A Deeper Look at an Effective Man's Prayer
by Rod Jackson

All verses are quoted from the NASB anything in [square brackets] is added by me for clarity.

In the book of James we read -

"Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 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 5:14-17

Here we see that Elijah the prophet from the Old Testament is used as an example of a man whose prayers are powerful and effective. Let's look in the Old Testament to see where James got this example from.

"Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to [King] Ahab, `As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.' " 1 Kings 17:1

So here we see that Elijah informs the king, but there is no mention of Elijah's prayer to God. Drought then came to the land of Israel.

"Now it happened after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, `Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.' " 1 Kings 18:1

After over 3 years of drought God tells Elijah that He is going to send rain on the land. So this is where James gets the 3.5 years of drought from. Elijah then has the confrontation with the prophets of Baal and God defeats them. The story continues -

"And Elijah said to Ahab, `Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.' So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. `Go and look toward the sea,' he told his servant. And he went up and looked. `There is nothing there,' he said. Seven times Elijah said, `Go back.' The seventh time the servant reported, `A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea.' So Elijah said, `Go and tell Ahab, "Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you." ' Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel." 1 Kings 18:41-46

Again in this passage it doesn't explicitly mention Elijah praying to God. Presumably it is when Elijah is "bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees." that Elijah is praying. But we do see the great faith of Elijah as he keeps telling his servant to check for the coming rain. And the rain eventually comes. The very next thing we read about how Queen Jezebel wants to kill Elijah so he hides.

"But he [Elijah] himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, `It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.' " 1 Kings 19:4
"while he [Elijah] himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. `I have had enough, LORD,' he [Elijah] said. `Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.' " 1 Kings 19:4 (NIV)

This request is a prayer to God (as we see clearly in the NIV translation). So here the righteous man Elijah does specifically pray for something - his own death! Now the maths is a little complicated but it's definitely over 5 years (1 Kings 22:1,51 & 2 Kings 1:17) that Elijah is taken from the earth, but most likely is over 16 years (2 Chronicles 21:5, 12, 19-20; 1 Kings 22:1, 41-42; 16:29). We read the account of Elijah's leaving the earth -

"And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal." 2 Kings 2:1
"As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, `My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!' And he saw Elijah no more Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces." 2 Kings 2:11-12

If I prayed for my own death and then 5-16 years later I died, it is not likely anyone would consider this "miraculous" answer to prayer. And yet this prayer that we may expect to be answered, no matter who prayed it, even if it is answered 5 to 16 years later - a prayer for one's own death, in Elijah's case does not come true. Elijah never dies, he is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind! Thus the prayer of the righteous man Elijah in this case was not "effective or powerful". What are we to make of this?

It is clear that the prayer for drought / rain was in accordance with God's will. In James 5:14b it says "they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;". I believe the key to understanding is that the prayer is to be done "in the name of the Lord". This does not mean the literal praying and then concluding "in Jesus name Amen." But rather that it is in accordance with God's will (1 John 5:15).

In the middle ages when the King had a message for the country, he would send out heralds to proclaim that message. The message would be given "in the name of the King". In other words, for something to be "in the name of ..." it has to have the will and authority of the one whose name it is in.


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