Verse: 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.
This verse has caused me some problems over the years if I’m honest. I’ve been around some people who have said that what this verse means is that if we pray hard enough, we’ll see big miracles. Almost every time I’ve heard this, it has seemed to put the emphasis on the person. If we have enough faith, if we pray long enough, or loud enough, or repetitive enough, then we’ll see miracles!
This misses the point though.
Go read it again. It doesn’t say, “let’s remember Elijah, that incredible prayer warrior who prayed like no one else on earth. If you pray like him you’ll get what you want!” No. Please hear me! It really doesn’t say that. In fact, I would argue, it says exactly the opposite. It says, “let’ remember Elijah was just a normal guy like you and me!”
The amazing person in this story isn’t Elijah. It’s God. The headline should read this: “Normal guy prays normal prayer—amazing God does something amazing.” Answered prayer isn’t about us. This is almost impossible for me to truly believe having grown up in a performance based society. I want to be able to pray more, better, longer, and then therefore, somehow, control God. Oh wait, did I really say that? YES. That’s the honest truth. I want to make God do what I want by learning to pray special forms of prayer. What does that sound like to you? Certainly not prayer as Jesus taught it (“your kingdom come”….Matthew 6).
Prayer is relational. Prayer is intimate. Prayer is honest. Prayer is about God. But prayer is not a formula, or manipulative, or a power move on God. When Christians claim to know how to move God, or worse, know how to get what they want, they move into dangerous ground.
My take away from this verse, then, is this: pray big prayers, because we love a big God, not because you are a big shot. I think God wants us, like a good father would (John 17), to pray to him about all things. Even the big things. Even the things that seem impossible (like it not raining for 3 years). I think the point of the verse (and the ones around it) is to pray at all times! And then, “hey look – even that guy Elijah prayed and look what I did for him!”
God may not do what you are praying for every time, but that doesn’t mean you failed. It doesn’t mean you somehow missed praying that magical prayer. It just means that it didn’t happen. And God has something else for you in this time. So keep on praying. Don’t give up. Keep praying, and trust God with the rest.
God, thank you that your Word promises me that every time I pray you hear me. I may not fully understand why some prayers seem to be answered the way I want them to, and others don’t, but I’m choosing to trust you and lean into you in prayer.
Author: Christian Dunn