The Effectual Praying of Elijah
June 12th, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
THE EFFECTUAL PRAYING OF ELIJAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-12-60 7:30 p.m.
This morning we left off at the twelfth verse of the fifth chapter of James. Let us begin at the thirteenth verse and read together to the end; the last chapter of James, James chapter 5, beginning at the thirteenth verse and reading to the end; James 5:13. And the text is, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elijah" [James 5:16-17], and then the description of Elijah. Now let us read it together, James 5:13, everybody:
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
"Is any among you sick? Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Let him call for the elders of the church; let them pray over him,and the prayer of faith shall save the sick,The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Prayerlessness is practical atheism. Prayer is acceptable unto God. It pleased God that His children should call upon His name, should look up into His face.
Friday I had a dear, blessed member of this church come to my study, and it was just that I pray in the face of a heavy and serious operation. That pleases God that we pray, that we lay our case and our burden before Him.
In the temple and in the tabernacle before the veil, there was the golden altar of prayer; and on it, the incense was burned, a figure of the ascending intercession of God’s people before His throne of grace [Revelation 8:4]. There is an old Talmudic legend about Sandalphon, the angel of prayer, standing erect at the outermost gates of the celestial city, he waits with his feet on the ladder of light,
To the sounds that ascend from below; –
From the spirits on earth that adore,
From the souls that entreat and implore
In the fervor and passion of prayer;
From the hearts that are broken with losses,
And weary with dragging the crosses
Too heavy for mortals to bear.
And he gathers the prayers as he stands,
And they change to flowers in his hands,
Into garlands of purple and red;
And beneath the great arch of the portal,
Through the streets of the City Immortal
Is wafted the fragrance they shed.
["Sandalphon"; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]
The prayers of the saints ascending up before the throne of God: the fragrance of the incense of the supplications of the people of the Lord – un the Book of the Revelation, in chapter 5 and in chapter 8, the sainted John, seeing inside the celestial city, looks upon the golden altar of prayer; and there he sees the intercessions of God’s people ascending up before our heavenly Father [Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4]. The power of prayer, the effectual fervent prayer, the power of prayer, we don’t have any measuring device by which we could ascertain its heavenly and its earthly power.
Then he uses the example of Elijah: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elijah was a man of like passions as we are" [James 5:16-17]. He was indeed a man of passions. He was a man of passions compact; in a rage of denouncing, he faced King Ahab [1 Kings 18:15-19]. In a passion of scorn and contempt, he looked upon the false prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:20-40]. In a passion of denouncing, he warred against idolatry among his people. In a passion of intercession, he prayed God for blessings upon the burning land [1 Kings 18:41-46; James 5:17]. And, as typical of so many of us, in a passion of despondency and melancholia, he sat down under a juniper tree and asked that he might die [1 Kings 19:4]. He was a man of passions, of moving, of feeling. He was a man of great commitment; a man who was stirred in his soul. There was nothing dead and lifeless and inert about Elijah.
There was an unearthliness and a mysteriousness about that prophet all of its own. He appeared in volcanic suddenness, and he spoke in massive eruptiveness. He’d suddenly appear before Ahab, then he was gone. He’d suddenly appear before Obadiah, then he was gone. He would suddenly appear in the presence of Elisha, then he was gone. He would suddenly appear in the presence of the messengers of King Ahaziah, then he was gone – this unusual man of feeling and of passion, Elijah. And in his day, Israel had descended to an abysmal depth of decadence and wickedness and villainy. From Queen Jezebel, who led the upper crust, down to the mud fields of those suborn traitors who testified against Naboth [1 Kings 21:9-13], the whole land was sold into wickedness and into worldliness. And in that day Elijah stood up by himself, a fearless man of God: one man against a whole nation; but he was a man of prayer.
Like Francis of Assisi who, with some of his friends, made a journey to Egypt, and there entered into the presence of Sultan Kamil, who was over Egypt and all the Near East. And when these Christian missionaries and when that Christian man, Francis of Assisi, stood in the presence of the sultan, down there to win him to the Lord, to make a Christian out of him and out of his people, he was surrounded by the priests of Mohammed. And the priests of Mohammed pointed to Francis of Assisi and said, "Oh, your majesty, Sultan Kamil, you are an expert in the law. And according to the law, these men ought to have their heads cut off. And we call upon you this day to obey the law according to our prophet Mohammed." And Francis of Assisi, who had impressed the sultan with his fearless yet loving devotion to Jesus, Francis replied, "Your majesty, I cannot get these priests to listen to the words I speak. Maybe they will see the deeds that we act. Oh, your majesty, build a fire, and I will lead my followers into the flame. And let the prophets of Mohammed lead their followers into the flame. And then we shall see whose faith is the truest and the best." And while Francis was speaking, the followers and priests of Mohammed one by one began to slip unobtrusively, clandestinely, furtively, secretly, quietly away. And when Francis got through speaking, not a one of them was left. And the Sultan Kamil looked at the Christian preacher, and said sarcastically, "It seems that my priests have not the courage and the fearlessness to face the flame and the fire for their faith."
I don’t know how I’d do. I don’t know how God’s people would do today. It might be interesting to find out. Do we have that courage and that commitment to face the fire, and the stake, and the dungeon, and the chain for God? Elijah did! Elijah, a man like as we are, a man of feeling and of passions; in that awful day of the decadence of Israel, Elijah prayed. And Elijah loved his people, and Elijah loved God; and the people were so vile and so sunk in idolatry and wickedness, that Elijah saw if the nation was ever to be saved from irreparable loss, God must strike sharp and quick and deep, and the people must be taught day by day to depend upon God and to look up to heaven for the favor and blessing that sustains life. And in order that they might learn that they depended upon God and upon the mercies of God, Elijah knelt down and prayed, "O God, stop the rain. Let it not rain. Let no dew fall for three and a half years" [1 Kings 17:1, 1 Kings 18:1; James 5:17]. And God heard that prayer. Elijah prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
The cold stars looked down at night: there was not a drop of dew. And the sun rose in the morning to shine upon a burned and a parched earth. Every little stream dried up, every piece of vegetation died; the whole earth became a hot and scorched oven. The brook Cherith, by which Elijah was living, shrank up and shriveled and parched and died [1 Kings 17:7]. The whole earth was turned to iron and to dust in those days when Elijah prayed.
Then after three and a half years, Elijah prayed again, "And the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit" [James 5:18]. And the great lesson that the people were taught, to depend upon God, and to look unto God, and to trust in the Lord for all of the sustaining of life, then Elijah knelt down and prayed earnestly again, "O God, send the rain, send the rain. O God, alleviate the suffering of the people; for the poor are seeking the grave from their wretchedness and their poverty and their misery. O God, may the heavens open, and may God send the rain. And may the blessings fall from above." And then he sent his servant out to the brow of Mount Carmel to look over the Mediterranean Sea, and when the servant came back, Elijah said, "And what did you see?"
"Nothing, nothing at all. The sky is ablaze and afire, and the earth still burns like an oven." And Elijah knelt down again and prayed earnestly, "O God, for the blessing." And he sent his servant the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time, and the sixth time, and when he came the seventh time, the servant brought back the word, saying, "I saw over the vast expanse of the blue Mediterranean a cloud the size of a man’s hand" [1 Kings 18:42-44]. And Elijah said, "It’s enough. If God helps at all, God will help mightily." If God sends the first of his soldiers, the great battalions are close behind. And Elijah went before King Ahab and said, "Up, get thee up; for there is the sound of an abundance of rain" [1 Kings 18:41]. Elijah prayed, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit [James 5:18].
You say, "But I can’t do that. I can’t do that. That’s no illustration at all. I couldn’t pray and God shut up the heavens. I couldn’t pray and God open the windows of glory and pour out the blessings. That’s no illustration." James, the pastor of the church says it is. He says Elijah was a man "just as we are": homoeopaths, "like feelings" [James 5:17]. As when they bowed down before Paul and Barnabas, and said, "The gods have come down to live in our midst" [Acts 14:1], Paul rent his clothes and said, "Do it not; for we are men of like passions, homoeopaths, like passions with you: we are just as you are, men subject to God just as you are" [Acts 14:15]. Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are: he was a man just as we. And he prayed earnestly; and God heard his prayer. And he prayed earnestly again; and God heard his prayer. And he says we are like Elijah in our day, and in our time, and in our need, and in our necessity [James 5:17-18].
We are to take these things that apparently to us are impossible, and we are to bring them to God and lay them before the Lord: "Lord, this is the case, this is the instance, this is the circumstance, this is the providence. And dear God, however impossible it may be, if this thing is of Thee, and if it is of heaven, then, Lord, bless it, bless it." Make it a matter of intercession, of prayer. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" [James 5:16]. And trust God for it.
After the brook Cherith dried up [1 Kings 17:5-7], he went up to that widow in Syrophoenicia, in Zarephath. And there in the little town of Zarephath, he met a woman who was out gathering two sticks. And he asked about her, and he found out that because of the awful drought they were starving to death. And she had just a little bit of meal left, and a little bit of olive oil left, and she was going to make a cake and bake it with the two sticks that she and her son might eat it, and die. And Elijah said, "When you make the cake, and bake it, bring it to me, that I may eat it." And she said, "But that’s all we have." And Elijah said, "Do as the Lord says, and trust in the Lord" [1 Kings 17:8-16].
I often wonder about us. I tell you, it takes faith to do a thing like that: take everything you have and give it to God, and trust God for the rest. Like that poor widow that put in all of her living, and just trusted God for the rest [Mark 12:41-44]. "You put God first," said Elijah, "and let’s see what happens to the barrel of meal. You trust God, and let’s see what happens to the cruse of oil." And the woman gave all that she had to the prophet of God, for God’s sake; and then trusted God for the rest. And throughout the days for the three and a half years of that famine, that barrel of meal was never empty, and that cruse of oil never wasted [1 Kings 17:16]. Out of thine own unwasted fullness, God does bless us.
Take it to God, and pray about it. Then while Elijah was there, the woman’s son died. And Elijah got down on his knees, and said, "Dear Lord, is this the reward that God makes to a woman who’s good to God’s prophet, that You slay her son?" And Elijah went up to the room where the boy lay dead, and prayed and begged God for the life of the boy. And God restored the life of the lad, and he brought the boy back down and gave the little fellow into the arms of his mother [1 Kings 17:17-24]. Elijah was a man of like passions as we are, and he prayed: "And the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" [James 5:16-17].
That’s one of the most interesting Greek sentences to be found in the Bible. You remember I said in the introductory sermon on this preacher, James, pastor of that church in Jerusalem, that his book was the best Greek in the New Testament. How, I do not understand. Did he write it through an amanuensis, and the amanuensis was a great literary man? Or was James wonderfully gifted? We do not know. But you look at this sentence: Polu, much, ischuei, is powerful, is able, is prevailing; deesis is prayer, dikaiou, "a righteous man," energe – and don’t you recognize that word? – energe, energoumene; "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful, prevailing, able; it is energizing" [James 5:16]. You take that Greek word and put it in the English, transliterate it: "energizing" in its effectiveness, in its working: prayer works!
I tell you truly, our church could pay off the indebtedness of this thing in one year if our people prayed about it, really. Talk about having five hundred baptisms in this church – which we’ve never reached – never will until, until our people were really to pray about it. Anything is possible to a man that will pray and to a congregation that will ask God. "Knock," says the Lord, "knock, and it will be opened unto you" [Luke 11:9]. And to illustrate it he told that story of that friend that came at midnight, and his friend up there gone to bed with his family. And he knocked, and knocked, and knocked, and knocked, and knocked. And the fellow stuck his head out of the second story window, and said, "Who is that pounding on my door? Go away! I’m asleep and all my family is asleep." And the fellow said, "Well, I’ve got a friend that’s come on a journey, and he’s at my house, and he’s hungry, and I don’t have anything to eat. And I want to borrow some bread." And the fellow upstairs slams the window! What do you think happens? Beating on the back door, beating on the front door, beating on the windows, and he won’t go away! And Jesus says that fellow up there asleep with his family, will come down and give him all the bread that he wants, if he would just go away [Luke 11:5-8].
Now that’s the story of Jesus, illustrating importunity: staying with it. "Knock, and it shall be opened unto thee" [Luke 11:9]. It will surprise you what will happen if you stay with it, and don’t give up, and don’t give up.
That’s in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Luke. In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, Jesus starts the chapter off with, "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint" [Luke 18:1]. And then He tells the story of the unjust judge. One of those men on the bench that didn’t observe law, and didn’t care anything about man, and didn’t care anything about God, didn’t care anything about anything; and there was a widow that came to him to be avenged of her adversary, that she might be done right by a man that persecuted her. Maybe he was a landlord, I don’t know who he was; but he troubled her. And the judge wouldn’t pay any attention to her. But she kept on coming, and she kept on coming, and she kept on coming. And every time the judge came into the court, there she was saying something. And every time he walked out in the street, there she was dogging his heels. And Jesus said, "Though that judge would not do anything for righteousness’ sake, yet because that widow stayed with him and because of her importunity, he will do anything that she asks" [Luke 18:2-5]. Now Jesus used those illustrations to encourage us not to be weary and not to give up asking God [Luke 18:6-8].
Elijah was a man that prayed earnestly. Pray earnestly, and you’ll get what you want. God will give it to you: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" [James 5:16]. You know, there’s another Greek phrase here that is so interesting: "He prayed earnestly," you have it translated, "He prayed earnestly, proseuche, in his prayer proseuche he prayed," translated, "He prayed earnestly." He prayed in his praying. Isn’t that a funny way, isn’t that a funny way to say it? But you can sure get the idea in that Greek phrase: he prayed in his praying, translated here, "He prayed earnestly" [James 5:17].
You know, that’s what’s the matter with our prayers, all of us, mine, yours, everybody: we just pray so sultrily, so dilatorily, so phlegmatically, so indifferently, so dreamily, so easily; but it’s not a matter of agony with us. And the man that prevails with God is the one who asks earnestly and asks and asks and asks, and begs and begs and begs, and knocks and knocks and knocks, and seeks and seeks and seeks.
When Jacob was at Jabbok, and the Angel wrestled with him all that night, when the Angel left him, He touched the thigh of Jacob, and he was crippled, and he halted on his thigh. And helpless and crippled, Jacob held on to the Angel, and said, "I will not let Thee go, except first Thou bless me" [Genesis 32:24-26]. That’s the kind. Or Hannah, when she didn’t have a child: there in the tabernacle at Shiloh, praying and praying and praying and praying, and old Eli the pastor thought she was drunk, so earnestly did Hannah pray in her soul and her heart for a child, for a boy [1 Samuel 1:9-13].
And that’s the way Ezra prayed. You know, if I had time, I’d like to read some of these prayers. You don’t know how it is. Let me just read an introduction to him. This is Ezra: "I rent my garments and my mantle, and I plucked all the hair of my head and of my beard, and I sat down astonished [Ezra 9:3]. And at the evening sacrifice I arose from my heaviness; having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hand unto the Lord my God" [Ezra 9:5], and then that prayer [Ezra 9:6-15] – you ought to read that prayer in the ninth chapter of Ezra. Can you imagine praying like that? No wonder that man moved God and rebuilt the nation of Israel.
You turn over here to the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, it’s the same thing: "I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O God, hearken and do! O my God!" [Daniel 9:3-5, 19]. Man that’s praying! That’s praying.
Or Isaiah, same thing: "Oh that Thou wouldst rend the heavens, that Thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow down at Thy presence, as when the melting fire burneth, and the fire causeth the waters to boil" [Isaiah 64:1-2] – staying with it.
I wish we had some marvelous prayers in this church, marvelous prayers. We have some; we don’t have very many. Twice I went over there Saturday to look at our prayer meetings. They had announced a prayer meeting for all day long for the Good Shepherd revival in Embree Hall. And of course, every Saturday we have a prayer meeting all day long in the chapel. I went over there, and I looked in Embree Hall: there wasn’t a soul there. I went over there and I looked in the chapel, and there wasn’t a soul there. And I waited a while, and shut the doors, and tried to make it as attractive as I could, and left. Then after two or three hours, I went back; and there wasn’t a soul in Embree Hall, and there wasn’t a soul in the chapel. There are many, many times when there’ll be several people there. But there are lots of times, lots of times, and nobody’s there. And yet, every thirty minutes, all day long, somebody is scheduled to be there down on his knees, interceding for the church, and for us, and for the lost, and for the power of the Lord God upon us. And any time the Good Shepherd has a banquet, I know that Coleman Hall will be full; they’ll all be there. And any time we announce any kind of a to-do here, you’ll have a glorious outpouring. And I’m for it all, and I’m glad; I am just saying that the power of God upon us is limited not because God’s power is limited: "His arm is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear" [Isaiah 59:1]; but the great restraint upon God’s work lies in the listlessness, and the apathy, and the indifference of God’s people. There’s nobody that pays the price. That’s why James, the pastor of the church, pleads in the closing chapter of his book about prayer and about Elijah and about the effectual fervent intercession of a righteous man [James 5:13-18].
May I close with this little thing? There came to Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, there came a young fellow, and he wanted to give his life to be a missionary. And he said to the great leader Hudson Taylor, "I can’t be a missionary, I can’t be a missionary, I don’t have a talent, not a one. I can’t speak, I can’t direct, I have no executive ability. I have no talent at all. The only thing I can do is pray." And Hudson Taylor said, "Pray, man, can you pray? Can you get a hold of God? Can you talk to the Lord? Do you have entrÃ¨e into heaven? Can you pray?" Hudson Taylor said, "What we need more than preachers and more than executives, we need men who can pray!" And Hudson Taylor sent him out. And they tell me, as I read the story of that fellow, they tell me that you could hear that man’s voice in his house as he’s on his knees, pouring out his soul to God, weeping before the Lord, claiming the people for Christ! And the people learned, and the people heard, and the people listened, and they’d pass by quietly, and with hushed voices. And the day came, it says, when people by the multitudes flocked to that house and to that man of God, saying, "Pray for me, that I might be saved. And pray for me that my soul might find ease. And pray for me that my heart might find rest."
I believe that it would work. If somebody had the reputation of knowing God, could talk to the Lord as a man would talk to his friends, there’d be so many people at his house, saying, "I got a burden on my heart. And I’ve got an insufferable task to face. And I have – oh, I have the need of God like no man that ever lived in this earth. Remember me. Call my name. Pray for me." Got lots of preachers, don’t have many real prayers. Got lots of church members, don’t have many real intercessors. Got lots of folks who are nominal Christians, don’t have many that go deep with God. That’s what we need. That’s what the pastor of the church at Jerusalem wrote. That’s what we need, and that’s what we need today.
Oh! that the spirit of intercession and prayer and supplication in a new way would fall upon our congregation, that you could feel it when you came into the services, that it touched your heart just to sit here in the midst of the congregation; and that when the preacher made appeal, God so had His way, God so moved that here and there and yonder, people who’d never came to the church with a thought about responding would find themselves strangely moved. And down that aisle and to the pastor they come, saying, "Pastor, it never entered my mind when I came to the house of God tonight that I’d be down here at the front; but here I am. I’ve felt the Spirit of God. I’ve felt the call of the Lord, and here I am. I’m re-giving my life to Jesus"; or, "I’m taking the Lord Savior as my own"; or, "I’m starting anew with Christ. You can count me in for all I’m worth for God, for heaven, and for His church." Wouldn’t that be marvelous? Wouldn’t it be great? Wouldn’t it be marvelous if it happened tonight?
Here tonight, the Spirit of God so moving, and our people so attentively, patiently waiting on the moving of the Spirit, that in the song we sing and in the invitation that we give, everybody here tonight would feel the tug of the Holy Spirit of God. And some of them to give their lives anew to the Lord, some of them to take Jesus as Savior, some of them to come into the fellowship of the church; let’s pray to that end.
Blessed, blessed Lord, no need to talk about praying and never pray; no need to make an appeal for intercession and never intercede; no need to speak of the moving power of the Holy Spirit of God and never depend upon Him, and never wait upon Him, and never ask that His office work be done in our souls. O blessed Lord, the great congregation here tonight, all of us bound together in this one intercession, ask Thee this night that the Spirit may speak to every heart in divine presence. And whatever that soul should do, in the power and in the strength of the Holy Ghost, may that one do. Some to come taking Jesus as Savior, some to give their lives in a new way to the Lord, some to put their lives with us in the fellowship and ministry of this beloved congregation, Lord, the preacher is but a voice and a sound; but the Holy Spirit of God is the presence of heaven Himself, the Lord Almighty omnipotent Himself in the hour, in the service, in the congregation. Spirit of Jesus, say the word. One whispered word from Thee is more than a thousand sermons. Say that word, Spirit of God. And when we stand and sing this invitation, may there be a wonderful yieldedness, a marvelous spiritual willingness, surrenderedness to follow the call of God, humbly, in Thy dear name, amen.
While we sing this song of appeal, as the Spirit of God shall lead the way, as He shall open the door, would you come? Would you come? "Here I am, and here I come, taking Jesus as Savior, putting my life in the fellowship of the church, giving myself in a new way to the Lord. Here I am, and here I come." As the Spirit shall say, as God shall lead the way, on the first note of the first stanza, "Here I come, preacher, and here I am," while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Prayerlessness is practical atheism(James 5:11, 13-14)
B. The prayers of the people of God
1. In love and adoration, a sweet incense before God(Revelation 5:8, 8:3)
a. Talmudic legend of Sandalphon, the angel of prayer
2. In time of need, a source of illimitable power
II. The example of Elijah (James 5:16)
A. A mountain of a man, with a whirlwind for a heart
1. A man of passions
2. A volcanic suddenness about him (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 2:11)
3. Stood in solitary grandeur(Malachi 4:5, Matthew 17:10-13)
B. Israel in days of Elijah corrupt, depraved
1. Elijah alone undertook revival – fearless, praying
a. Francis of Assisi before Sultan Kamil 1215 AD
C. Led in a demonstration of dependency upon God(James 5:17, 1 Kings 17:1-7)
D. His intercession before God – petition on Mt. Carmel(James 5:18, 1 Kings 18:41-45)
III. But I can’t do that – Elijah no illustration at all
A. James knew his people; that they would despair at this example (James 5:17, Acts 14:13-15)
1. Wrote that Elijah was a man like us, and he prayed in the hour of need
B. When faced with the impossible, trust God and pray(1 Kings 17:8-23)
1. Prayer of righteous man has energy, power in it(James 5:16)
1. Jesus on the subject(Luke 11:1, 5-13, 18:1-5)
2. The earnest, prevailing prayer (Genesis 32:24-31, 1 Samuel 1:19-13, Ezra 9:3 – 10:1, Daniel 9:1-19, Isaiah 64:1-2)
a. Prayer meeting for Good Shepherd revival(Isaiah 59:1)
b. Hudson Taylor