some changes to it.  By the time of King Ahab, they worshiped a completely false god.  Jehovah was replaced with Baal.  Baal worship became the official state religion.  Jehovah worship was even outlawed.

The OT predicted drought as a form of judgment on the nation (Deuteronomy 11:16-17).  This is very significant.  It was a direct slap to Baal.  He was supposed to be the god of rain but he was powerless to give rain, because he did not exist.  Elijah apparently prayed for it.

James used the prophet Elijah as an example for us today.  Now James could have argued that Elijah was unique.  In many ways, Elijah was unique

Elijah had a unique authority as a prophet of the Lord. God spoke directly to him. We do not have that kind of authority, apart from the specific statements of Scripture.

Elijah raised people from the dead. Jesus was the only other person to do that.  Some would argue he lived in an age of miracles which only happened in certain periods of biblical history (time of Moses and Joshua, time of Elijah and Elisha, time of Jesus and the Apostles).

Elijah did not even die. He ascended into heaven in a whirlwind” (cf. II Kings 2:11). Instead of talking about the ways we are DIFFERENT from Elijah, James focuses on the ways that we are SIMILAR to Elijah.  He was a man of like passions.

In other words, even though he was a great prophet with incredible power, he was also just a man.   He was really no different from us.  James says that Elijah was a man just like us (5:17). James uses Elijah as an example for us.  He used Elijah as an example of what we can accomplish if we pray.

Elijah had his ups and downs.  He suffered from depression and even became suicidal (I Kings 19).

Elijah lived in a day of moral and spiritual decay, like we live in today.  His country was backslidden.  The nation was apostate.

Elijah accomplished great things through prayer and so can we.  James says “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16).

We don’t have to be a prophet or a miracle worker, we just have to be righteous.  If we pray earnestly like Elijah did, we might get the results that he did. What were some characteristics of Elijah’s prayers?

 How to Pray Like Elijah

1) Pray for big things

He was not afraid to pray for big things (raising the dead, calling fire down from heaven).  It is not wrong to pray for little things but we should also pray about big things.

2) Persist in prayer

Elijah’s prayers were not always answered immediately.  He did not just pray one time and stop.  He stretched himself out on the dead widow’s son, not once but three times (I Kings 17:21). When he prayed for rain, he sent his servant out to check on the answer.  When his servant came back the first time and said, “I see nothing,” Elijah did not give up.

He just sent the servant out again and kept watching. When the servant came back again with nothing to report, Elijah just sent him back out—seven times over (I Kings 18:43). Finally, on the seventh time, the answer began to appear. But if Elijah had quit on the second or third time, or even the fifth or sixth, he might not have seen his answer come forth (cf. Luke 18:1-8).

3) Pray fervently

Elijah’s prayers were not formal or ritualistic.  They were fervent.  When the widow’s son died, he carried the boy to his room, laid him on his bed and cried out to God for the boy (I Kings 17:20-22). When he prayed for rain, he went to the top of Mount Carmel and bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees (I Kings 18:42).

4) Pray in faith

He expected an answer.  He had so much faith that God would answer his prayer for fire from heaven that he threw in three gallons of water around the altar (I Kings 18:32-33).

Elijah prayed in expectation, watching for the answer. As he prayed on Mt. Carmel, he sent his servant to see if his prayer was answered yet.  Elijah kept watching for the answer. He expected it to rain after three years of drought after seeing only a tiny cloud form (I Kings 18:44).

5) Pray according to the will of God

Elijah did things in response to God’s command.  At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. (I Kings 18:36 NIV).  He prayed based on Scripture (Deuteronomy 11:16-17).


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