James has more to say proportionately about prayer than any other New Testament writer. What intrigues me is that James chooses Elijah as his role model for prayer. Elijah can be hard to identify with—he was a mighty prophet and a miracle worker. So Elijah would not have been my first choice as a prayer mentor. Yet James says Elijah was a man with a nature like ours (James 5:17)—and from him we learn that effectual, earnest prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much.
 Elijah prayed earnestly (1 Kings 18:42b). But we might wonder, since God promised rain (see v. 1)—why pray? Prayer doesn’t presume on God’s promises, it appropriates them. Effectual, earnest prayer is hard work! God often brings us to places of desperation so that we can learn to pray earnestly. Cancer will do that. A wayward child will too. The Greek word translated “effective” in James 5:16 is energeo; we get our word “energy” from it. So we are talking about vibrant, energetic prayer often born out of desperation. During such times we are not merely mouthing words, we are crying out to God. Elijah’s position, crouched down on the earth, praying with his face between his knees, is reflective of his dependent attitude. He’s not playing, he’s praying! I am concerned with the lack of reverence with which we come before God. He’s not “the man upstairs”; he is the infinite Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Jesus once urged the disciples to pray, but they didn’t have the energy for it (Mark 14:34, 37-38). Jesus, on the other hand, had a habit of energetic prayer (Mark 1:35-37). Church, if Jesus needed to pray, what must our need be?! One of the things that disturbs me most is our apathy. Church, we should be on our knees, praying earnestly. Our marriages are on the rocks, our kids are straying, and we’re playing video games and watching movies.
 Elijah prayed expectantly (1 Kings 18:43-45). Elijah wasn’t sure when the rain was coming, but he knew that it would come. So seven times he sent his servant to check on the outcome. (Sometimes we even doubt God’s answers after they arrive—see Acts 12:5, 13-16!) Elijah shows us that the kind of prayer that pleases God persists and believes, even when the evidence for such faith seems absent. Faith persists in prayer, believing that the answer is coming, when you are confident that your request is within the will of God. Maybe you’ve been praying a long time for something and have given up. Go and look again, and perhaps there will arise a little cloud (v. 44a).
 Elijah shows that effectual prayer brings great blessing to situations and people (v. 45-46a). Jesus modeled this. in Matthew 9:36-38, Jesus told the disciples to pray for laborers— and then in the very next verse, the pray-ers themselves became the answer to their own prayers! Unfortunately, every church has two kinds of people, the pillars, who do the work of the ministry, and the caterpillars, who crawl in and out each week.
People will show up for a concert, a conference on marriage or parenting—but a prayer meeting? A few will come, but it is never the high attendance event. Why is that? Because Satan knows that if he can keep us from praying, he can keep us from changing. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). Church, we are living in an arid and desolate generation that needs the rain of God to fall upon it. And it will—if God’s people will pray.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Pray earnestly.
- Pray expectantly.
- Pray persistently in faith.
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)