Fervent and Effectual Prayer
“Pray for one another that ye may be healed. The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elijah was a man of like passions (or nature] with us and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and it rained, not on the earth for three years and six months. And he prayed again; and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (James 5:16—18).
James knew that a faith which obtains healing is not the fruit of human nature; therefore he adds that the prayer must be “fervent.” Only such can be efficacious. In this he stands upon the example of Elijah, a man of the same nature (“subject to like passions”) as we are, drawing therefore the inference that our prayer can be and ought to be of the same nature as his. How then did Elijah pray? This will throw some light upon what the prayer of faith should be.
Elijah had received from God the promise that rain was about to fall upon the earth (I Kings 18:1), and he had declared this to Ahab. Strong in the promise of his God, he mounts Carmel to pray (I Kings 18:42; James 5:18). He knows, he believes that God’s will is to send rain, and nevertheless he must pray, or the rain will not come. His prayer is no empty form; it is a real power, the efficacy of which is about to make itself felt in heaven. God wills that it shall rain, but the rain will only come at Elijah’s request, a request repeated with faith and perseverance until the appearance of the first cloud in the sky. In order that the will of God shall be accomplished, this will must on one side be expressed by a promise, and on the other it must be received and laid hold of by the believer who prays. He therefore must persevere in prayer that he may show his God that his faith expects an answer, and will not grow weary until it is obtained.
This is how prayer must be made for the sick. The promise of God, “The Lord will raise him up,” must be rested on, and His will to heal recognized. Jesus Himself teaches us to pray with faith which counts on the answer of God; He says to us: “All things whatsoever ye pray for, and ask for, believe that ye have received them and ye shall have them”~ (Mark 11:24, R.V.). After the prayer of faith which receives beforehand that which God has promised, comes the prayer of perseverance, which does not lose sight of that which has been asked until God has fulfilled His promise (I Kings 18:43). There may be some obstacle which hinders the fulfillment of the promise; whether on the side of God and His righteousness (Deut. 9:18), or on the side of Satan, and his constant opposition to the plans of God, something which may still impede the answer to the prayer (Dan. 10:12, 13). It may be also that our faith needs to be purified (Matt. 15:22—28). Whatever it may be, our faith is called to persevere until the answer comes. He who prays six times fervently and stops there, when he ought to have prayed seven times (II Kings 13:18, 19), deprives himself of the answer to his prayer.
Perseverance in prayer, a perseverance which strengthens the faith of the believer against all which may seem opposed to the answer, is a real miracle; it is one of the impenetrable mysteries of the life of faith. Does it not say to us that the Savior’s redeemed one is in very deed His friend, a member of His body, and that the government of the world and the gifts of divine grace depend in some sense upon his prayers? Prayer, therefore, is no vain form. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, who intercedes here on earth in us and by us, and as such, it is as efficacious, as indispensable as the work of the Son interceding for us before the throne of God. It might seem strange that after having prayed with the certainty of being heard, and having seen therein the will of God, we should still need to continue in prayer. Nevertheless it is so. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed three times in succession. On Carmel Elijah prayed seven times; and we, if we believe the promise of God without doubting, shall pray until we receive the answer. Both the importunate friend at midnight and the widow who besieged the unjust judge are examples of perseverance in seeking the end in view.
Let us learn from Elijah’s prayer to humble ourselves, to recognize why the power of God cannot be more manifested in the Church, whether in the healing of the sick, or in conversion, or sanctification. “Ye have not because ye ask not” (James 4:2). Let it also teach us patience. In the cases where healing is delayed, let us remember that obstacles may exist over which only perseverance in prayer can triumph. Faith which ceases to pray, or which is allowed to relax in its fervor, cannot appropriate that which God has nevertheless given. Let not our faith in the promises of Scripture be shaken by those things which are as yet beyond our reach. God’s promise remains the same: “The prayer of faith shall save the sick.” May the prayer of Elijah strengthen our faith. Let us remember that we have to imitate them who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Heb. 6:12). If we learn to persevere in prayer, its fruit will be always more abundant, always more evident, and we shall obtain, as Jesus obtained when He was on earth, healing of the sick, often immediate healing, which shall bring glory to God.