James, the New Testament book, might have been titled, “The Christian Life for Dummies.”
The half-brother of the Lord Jesus began his practical, how-to, epistle with: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2–3).
Timeless, sensible, practical truths continue throughout all five chapters. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). “Faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself” (James 2:17). “Submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you... Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:7–10).
James saved the best for last. “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit” (James 5:15–18). In the Old English language that I memorized as a kid: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16, KJV).
James concluded his inspired epistle by reminding his readers that Elijah, the bigger-than-life Old Testament prophet, was a common, ordinary man. He was much like us. He put his britches on one leg at a time, just like we do! But Elijah was a man who trusted God and prayed God-sized prayers.
Through this common man, God did uncommon things. Miracles mark his ministry. He raised a child from death, called fire out of heaven, and like Joshua and the Israelite conquerors, crossed the Jordan River on dry land. He was a common man, but unlike other men.
Elijah boldly challenged wicked king Ahab, faithfully calling upon God to demonstrate His power. God did. He showed-off by withholding rain for three and a half years and turning the lush countryside into a lifeless desert.
God’s gracious provisions were poured out on Elijah. For weeks or month, ravens, meat-eating scavengers, delivered a Happy Meal every morning and every evening. Again, for weeks or months, a poor widow’s flour bin and oil jug never emptied. God met every need for Elijah!
When he faced-off against four-hundred-fifty pagan priests, he asked God to miraculously ignite wet wood. He torched the wood, and while He was at it, He burned up the sacrifice and the altar too.
When Elijah came to the end of his earthly journey, God took him to heaven in a fiery chariot. Like Enoch, Elijah didn’t die. He just left the earth destined for his heavenly home.
In the next few weeks, I’d like to explore Elijah’s life and ministry. While we’re at it, I’d like to ask God for a bit of Elijah’s faithfulness and boldness. And I’d like to ask God to teach us how to pray the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man.”