Do you remember being a child and dreaming about being like one of your heroes? What if someone told you that you could do what they did just as well as them. Would you believe them? Probably not.
Hypothetically, if ancient Jews ever had costume parties, little Jewish children would have dressed up like Elijah. He was revered and honored as a prophet of God. And this is the person James puts forth as a reminder that Elijah was a human, like us. That is like saying, “Hey, you can go throw the football like Tom Brady.” In which we would respond, “Are you crazy? He is so much better than me!”
You and I can’t throw the football like Brady, but we can pray like Elijah.
Here is where this mind-boggling truth comes from.
16b The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. – James 5:16b – 18
In context, James is inspiring his readers to not shy away from praying for those in dire need. He seems to bolster the prayer of the “righteous person.” Most of us wouldn’t call ourselves “righteous,” but in Christ—we are! And Our character affects the power of our prayer because our growing in righteousness reflects our degree of alignment with God’s wisdom and character. The idea is that the closer we are to God, the more likely we are sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in how He might want us to pray specifically and with expectation.
Unfortunately, we might allow the comparison game of righteousness to get in the way of the point. So what does James do?
James uses Elijah to level the playing field, suggesting that we can pray like Elijah. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in the history of Israel! He was even one of two people (Enoch, in Genesis 5:24) who never tasted death—he was taken to heaven in with an entourage of fire (2 Kings 2:11). And yet, James uses him as an example of how a normal “human” can pray.
If Elijah and I can be on the same “praying field,” then the common denominator of what makes our prayers awesome isn’t us—it’s God!
This brilliantly moves the attention off ourselves and toward God. When we keep our hearts focused on God’s powerful attributes, we find ourselves encouraged to pray with faith, but also with trust. As we lean on the power of God to move, we also rest the result in His wisdom to withhold for whatever known or unknown reason that may be.
It’s not about our ability, but about God’s ability. Those who are deemed “great” at prayer are those who have a strong faith in what God can do. That’s what makes a prayer remarkable; not any specific formulation of phrases.
This is encouraging because Elijah, like us, had his ups and downs. After his most famous victory over the prophets of Baal he goes into a season of discouragement and fear for his life. Yet, his prayers were very effective. In the case of Elijah, and in the case of James’s audience, and even in the case for us today, we must remember that prayer is powerful not because of the one praying, but because of the powerful God we pray to.
We don’t intimidate God with our big prayers. When we don’t pray big prayers it is probably because we are intimidated by how we might feel or what others might think if our prayers don’t come to pass the way we prayed. But God enjoys doing things we perceive as impossible! God does invite us to pray daring prayers that even make us tremble!
“Our praying needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistency which will not be denied, and a courage that never fails.” ― E.M. Bounds
Here is the challenge for us:
Pray daringly. And trust God with the results.
This is what it means to pray with faith.
So, we pray, knowing God does intervene and desires to intervene to make His name known. Pray like Elijah, because you have as much talent as him since you have the same nature as him, and trust God with the results.
Just imagine what would happen if the whole Church truly believed that we could pray like Elijah…