Praying in Faith in God's Word
In the preceding verse, James 5:16, James wrote: "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Now he explains how righteous Elijah prayed, as an example and encouragement to us. The story starts in 1 Kings 17:1 where Elijah confronted King Ahab, who had forsaken God, telling him that God would stop the rain for three years. How did Elijah know? He would have known the Jewish law well, and God had said that if His people turned away from Him, He would stop the rain, the ground would become hard and the crops would not grow (Leviticus 26:18-20). And so, Elijah, would have prayed that God should keep His promise. And He did. It was a wake-up call to God's people.
After three and a half years, and a definitive confrontation with the pagan prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-46) in which God's authority was accepted and the false prophets were destroyed, God's Spirit spoke to Elijah - telling him to announce that God was going to start the rain again (1 Kings 18:1). It was a new start for God’s people, a new opportunity to be faithful to Him and receive His blessing: not only a demonstration that God keeps His Word, but also a vindication of the courageous faith of a man who trusted God. Alas, Ahab and his wife spurned the opportunity of God’s mercy for some time, until Ahab finally accepted God’s authority over him (1 Kings 21:20-29).
James says that Elijah was an ordinary man. The clear implication was that Elijah's faith was the kind of faith any ordinary person can exercise. All that was needed was a knowledge of God's Word, a confidence that God would fulfil His promises and the faith to ask God to do what He had said. Elijah was not vindictive against ungodly people, but he knew that unless God was honoured through obedience to His Word, God's anger would rest on them (Leviticus 26:28). Unless they came to their senses and repented, they could not receive the blessing God had promised for His people (2 Chronicles 7:14). So, in faith and supported by the Holy Spirit, he prayed that God would keep His promise.
Elijah's story of earnest, persistent and effective prayer, at the end of the Letter of James, is in sharp contrast to the half-hearted, double-minded prayer at the beginning (James 1:6-8). The unstable man of Chapter 1, does not receive anything from the Lord: the righteous man of Chapter 5, sees the answer to his prayer. What makes the difference? Elijah was trusting that God's Word is true and reliable, and that it is right to persist in asking God to fulfil His promises. Elijah's secret was simple: first He read God's Word, then he was grieved by godlessness, then he remembered God's Word, then he prayed in accordance with God's Word and believed that God would keep His promises – to glorify God and bring His people into blessing. Do you pray like that? Is that how you pray for your colleagues, family and church? If not, get back into the Bible, and start trusting that God means what He says: then keep praying until God answers!
© Dr Paul Adams