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The prayer of Elijah

by Jacob Ninan

The other day I was reading Chapter 5 in the letter of James and it struck me that maybe we need to take a better look at the passage about how Elijah prayed. It says there that Elijah prayed and it stopped raining, and again he prayed and it started raining. Our first impulse is to think that we canít ever do that, and that it is only possible for a man of God like Elijah. But what God is trying to convey to us through this passage is that Elijah did it not as a great man of God but as one who had the same nature as us. The message is that therefore we too can pray and get results as he did! Isnít this the point of verses 17 and 18?

But then we look at the previous verse (16) and it says that the effective prayer of a righteous man avails much. Immediately we think that of course it applies only to men of God like Elijah. We know we arenít righteous, and our sins are always before us! We come to this conclusion, even though the passage goes on to emphasise that Elijah had the same nature like ours!

Why are we getting mixed up like this? One explanation is that even though we believe that we have been washed and made white like snow by the blood of Jesus Christ, justified before God, placed in Christ, seated in the heavenly places with Him, etc., we actually think that the power that our prayer will have before God depends on how righteous we are. In effect, we are praying in our own name and not in the name of Jesus, even though we add the words, "In the name of Jesus" at the end of our prayers. We expect our prayers to be answered based on how good we have been, and whenever we have been aware of our sins, we think there is no way we can get answers to prayer.

That is a totally wrong ground on which to stand when it comes to prayer. If we are sensitive in our hearts, some sin or the other, or some lack or the other will be always before our eyes, and if we allow that to cause our confidence to drop, we wonít have faith to pray. Then we go to some man of God and ask him to pray for us! But Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours. And he received fantastic answers to prayer. Why canít we?

Maybe we are confused with the phrase, 'the prayer of a righteous man'. We think it refers to men of God and not ordinary people like us. But just think of it. What makes a man of God a righteous man -- is it his own righteousness or the righteousness of Christ in which he stands? We know the answer very well in our heads, that by oneís own righteousness no one can stand before God, not even men of God. Can we not see that a righteous man is one whom God has justified and declared righteous? This means that if our standing before God is based on faith in Jesus, we are declared righteous, and we can also pray like Elijah did!

If we go back a little in the same chapter (v.15,16), we see that it talks about sins being forgiven, and then about the effectiveness of a righteous manís prayers. This means that if we sin, we can get our sins forgiven and then go on to pray effective prayers. We can do that in the name of Jesus!

Another passage we can look at in this connection is in Acts of the Apostles where certain Jewish men described as sons of Sceva tried to cast out demons in the name of Jesus whom Paul preached! (Acts.19). The demons said that they knew Jesus and Paul and not these men! These men were not Christians, and they had no right to use the name of Jesus. What gives us the right to use that name is our relationship with Him through our faith. If we have that right, we too can cast out demons! It is not by our own authority or our righteousness that we can cast out demons or heal the sick, as Peter told the people after the lame man at the temple had been healed (Acts.3:12).

So what can prevent us from having the right to pray and get answers like Elijah? If we donít have a relationship with God, if there are sins in our lives that have not yet been cleansed (because we havenít confessed them), or because we donít have faith.

Is this faith beyond our reach? Jesus said that it is not the quantity of faith that makes the difference, because even something as small as a mustard seed would be sufficient to receive miracles. But it is all about whom and what we have faith in. Is our faith in ourselves or in Jesus? Are we trying to overcome demons by our righteousness or in the name of Jesus who has conquered every one of them on the cross? Let us take our place with Jesus and learn to exercise the authority we have been given in His name.

-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, October 2007

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