For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about praying powerful prayers, and how so much of the effectiveness of our prayers is relational, tied up in our views of God and how He sees us, as well as how we love and forgive each other. James 5, where our theme verse for the year comes from, tells us that powerful prayer isn’t only relational; it’s also rooted in how we pray. Praying powerful prayer isn’t at all like how many of us pray, how I’m guilty of praying when I’m under particular stress- bringing my shopping list to God like I’m clicking the “buy it now” button on Amazon–transactional praying to a genie God.
In Chapter 5, James tells us the story of the great prophet Elijah, who prayed that it wouldn’t rain. For three and a half years, the land was dry as a bone. Elijah prayed again, and the sky burst forth. I think we’d all agree those prayers were powerful. It’s easy to think of Elijah as some prayer ninja, not like you. But, God loves you as much as He does Elijah. You’re as much a child of His as Elijah. Yet, Scripture says, Elijah prayed fervently. From what I can tell, fervent prayer calls us to pray in ways that are very possible, yet may be unfamiliar.
First, fervent prayer means praying passionately, not only with our mind, but also with our heart and body. When was the last time you truly cried out to God about something? Or beat your breast? Or paced the floor in frustration? Or kneeled in prayer before God? Or, laid down face down on the floor? Prayer isn’t just a mental exercise, but a physical and emotional one, too. Sometimes, our physical posture when we pray impacts our mental and emotional posture, which is why kneeling before the Lord is in itself a humbling gesture. You can’t conjure up those emotions, but God is showing me that if I never feel them, there’s probably something wrong in the relational areas with the Lord that we’ve talked about over the past several weeks.
Secondly, fervent prayer means praying persistently. Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow is a great teacher. She asks and asks, until even the unrighteous judge relents, saying, “she is wearing me out.” In Mark Batteson’s Circle Maker, Batteson calls this “praying hard”- “Praying hard is going twelve rounds with God. It can be exhausting and excruciating, but that is how the greatest prayer victories are won. Praying hard is more than words; it’s blood, sweat and tears. Praying hard is two-dimensional: praying like it depends on God, and working like it depends on you. It’s praying until God answers, no matter how long it takes. It’s doing whatever it takes to show God you’re serious.” This is never about God intentionally holding out on us in a taunting or ill-intentioned manner, but about teaching us to persevere and to remain in contact with Him. God is always more about what He’s doing in our hearts than the object of our prayers. Ultimately, the only truly eternal thing about your circumstances is you. Your heart and your character are what will last forever, much longer than whatever it is you’re praying about.
Finally, fervent prayer is expectant; it expects God to answer. This isn’t some kind of “name it and claim it” idea, but if God has promised something to us in a vision or in Scripture, or promised to provide, we need to take a lesson from God’s words to Joshua at Jericho. There, before Jericho fell, God told Joshua, “I have delivered it into your hand.” Even though victory wasn’t yet accomplished in earth time, in God’s economy, it was already complete. Mark Batteson says, “true faith celebrates before the miracle happens, as if the miracle already happened, because you know God is going to deliver on His promise. Praise is believing God has already done it.” If God has given you a vision of something He has said He would do, or promised to provide for you, thank Him for it. Expect Him to do it, and be persistent.
You may not believe God will show up and make it stop raining for you, like He did in response to Elijah. But, after 15 years of living in community with you all, praying for you and your families, I’ve seen amazing sights: tumors that were there one day simply disappear the next; checks for the exact amount people desperately needed come from unknown or unexpected sources; rain that was expected not come, and rain that was not expected come; little kids, all but dead, returned to their parents alive and well; impossible flight connections made in airports; blood enemies who are now friends; dead marriages, even those that had ended in divorce, now reunited; children born to barren parents, and a whole nation open to adoption when one family prayed to receive a child; buildings built, visions fulfilled, and needs met. And on, and on, and on.
God still brings the rain when we pray, so pray powerfully.