Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in the history of Israel. In the course of his life, he prayed for a drought on the land and God answered. He prayed for the Lord to raise the son of a widow from the dead, and God answered (1 Kings 17:22). He prayed for God to send fire from heaven, and God answered (18:38). He prayed for God to judge the wicked, and God answered (2 Kings 1:1–17). And then we read in James, “Elijah was a man just like us” (v. 17)!
Understandably, we might think that James is exaggerating here. Could we really pray to alter the forces of nature—and have God answer? By citing Elijah in our passage today, James is providing us insight into what a powerful prayer life looks like. It’s not simply believing in our minds very, very strongly that God will do something. Our prayer life is tied to how we are living.
We know from the story of Elijah that indeed he was not superhuman. He got tired, hungry, irritable, and even depressed, just as we do (see 1 Kings 19). But Elijah had two characteristics that consistently emerge: first, he had a certainty about who God was; and second, he obeyed the commands of God. Elijah almost always prefaces his pronouncements and his prayers with, “As the Lord Almighty lives,” (17:1; ￼￼18:15). And he went where God told him to go and said what God told him to say.
James is describing very practical ways that we can minister to each other, by prayer for each other when we need healing or forgiveness (vv. 14–16). But the key behind our prayers is that we are righteous. Righteousness is a gift of grace, and as we have seen over and over again in this book, is reflected in wise living. Our prayers for each other will be powerful when we know who God is and obey what He says. We can pray effectively when we are living in a way that pleases God and follow His desires.
If you have extra time this weekend, read the whole story of Elijah in ￼￼1 Kings 17–2 Kings 2. As you read, jot down the examples of his obedience and the ways that God answered his prayers.
We can have a powerful ministry of blessing others through our prayers. But first, we must be living in a way that glorifies God. Our decision to serve God affects more than just our own lives—it also has significant implications for our ability to serve others.