Day 23 – Praying Like Elijah
So what are then the principles that come to us that I can draw together after having studied this subject in all the previous sessions? I?d like you to turn to James chapter 5 in the Bible, because there is an important passage that touches on many of the principles there. James chapter 5 verses 13-18,
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
Here we have effective prayer?prayer like Elijah. And can you see what God is saying? He is saying that you can enter into a prayer life as effective as Elijah. Now that may sound very unbelievable, because we?ve just seen what he did. He opened the heavens; he closed the heavens. He called down fire from heaven. But he wasn?t any different from you and me. He was a man just like us, with the same passions, the same feelings, the same limitations, the same emotions, and yet God was able to use him in effective prayer.
So I want to challenge you, as we bring this teaching series to a close in this final session: God has an exciting prayer life for you. Don?t think that you?re going to be forever caught into this burdensome, boring lifestyle of prayer. No. You can be released from it and learn powerful, effective praying.
Now let me take you to another height of intercession in the Bible?this time an Old Testament passage?Ezekiel 22:30. And this shows you the importance of prayer intercession, what God is looking for, and to see how he is looking for in any situation maybe even just one man, maybe even just one woman who will stand in the gap and alter the destiny of a nation. Maybe it?s your nation, maybe you are that man, maybe you are that woman who will stand in the gap in the heavenly realms and alter the destiny of a nation. Here God is prophesying, or speaking through Jeremiah [actually Ezekiel], ?So I sought for a man,? Ezekiel 22:30, ?So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none.?
Now I?ve thought about this. It?s a difficult verse to understand. What God is saying, ?If there had been a person who would have stood in the gap, I would not have had to destroy the land, but I found no one.? Now I don?t understand that, because Jeremiah [actually Ezekiel] was willing to pray, but I think there must have come a moment when God was dealing with this nation, when He knew that they had crossed that line, and that there was no one to be found who was able to stand in the gap and to turn away God?s wrath.
But He did say He looked for someone. I wonder if God is looking for you to stand in the gap on behalf of some situation, stand in the gap on behalf of your nation, your church, to see something happen that would bring a real transformation of the Holy Spirit. Well, you need to be ready. You need to be ready. You need to be ready for the call of the Holy Spirit. He is looking for intercessors, and this is what this course of teaching has been all about: the Holy Spirit, through my teaching, as I have been meticulous in laying the foundations and going into the details and building up a picture for you, it?s been the picture of the Holy Spirit calling you to a life of intercession.
And in James 5:16 we see in this important verse so many of the principles of prayer given for us. Now nearly every version translates this verse differently, and I offer to you my own translation in a while, in a moment, to help you, but there are several words which are very clear that make us understand what God is saying.
First of all, He is looking for a person who is righteous?the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man. He is looking for righteousness. God is looking for righteous intercessors, those who are just, those who are without prejudice, those who are without partiality. Yes, of course, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, but living out that righteousness.
This person praying is one who knows how to beseech. The Greek word is deesis, meaning ?supplicating, entreating.? The idea of this is it is arising out of a deep need. Some people feel that need very clearly. That is the basis of this prayer.
Another word that is used here is ischuo, which means ?strong,? and it describes robust, prevailing prayer against enemies capable of producing results. God wants people to rise up in spiritual strength and to pray with power and strength and effectiveness.
And there is another word that is used here, energeo, and this means ?to put the power out, to operate effectively, to work in effective power,? and it can mean that the person is praying energetically?energeo, energy. The person, God is energizing the person?s prayers and working energetically in the need that is being prayed for, or it can mean that through the person?s prayers God is energetically at work in the person praying. It can also mean that God is working the person?s prayers, making them energetic and effective, and wherever I come against such a barrage of choices like this, I don?t make a choice; I say I take them all. Every single one of these interpretations tells us something about how God wants to work effectively in your prayer.
So at its simplest this verse can be translated as ?The supplication of a righteous person is strong in its in-working.? All right. We can improve on that. We can say, ?Beseeching prayer made by a righteous person, arising out of a felt need and as a result of the working of God has great power to overcome enemies, to produce results, and to work God?s will into them.?
Now you can see why nobody has yet asked me to translate the entire New Testament. It would be bigger than the amplified Bible. But anyway, in each and every way, those phrases are drawing from what God is saying in this verse, and so it seems to me that God is calling us to learn to pray like this effectively.
Let me just unpack some principles of effective prayer from this verse. First of all, there is prayer that arises out of a felt need. Now there are several words for prayer, proseuche, which means to ask in dependence on God for His provision, and deesis, which is the word used in James 5:15, which means prayer arising out of a deep sense of need. Proseuche is the most common word used for prayer, but wherever deesis is used we know that the need is being emphasized.
And so God is saying effective prayer arises out of a sense of need, and that is how you can be effective in your praying. Don?t pray until you grasp the need, until you have identified with that need, and it can be your own need or somebody else?s need as the Holy Spirit leads you into that area, and we know that urgent, serious praying comes as a result of that.
Secondly, the principle is of righteousness. I?ve stressed already: God is looking for righteous intercessors. You cannot pray effectively if you are living defectively. God wants people who will lay aside their sin, lead a life of holiness, and approach Him in righteousness. Not self-righteousness; in the righteousness which is a gift of God, yes, but also the righteousness which is the outworking of that gift.
Proverbs 15:29 says, ?The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous,? and so the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much. Prayer must flow from a righteous heart, a person living in righteous standards before God. Psalm 66:18 says, ?If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.? And here we are talking not just about people who?ve fallen, you know, into sins here and there, where we can be washed and cleansed from that. It?s talking about people who just hold onto sin. God will not hear you. He is deaf to your prayers, so you need to come constantly before God and to say, ?Lord, work in me that righteousness.?
However, we mustn?t feel condemned about this. You don?t have to wait ?til you feel perfect before you pray; otherwise, you?ll never pray. And it?s not to do with feelings anyway. Remember Joshua the high priest? He was being brought into condemnation because the enemy attacked him as a defamer of God?s people, and the enemy will try and defame you to bring you into condemnation, but thank God you can take the sword of the Spirit out of the scabbard, out of the belt of truth, and you can say, ?Enemy, in the name of Jesus Christ, it is written in Romans 8:1, ?There is no condemnation now to those who are in Christ Jesus.?? Amen? No condemnation. But at the same time, you must, you cannot approach God if your heart condemns you. You must come in confession and repentance and live a life that pleases Him, and you then know that your heart will not condemn you in His presence.
Number #3, a principle we learn from James 5:16 is that prayer is the work of God. Prayer is the work of God. In fact, everything that happens to us in our life as a believer is the work of God. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves saved. Once we are saved, we work out our salvation in partnership with God. But even that is the work of God, because He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Now some people recognize this partnership and work well with it, and prayer is, in many ways, the greatest mystery of all, because it is such a mysterious partnership. We recognize that God is the God of knowledge and love and wisdom, and so because He has all knowledge, has all power, all love and all wisdom, there can be no point in praying. We let?s not interfere with God because He has got it all worked out.
Now other people, however, emphasize the human side of it and say, ?Well prayer changes things.? Now I know what they mean by that, but prayer?let me tell you my friend?has never changed anything ever. Never. It?s not prayer that changes things; it?s God who changes things. Okay, it?s a trick statement. Now I know that we like to say that prayer changes things, and you keep on saying that, but remember how prayer changes things. Prayer changes things because God works through prayer.
C.H. Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher who preached in this city, London, last century said this, ?Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscles of omnipotence.? I?ll say it again because I love it so much, ?Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscles of omnipotence.? In other words, when you pray, that tiny slender nerve of prayer moves the muscles of God and you have, when you pray, you have a handle, as it were, you have backing up your prayers and being released as a result of your prayers the mighty right hand of God, with whom nothing is impossible and nothing is too difficult for Him.
When you pray, you release the operative power of God, so we are working together with God in a mysterious way, and the answer to this is that we pray according to His will, but when we pray, we are activating God?s will. Prayer, therefore, is an active thing. It?s not a principle; it?s not a theory. I?m bringing this together for you in the final session as something that I want you to go away and do. It?s active. You need to pray in order for prayer to work. You need to pray. Don?t just talk about it; don?t just think about it; don?t just hold principles to it; don?t just give mental assent to it, but learn how to pray. Prayer becomes the effective operation of God only when you pray.
There are two main Greek words for ?power.? One of them, dunamis, which means ?inherent might, potential power,? and the other one, energeo, which means active power, power in operation. Now let me just give you an example of this. We have these lights which are shining in this building right now. What we have is electrical power, which is in this building, in the wiring. That is dunamis?potential power?but when you plug it in and make that light work, what you are seeing is energeo?active power, power in operation, and this is the great revelation of prayer.
When you pray, you are plugging in to the operative power of God, so God?s dunamis, His potential power, becomes energeo, His active power. So when you pray, you are releasing the active power of God. Why don?t we do it more, then? Yes? Oh, we need to do it more. That?s the answer. Get on your knees and pray and move those muscles of omnipotence. See the energetic power of God released. See God energize a situation with His operative power and not even the devil or all his forces, all the hordes of Satan can stand against a single saint praying on his knees or her knees as well, giving God glory. Amen? Hallelujah. I?m excited about this. It?s glorious.
And so effective prayer is God?s power in operation. God working His will. Not just us determining what happens, but us drawing on God?s power so that God?s will will be performed. And we see that therefore this person praying like this is capable of results. True prayer makes a difference. The Greek word is ischuo, which means ?strong, robust, healthy, overcoming, effective force, great strength that achieves results,? and on and on and on. That word is a very rich word.
So prayer is not just a conversation with God; it?s also a confrontation with God against the enemy. Prayer has consequences; prayer gets results; prayer is powerful because when we pray God works strongly, bringing health, overcoming enemies, changing events. When we pray as we sing, ?the devil trembles.?
Well, if that?s the case, my friend, what about unanswered prayer? Oh dear. We can?t ignore that. I?ve written a whole book on prayer that gets answers, and here is how I wrote it. I asked the question, ?Why are prayers unanswered?? and then I put the whole book in the positive mode to show you why prayers will be answered. So we know that prayers, some prayers are not answered, and we?ve got to work on this and understand this, approach it sensitively but biblically.
Now some people are concerned about unanswered prayers and they say, ?Well, God has said ?no.? God has said ?no.?? In other words, ?I?ve asked, He?s thought about it, and He?s said ?no.?? I think that?s a very crude approach to prayer. I know that if God says ?no? then He means ?no,? and sometimes we?ll ask Him for things which He will say ?no? to. But I don?t think we can sit back and say, ?That?s fine. I don?t have to be concerned about that.? We need to pray according to the will of God. That?s the great answer. That?s the secret. We must pray according to the will of God and expect 100% answered prayer, because prayer isn?t about coming to persuade God to do my will, to see if He wants to or not. Prayer is about doing His will.
In the Lord?s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, ?Our Father in heaven, may Your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.? He didn?t teach us to pray, ?Lord, may my will be done in heaven as it is done on earth.? No, He didn?t pray that. He didn?t tell us to pray that. We need to pray God?s will into reality.
Now if it?s blocked there may be some reasons. Perhaps it is because there is sin in our lives. Isaiah 59:1-2 shows you that God will not hear prayer if there is sin in the life, ?Behold, the Lord?s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear.? This is unanswered prayer. People are saying, ?We have called upon You, Lord, and you have not answered. What?s the matter with You, Lord??
The Lord says, ?There?s nothing the matter with Me, My arm is not shortened that it cannot save. I haven?t gone deaf over night.?
No, verse two, ?But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.? So that at any time when we?re seeking the face of God we need to get down before Him and repent of our sins and confess our since before Him.
There was, when I was taught in the Anglican church years and years ago when I was an Anglican?you didn?t know that, did you?years and years ago I was taught a little anagram that would help you on this whole question: ACTS. A for adoration; C for confession; T for Thanksgiving; S for supplication. I used to go through this A ? come before Him with adoration; C, confess. Confessing your sins was really high up on the agenda. Thanksgiving and supplication.
It is a very good principle. You adore Him, you come before Him and worship Him for who He is, then you recognize who you are, you need forgiveness, so you confess your sin. Give Him thanks for the relationship that you have, and mix your praying with thanksgiving, and then finally comes supplication, where you present your requests to Him. Write that down. It?s still a good principle.
And then also we know that at times God won?t hear us because we are praying in the wrong, with the wrong motive, and we need to check out our motives as well as just saying, ?Well, I know this is God?s will, and so give it to me, Lord,? but the motive is wrong. We are not sensitive to the timing of the Holy Spirit. We will demand an answer now, ?Lord, give me patience?right now. I need it right now, Lord. Patience right now.? And that?s how we pray, and that?s not the way to do it, because God is in charge of the timing as well as everything else, and so one of the ways that we demonstrate we?ve got bad motives is by demanding very quickly, now.
In fact, you can?t demand anything of God. Now in 1 John 3:21 and 22 it shows you that sometimes if your heart condemns you, you?re not going to have confidence before God, so it says, 1 John 3:21, ?Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.? So there is a whole minefield there of reasons as to why sometimes our praying is not answered by God.
James 4:2-3 is even tougher to take, but let?s listen because it will help us in our prayer life. James 4:2 and 3, ?You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.? In other words, you don?t have because you don?t ask, and when you ask and don?t have it?s because you are asking in the wrong motive. So you come before the Lord and you pray and you ask the Lord for the right reasons and ask Him to purify your heart.
That?s why testing comes. I?ve been through many experiences in which I?ve asked God for something, whether it?s a new building to worship or some big provision or other, or some release in ministry, and I pray and I start off?please believe me?with ever such pure motives, very pure motives, and I pray with pure motives and God sends the delay and He sends the tribulation, and He sends the testing, and He sends the purifying, and then after one year, two years, three years, my motives are a whole lot purer than they were in the very beginning. And so God works in this way to purify our motives, to bring us to the point where we are ready to receive.
We have the story of Paul?s thorn in the flesh. He wanted this thorn to be removed. He prayed for it three times. I?m not giving you an opinion of what the thorn was. The Bible doesn?t say what it was, but it was something that he wanted to be removed, and that tells us enough, and yet God did not remove it. Why? Because God says, ?I am working in this situation and My grace is sufficient for you, that you might come through this, that you might learn from Me,? and God was working powerfully in his life.