The Power of Prayer
James encourages Christians to pray for one another, especially when some illness—physical, spiritual, or both—is involved. He reassures us, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (5:16b), or “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (ESV).
James illustrates the power of prayer by citing Elijah. “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” (v. 17). Interestingly, Elijah’s praying is not mentioned in the specific Old Testament account James refers to, but Elijah was a man of prayer and surely it is implied.
Elijah lived in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, who were to that point Israel’s most ungodly rulers. They popularized Baal worship, turning the nation away from God. It was time for a serious wake-up call! Elijah prayed for one, then announced, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these three years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1).
Three years later, Elijah met the prophets of Baal in a decisive showdown at Mt. Carmel. God demonstrated His unique nature and supremacy by sending fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice—and the altar and the dust and the water surrounding it! The nation responded by acknowledging God and slaying the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40).
Elijah then announced that a shower was coming. If 1 Kings 18:42 is a depiction of the prophet praying, he announced the shower, then prayed for it! The details of the incident suggest Elijah likely prayed about it multiple times. “In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower” (v. 45a). “Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:18). That’s powerful praying!
A critic might object, “But Elijah was a prophet.” Yes, he was, but remember what James said, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” The power was not in his prophetic gift, it was in prayer.
James’s point is that prayer is a mighty tool. It is born of humility and trust. It requires earnestness and persistence. It is effective coming from the righteous. That is not some kind of superman saint; it is the man or woman in Christ “who is wholeheartedly committed to God and sincerely seeking to do his will” (Douglas Moo). I hope that is you, and I hope you will make the best use of the amazing power of prayer.