One of the many encouraging stories about prayer in the Bible is found tucked near the end of the New Testament book of James. As the half-brother of Jesus wrapped up his letter, he encouraged his readers to pray in their time of need (James 5:13).
Being familiar with the Old Testament, James pulled an example out of the life of the Jewish prophet Elijah to illustrate prayer.
James reminded his audience of the time Elijah earnestly prayed for God to withhold rain for three and a half years—and not a single drop fell on the land (5:17). After that time passed, he began praying for rain to return, and God opened up the heavens (verse 18).
Two things encourage me about James’ use of Elijah’s dramatic story. First, he starts out by saying that Elijah “was a man just like us” (James 5:17). In other words, he was an ordinary guy—just as human as we are.
It’s only a few words—“just like us”—but it carries a truth that counters a familiar lie that can diminish our prayers. The lie can come at us in this way:
Alright, those kinds of prayer may have worked for one of those Bible guys, but not for an ordinary person like me today.
James would beg to differ. He wrote that Elijah is no different than any of us. It doesn’t matter when or where we live, our prayers matter and can be just as effective as any follower of God—even as effective as someone whose prayers held back rain for three plus years.
A second thing that lifts up my heart about Elijah’s story is that our prayers play a significant role in what God is up to. Sure, the God who made this world didn’t need Elijah’s prayers to stop the rain that triggered a severe famine that brought a wicked ruler to his knees. And God could have started the rain again without Elijah’s prayers, but He invited Elijah to be a part of what He was up to, to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.
Sometimes we may be tempted to think that our prayers make little difference, if any at all.
Don’t believe it!
Our prayers do count for God’s kingdom agenda!