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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lenschow

Pray like Elijah

James 5:17-18

1. Recognize the Context: Previous context-James 5:14-16 In verse 14, James presents a third situation to consider, physical illness. If someone finds themselves sick, they are encouraged to have the church leaders pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord (Mark 6:13).

The prayer offered in faith is powerful and effective (verse 16) and will bring about healing and forgiveness. James then encourages the confession of sins to one another. Although sin and forgiveness may be connected to sickness, this is not always the case (Mark 2:1-12).

Personal note: What about healing in our world today?

Some today say healing was for another time, but it is not an experience for believers today. They usually include all gifts that could be viewed as “miraculous” or “supernatural.” Others would say healing is a guarantee for every believer today, and this verse affirms that every time the sick receive prayer, they will be healed. If a person is not healed, it must be an issue with their faith.

I do not agree with either view. Based on my understanding of Scripture, Church History, and experience, like many things, I think healing is a little more complicated than these polarized positions. But I believe this verse is one of several verses necessary to develop a biblical understanding of healing for the church today.

To state my position briefly, I believe God heals people miraculously today through the prayer of other Christians. I also believe leaders are supposed to pray for a person's healing today as the leaders did in the 1st century. I think by God's sovereignty, some people will be healed, and some will not. Although I would add all believers receive their ultimate healing in death or Christ’s return.

Even after 40 years within the Christian Faith, I don’t fully understand this issue. However, I agree with the words of Ralph P. Martin in his commentary on James, “The reason why some people recover and others do not remains a mystery to faith, since the NT contains accounts of both recovery (in the Gospels and Acts) and nonrecovery (1 Cor. 11:30, 2 Cor. 12:1-10).”

-Word Biblical Commentary, James, p. 208.

2. Read the Scripture: James 5:17-18

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.

3. Reflect on the Scripture: Verse 17 presents Elijah as an example of a righteous person who demonstrated powerful and effective prayer. James reminds the reader that he was a human, as we are. He didn’t have any “super human powers.”

Elijah prayed fervently that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t (1 Kings 17:1). While this seems like an odd prayer to us, God was at work through Elijah to show himself to King Ahab and the nation of Israel, who had rebelled against him (See 1 Kings 16:29-34). After three and a half years, Elijah prayed, and it rained (1 Kings 18:42).

Elijah played a unique role in the story of God with his people Israel. However, James is encouraging his readers to see him as “no one special.” In right relationship with God, all believers who pray earnestly can see their prayers answered as Elijah did. Keeping in mind what James has already written, a person must have the right motives in prayer (4:2-3).

4. Relate to life:

Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider your own prayer life in light of Elijah. Where does there need to be change? Let conviction draw you to God.

To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. Have a conversation with a trusted friend on prayer. What can you learn from this person?

Study what the Bible says on prayer with a friend or family member.

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)

Read and study the verses above. Read and study the life of Elijah (1 Kings 17-19, 2 Kings 2:1-14).

Use or another Bible app, to do a search on prayer. Study these passages. Share what you discovered with someone.

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