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A Wisdom Retreat - May 19

Prayer That Gets Past the Ceiling

James 5:16-17
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish 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 earth for three years and six months.

I remember being a student in Bible college and thinking I had to be extremely dedicated and rather righteous if I ever hoped to gain God’s attention through prayer.

I got up before the rest of the student body and went to our campus prayer tower where special kneeling benches had been crafted. There were a few other fellas up there trying to get God’s attention by rising so early.

Even if I fell asleep on occasion—which I did—I was convinced that God was impressed by my righteous zeal.

Isn’t that the kind of Christian James is talking about in our text?

Well, hardly.

James is not encouraging us to be self-righteous or even self-sacrificing in order to gain God’s attention or favor. In fact, James is actually writing to encourage believers that because we already are righteous, our prayers can accomplish much.

That’s why he reminds us in the above passage that the Prophet Elijah was just like we are. In fact, the word Elijah uses for righteous is dikaiou, which is a title used for every Christian.

This would have shocked the Jewish readers during James’ day. To them, Elijah was the greatest man in Israel’s history. He raised someone from the dead, he called down fire from heaven, he killed the prophets of Baal, and he even outran the king’s chariot. On top of that, he actually manipulated the weather. James had written earlier:

[A]nd he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit - (James 5:17–18).

Nevertheless, James is actually saying that Elijah was no different from us. If you read Elijah’s account in 1 Kings 18, you quickly realize that he wasn’t actually praying to manipulate the weather. Rain wasn’t really the issue. Elijah was in a battle between the gods and wanted to prove why his God was greater than all other gods.

Did God need Elijah to reveal His glory? No. Could God have destroyed the prophets of Baal and send a rain shower without Elijah’s prayer? Yes. But that’s the amazing thing about God’s grace. He allows us to have a special part in His will.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

So if you’ve come to faith in Jesus Christ, you have His righteousness credited to your account—right now! Which means your prayers, like Elijah’s, can accomplish much. When James says righteous men will be heard by God, he’s referring to ordinary, run-of-the-mill Christians . . . like you and me.

Now James doesn’t say we can just come haphazardly before God and expect Him to answer our requests. He already told us earlier in his book that prayer should start with confession of sin and move forward with elements of trust in God’s perfect plans.

The secret of prayer that gets past the ceiling is not our righteousness but God’s . . . which He demonstrates through the prayers of His sons and daughters.

Prayer Point: Spend time thanking God for the fact that He always listens to you and always answers your prayers—even when the answers aren’t exactly what you wanted.

Extra Refreshment: Read 1 Kings 18 and note the simplicity of Elijah’s prayers and the sovereign power of Elijah’s God.

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