Text: James 5:16-5:18

His contemporaries knew James by the nickname “Camel-Knees.” He spent so much time on his knees that they literally bagged. James’ letter says more about the doctrine of prayer than any other New Testament epistle.

James said, in chapter 4, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (vv.2-3). That is how to be ineffectual in prayer. As he concludes the letter, James wants us to know that we can be powerful and effective in prayer.

Six verses (13-18) mention prayer seven times. This is the counsel of Camel-knees. Christians should pray whether troubled or hilarious. We can pray for the sick and expect their recovery. We should pray for one another in all situations. A life without prayer is like failing to use your checkbook when you have millions of dollars in the bank.

We have already looked at some of the practical times for prayer. We should pray in the midst of trouble. We should pray when physically afflicted and bedridden. We should pray when corrupted by sin - “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (v. 16). Some believers are ill because of unresolved sin. They need to confess to those they’ve offended and get on with health and life.


“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Here is a simple promise— prayer can work. You can be powerful and effective in prayer, if you meet the qualification of righteousness. The same conviction is expressed in Psalm 34:17- “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” Proverbs 15:29 says- “The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”

The righteous person is first and foremost, one who is in a right relationship with God. He is reconciled to God and justified by faith. He stands acquitted before God because his sins are confessed. You would expect such a person to be a person of prayer. Prayer is the strength of his life and the secret of his godly influence.

The word translated “prayer” in v. 16 is not the same word used in the preceding verses. Here it refers to specific petitions with definite results in mind. Explicit prayers with specific requests are powerful and effective. Our word “energy” comes from energeia, here translated as “effective.” There is a working energy in specific prayer that makes it effective. In sports, business, or even public speaking just a spark of energy can make the difference between winning and losing, success and failure. There are no limits to the force of such prayer. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective because it taps the unlimited resources and energy of God.

James demonstrates the truth that prayer works by citing the story of Elijah. Elijah held a unique place in Jewish thought. He had a great reputation for prayer. He was so esteemed that some regarded him as almost divine. James allows him no super-human status. “Elijah was a man just like us.” He was human. He felt stress. He knew failure. He was influenced by his feelings just as we are. He climbed to heights of faith and commitment as he defeated the priests of Baal (1 Ki. 18:36-38). Like us, he became deeply depressed on the very heels of success (1 Ki. 19:4).

James tells us something we don’t learn from 1 Kings 17-18. Elijah’s courage before Ahab and the hosts of Baal was a result of his prayer life. He willing stakes his whole reputation on one fact: there is a God who answers prayer.

The prophet seems to appear out of nowhere to declare...”As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Ki. 17:1). Elijah was fearless in this proclamation because his prayer was based on God’s Word: De. 11:16-17 - “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD’S anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.” That was exactly the situation in Israel under Ahab and Jezebel. God had promised that if the nation forsook Him, He would hold back the rain. In communion with God, Elijah learned and prayed this truth until the Lord sent him to announce it.

Just as suddenly as he appeared, Elijah disappeared to be sustained miraculously in the desert, to bring the Lord’s promise to the widow of Zarephath, and to raise her son to life. These years were surely spent learning new secrets about the life of prayer. 1 Ki. 18:1 picks up the story, “‘after a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’ So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.” The comment is added, “Now the famine was severe in Samaria.”

Starvation stalked the land. Cattle were dying for lack of water and pasture. Famine and drought were acute. Ahab sent search parties to springs and valleys around the land to find food for the cattle. During this search Obadiah met Elijah and brought him to King Ahab. A confrontation was set up on Mt. Carmel between the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah before God sent the rain.

James condenses the Old Testament narrative and says simply, “He prayed earnestly.” Literally translated the Greek says, “in prayer he prayed.” James doesn’t emphasize or even tell about Elijah’s exploits. He doesn’t point to Elijah’s emotion or zeal in prayer. He says nothing about how often or long he prayed. “He prayed ... again he prayed” (vv17-18). He was a man of prayer.

Drought began when he prayed, and drought ended when he prayed. “Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (v. 18). The rain brought an end to famine. In the moist earth seeds germinated and crops began to grow.

Elijah’s praying demonstrates a pattern for effective prayer.


A. Earnest prayer
I’m taken by the literal translation of “He prayed earnestly” in v. 17 - “in prayer he prayed” or “he prayed his prayer.” I was the first Christian in my family, and my mother must have told me a million times (she also told me a million times not to exaggerate), “Danny, say your prayer.” One of the big reasons we are not powerful and effective in prayer is that we say our prayers instead of praying them.

A. W. Tozer pastored in the city of Chicago for many years. On one occasion when a new minister arrived in Chicago, Tozer called him and described the difficulty and spiritual warfare involved in pastoring is such a city. He said, “If you ever want to pray with me, I’m at the lakeside every morning at five-thirty. Just make your way down and we can pray together.” A day came when the other minister was troubled in his soul. He made his way to the lakeside at about six o’clock. There he found Tozer prostrate in the sand worshiping God. Years after his death A. W. Tozer continued to be a prophetic voice to the twentieth century church because he was serious about his private intimacy with God [Sammy Tippit, The Prayer Factor (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988)].

Campus Crusade for Christ became a major force for evangelism throughout the world. Bill Bright decided some years ago to make a stiff investment by calling the entire U. S. staff to set aside a half day a week to unite together in prayer. Four hours a week times a 10,000-member staff at a minimum wage equal millions of dollars invested in united prayer each year! Bright said:

As I travel the world today, I sense a growing burden and prayer for revival among the people of God. I believe that God wants me and us as a movement to pray for revival. It will accelerate a hundredfold everything we are doing. To undertake such a gargantuan task with a ‘business as usual’ attitude would be folly. [Quoted by David Bryant, With Concerts of Prayer (Ventura: Regal Books, 1984), 53)].

Mean business with God as Elijah did. Pray earnestly and seriously. Next month we will begin prayer meetings here at 5 and 6 a.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday led by our staff. Prayer is critical!

B. Specific prayer
Elijah’s request was very specific. “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” Our prayers have nothing of this power and effectiveness because they are so general - “Lord bless the missionaries. Help the President. Be with the politicians.” What is bless? Help him what? Be with where?

Dr. Helen Roseveare, sainted missionary to Zaire, told about a mother who died giving birth to a premature baby at the mission station. There was no incubator so they tried to keep the baby alive with a defective hot water bottle. The children were asked to pray for the baby and one girl prayed, “Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the sister so she won’t feel so lonely.” Dr. Roseveare says,

That afternoon a large package arrived from England. The children watched eagerly as we opened it. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed so earnestly started to dig deeper, exclaiming, ‘If God sent that, I’m sure He also sent a doll!’ And she was right! The heavenly Father knew in advance of that child’s sincere requests, and 5 months earlier He had led a ladies’ group to include both of those specific articles [Quoted in Our Daily Bread (Grand Rapids, Radio Bible Class, March 18, 1987)].

C. Believing prayer
A man of prayer knows that God does not operate by human mathematics. 850 against one are inconsequential odds if the one has God, or better if God has him! God had Elijah! Too often we depend upon technology and methodology. We determine our goals by the question, “What can we do?” The real question is, “What can God do?”

We look at our size instead of God’s size. Howard Hendricks says, “The size of your God will determine the size of everything in your theology and everything in your Christian experience.” [Howard Hendricks, Elijah (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), 33]. Another writer says, “Show me a person with small goals and I will show you a person with a small God. The size of our goals reflects the size of our God.” [Myron Rush, Management, A Biblical Approach (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983) 176].

When the false gods were defeated, Elijah said to Ahab, “...there is the sound of a heavy rain” (1 Ki. 18:41). That sound was heard by ears of faith because there was not a cloud in the sky. Verse 42 tells us, “Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” He prayed, believing in spite of the visible evidence. “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea” (vv. 43-44). Six times there was nothing, but Elijah said, “Go back.” And when a tiny cloud was finally spotted, he didn’t keep it to himself hoping against hope that God might come through. He sent word to Ahab, “Hitch up and get out of here because the roads are gonna flood!” We give up too soon because we don’t believe. Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.

D. Prayer that understands God’s will
Before Elijah prayed for the drought to end, God told him it would cease. Elijah’s prayer was for God to do what He had already said he would do! Truly effective prayer is based upon God’s purposes. It involves listening to God as well as talking to Him. It includes discovering God’s will in His Word and asking for it.

E. Prayer that upholds God’s honor

Throughout the story of Elijah there is an undercurrent of concern for God’s glory. On Mt. Carmel he prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Ki. 18:36,37).

For several years our church has set annual prayer goals. One guiding principle has been that as we week God’s direction for the church, some goals must be set so high that they could never be accomplished apart from divine intervention. When they are achieved we will be unable to say, the pastor did that, or give credit to staff, or board, or church. “Only God could have done that!” And glory and honor belong to Him!


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