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. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:17-18
Even though James is telling us that Elijah didn’t have any special characteristics that we don’t have, I think most of us find it hard to believe that our prayers will get the same results that Elijah’s did. Surely Elijah knew some secrets to effective prayer that we would all like to learn. Or perhaps he was more earnest then we are or more holy.
James mentions rain, but rain wasn’t all that fell in response to Elijah’s prayer; he also called down fire from heaven when the priests of Baal couldn’t awaken their God to respond.
However, if we read I Kings 18 carefully, we can easily discover the source of Elijah’s effectiveness; it is really very simple and plain. Elijah heard from God.
When we read the story of Elijah and the rain, we may miss the importance of 1 Kings 18:1
During the third year without rain, the Lord spoke his word to Elijah: “Go and meet King Ahab, and I will soon send rain.” 1 Kings 18:1
As the rest of the story plays out, Elijah does pray seven times for rain, but his persistence in prayer is based on his certainty of having heard God’s original promise.
Similarly in the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal, it is easy to be intimidated by Elijah’s extraordinarily boldness. He tells them to pour four jars of water over the wood to be burned, not once, but three times! Lighting the wood by natural means is impossible. Could I, we think, every do something so crazy?
But again, we must not miss that Elijah didn’t come up with these actions on his own. He says clearly that he received instructions from God and was simply following them.
At the time for the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah went near the altar. “Lord, you are the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” he prayed. “Prove that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant. Show these people that you commanded me to do all these things.
Sometimes I think Christians fall into the error of thinking that the power to make change is in our prayer, but in fact, as Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing (John 15:5).” God invites us to participate in what he wants to do through prayer, but first we must hear from him, by waiting on the Holy Spirit and by reading his Word. Then we can pray with the faith of Elijah.