Read James 5:13-20
“Please, please pray.”
Those were the three unexpected words from my son that came across my phone’s screen. Desperation and trust mixed together like oil and water. For the next two hours of silence, as we waited for the birth announcement of our first grandchild, we stormed the gates of heaven. Two hours became thirty days as our grandson fought for his life in the NICU. Prayer was our hope.
Prayer was his lifeline.
Prayer is one of the most mysterious of all the spiritual disciplines. How can something so simple as conversation become so difficult to understand? It definitely matters to God as prayer, or a derivative of the word, is used 375 times in the Bible. We are told to pray without ceasing and pray on all occasions. We even see the importance of prayer in the life of Jesus as he arose early in the morning to pray. (Mark 1:35) In the hours before his crucifixion, what do we find Jesus doing?
Most of us, if we are honest, are quick to throw up a prayer when faced with a desperate situation. We are quick to say, “I’ll pray for you” to bring encouragement and comfort to others. Is that what prayer is? A quick fix, a life line, a word of comfort?
Our passage in James today points us to another aspect of prayer that we can’t overlook. Faith. It’s an interwoven theme throughout the book of James, especially as he recalls the Old Testament story of Elijah. Read the account in 1 Kings 18:36-46. The heavens had been shut so that it had not rained for 3 1/2 years in order to show the wicked Israel king, King Ahab, that God should be followed and worshiped, not Baal.
Following the miracle of God pouring down fire to consume the sacrifice and all the water in the surrounding trench, Elijah told King Ahab there was a “sound of the roar of a heavy shower.” (verse 41) What did Elijah do next? He put his face between his knees and prayed. Seven times he sent his servant to look for a cloud toward the sea. Without questioning, the servant obeyed, but returned with the same answer, “There is nothing.” Then at the seventh time, the servant saw a tiny cloud. If I was Elijah, I would have been very anxious at this point. A tiny cloud does not bring the roar of a heavy shower. But Elijah was a man of unwavering faith and perseverance. As Priscilla Shirer says:
“Even a little cloud of hope, when God’s Word is behind it, points toward a downpour of promise, potential, and possibility. Even His silence and seeming slowness are only the quiet buildup to a thunderous revelation of His glory.”
Wouldn’t we all love to have a prayer life like Elijah’s? Be encouraged, you can. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. (James 5:17) The key to his prayer life was faith. We see this stressed at the beginning and end of James’ book, like bookends. “But let him ask in faith, without any doubting.” (James 1:6) “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:16 MSG) Living right with God is living by faith. Hebrews tells us, without faith, it is impossible to please Him. Faith is trust and confidence that God is able and that God’s ways are higher than ours.
The faith of prayer warriors all over the world was ignited by my son’s plea. Each day of our precious grandson’s life, our barely visible cloud grew. Our faith grew too and God poured down showers of blessing and healing. “Please, please pray.” Three simple words that can change the forecast of our lives because prayer matters.