We Need to Pray: A sermon on James 5:17-18
Our text for today: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
Elijah was a great prophet and a man of God. He experienced many miracles in his life. Yet when James talks about Elijah, he doesn’t mention the spectacular feats he accomplished. He talks about his praying.
Elijah was known as a man who prayed. This is amazing. Even though Elijah has seen many miracles, he did not take for granted that God wants us to pray. In fact, the Bible says he prayed fervently.
Sometimes, we wonder, “Do I really need to pray? Since God is sovereign, does my prayer really matter all that much? Isn’t God going to do what he wants to anyway?” Most people believe that. That’s why most of us do not feel a need to pray.
Why should we pray? Does prayer really change anything? Does my prayer actually matter? Why do we need to pray?
When we look at Elijah’s life, we can begin to understand why we need to pray. Prayer has the power to change us. Our text says: “Elijah prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
This refers to the story in 1 Kings where Elijah confronted Ahab, the wicked king of Israel. Ahab had led the people of Israel into gross idolatry. They were unfaithful to the one true God. This all started when Jezebel encouraged her husband to set-up the worship of Baal, the god of the Sidonians.
Things got so bad that God announced judgment upon Ahab and the unfaithful Israelites. Elijah declared to King Ahab that a drought would come. He said, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Elijah then departed and stayed with a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. He stayed with her for about three and a half years. God then told Elijah, “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”
Elijah then had the famous and dramatic confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. After this, Elijah declared to Ahab that it would now rain. Then he went to the top of Mount Carmel and he prayed for rain.
The first time Elijah prayed, nothing happened. The second time he prayed, nothing happened. This continued on like this until the seventh time. Then, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, and a heavy rain come upon the land.
Elijah prayed fervently and the rain came after the long drought. Can you imagine a drought lasting for over three years, especially in a dry place like the land of Palestine? We know what a severe drought we have been having in the Midwest this summer. Imagine that drought lasting for three years. Imagine everything just drying up and turning brown.
I think that image of a drought can also be used to describe our spiritual life. Sometimes we go through a long period where it seems as if our spiritual life just dries up and turns brown. We go through a drought of our soul as we don’t pray, we don’t worship, we don’t’ read the Bible, we don’t have faith. Like the Israelites of King Ahab’s day, we fall away from God and become unfaithful.
But then we are reminded of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who enters into the drought of our spiritual life. Our Lord comes to us and he brings the rain from heaven that gives new life. He bestows upon us the sweet refreshing waters of Holy Baptism. He waters our soul with the rain from heaven, the rain of forgiveness and grace, the rain of God’s love and mercy.
This is true because our Lord enters our drought as he hangs upon the cross. On the cross, Jesus carried all of our unfaithfulness and unbelief. He carried all of our sin and guilt. He then cried out, “I thirst,” as he suffers the punishment we deserve. He suffers our drought so that we might receive the rain from heaven.
This is the rain we pray for. We pray that God’s would forgive us our sins. We pray that God would restore our souls and renew us with the sweet water of grace. And because God has promised to always answer this prayer through his Son, Jesus, we are now able to pray with faith and confidence.
We now pray because God has sent the rain of his love into our life. This changes everything. Now, prayer becomes not an exercise of trying to change God’s will, but an exercise of acceptance. We first of all accept God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ. Then, we are able to accept God’s will for our life. We are able to pray with a humble and sincere faith.
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
Elijah prayed in obedience to God’s will. He did what God told him to do. That’s what faith does. Faith obeys the Lord and keeps his commandments. Elijah also prayed fervently because he knew he needed God’s help.
God says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” God wants for us to turn to him in time of trouble. That’s what Elijah did. He continually asked for God’s help and deliverance.
Prayer is not meant to inform God of something he doesn’t know about. Prayer is meant to remind us that we need God’s help. We need to turn to God in a humble faith that says, “May God’s will be done in my life.” We pray, “Lord, I may not understand everything that is going on in my life, but I trust that you are in control. I trust that you are my loving and gracious heavenly Father, and I believe that you always do what is best for my eternal salvation. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
James says that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” What this means is that Elijah faced the same challenges we all face. Elijah experienced all the joys and sorrows of this life; he had great victories, yet he also struggled with depression and defeat; he had great power from God, yet he also experienced weakness.
Just imagine how Elijah must have felt during those long years of drought as he stayed with the widow of Zarephath in Sidon. It would have been easy for him to start to blame God for all of his problems. It would have been easy for Elijah to complain about his life and find fault with God’s wisdom and ways. It would have been easy to give in to depression and defeat.
Yet, faith is able to rise above depression and defeat. Faith is able to pray with confidence and trust. Faith is able to say, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is true because, in the end, God strengthens our faith with the power of his grace. God bestows his rain upon us and he waters our soul. He puts his name upon us in Holy Baptism and he claims us as his own. And the heavenly Father now brings us into his kingdom. We now belong to God and he will never leave or forsake us.
Knowing all this enables us to pray in the right way. We can confess that we need God’s help. We can trust that God will do what is best for us. We can submit to God’s will for us, and know that any drought we may experience is only temporary. The rain will come. Things will be green again.
But we need to pray. We need to pray because prayer strengthens our faith. Prayer enables us to share our burden with the Lord. We can ask for God’s help and healing. We can ask for God’s comfort and strength. We can ask for forgiveness and renewal. We can pray for the rains to come.
We need to pray because God wants us to. God wants for us to tell him what is really bothering us. We can share our burdens and heartaches with God. We can freely confess our failures and struggles. We can bear our soul before the Lord. God understands what we are going through. That is why he invites us to come to him in prayer. As C.S. Lewis once said, “I don’t pray because God needs it; I pray because I need it.”
We need to pray! Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed fervently. Therefore, let us pray to the Lord and ask for his help and blessing. Let us turn to God in faith and receive once again the refreshing rain from heaven. Amen.