Theme: Earnest Prayer
In this week’s lessons from Psalm 119, we learn how prayer and Bible study work together to increase our faith.
Scripture: Psalm 119:145-152
The second New Testament passage we are going to look at is from the book of James. James has a lot to say about prayer, and toward the end of the book he picks up on this important theme again, saying that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16). The New King James Version says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Then James offers the example of Elijah. “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17, 18).
James is reminding us that Elijah had the same weaknesses we have. After his victory on Mount Carmel when the fire of God consumed Jehovah’s sacrifice and the prophets of Baal were all taken away and killed, Jezebel warned Elijah: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 Kings 19:2). Elijah was terrified and hid. So obviously, he was sometimes weak and fearful. Nevertheless, says James, Elijah was a man who was used by God to speak spiritual words and bring judgment on Ahab’s kingdom.
God told Elijah to tell the king that it would not rain, and it did not. The grass dried up; the crops withered; the animals began to die. The kingdom was devastated. Then, after three years, God sent Elijah to tell Ahab that it would rain again.
Elijah went up to Mount Carmel. He put his head between his knees in an attitude of prayer and sent a servant to the edge of the hill to look for some indication of rain. The boy returned saying, “All I see is a broad expanse of the blue sky over the Mediterranean.”
Elijah said, “Go look again.” The boy went back, and Elijah continued to pray earnestly. When the boy returned, Elijah asked again, “Did you see anything?” Nothing. The sky was absolutely clear. Elijah sent the young man back seven times.
The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea” (1 Kings 18:44). Elijah knew that was it. So he said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you’” (v. 44). Then he gathered his robes around himself and ran ahead, outdistancing the chariot. The rains came down, and the drought was broken.
James is reminding us how God worked through Elijah when he prayed earnestly. And he is encouraging us to be people of earnest prayer too—not men and women of presumption, who get an idea in their heads and baptize it by prayer, saying, “This is what God is going to do,” when God had promised nothing of the sort. Rather, we are to be those who earnestly seek God’s will and pray for it and thus become agents of the blessing God brings. At the end of the book he even gives us a place to start, suggesting that we pray for sinners. For “whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
What does the example of Elijah, as told by James, instruct?
How do Elijah’s actions sometimes seem to contradict faith in God?
Reflection: Do you pray fervent prayers or presumptive ones?
Application: Make it a point to pray daily for the salvation of sinners. Then think about those you know who do not know the Lord, and ask God to give you opportunities to witness to them.
For Further Study: To learn more about prayer, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message from Habakkuk 3, “The Secret of Effective Prayer.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)