Summary: Prayer that Works takes work, along with persistence, risk, and righteousness before God. In this sermon, we're going to try to close the gap between what we say about prayer and what we practice.

Good morning. I invite you to turn in your copy of God’s Word to James chapter 5, but also to put a bookmark in 1 Kings chapter 18, because we are going to spend some time there as well.

The story is told of the western town that had experienced a hard drought. One of the local churches announced that they would hold a special prayer meeting one night to pray for rain. On that night, the church building was packed, but the preacher told them to go back home. There’d be no prayer meeting that night – because no one had come expecting to have their prayers answered…


This story may or may not be true. But it illustrates that there is very often a big difference between what we say about prayer and what we actually believe about prayer. And I think that if we actually believed what we said we believed about prayer, we would be doing a whole lot more of it.

In the last few years, all three of the major Christian research organizations have conducted surveys on Americans’ prayer life.

Pew research focused on how often people prayed, and of the 35,000 people that responded, they found that 55% prayed at least once a day, 16% weekly, 6% monthly, and 23% seldom or never.

The Barna group focused their survey on how people prayed. Of those who said they had prayed at least once in the past three months, they found that 82% prayed silently, by themselves; 13% prayed out loud, by themselves. But notice that only 2% prayed audibly with another person or group, and another 2% prayed with a church.

Finally, LifeWay research drilled down on what people prayed for. I won’t read all of these, but I would say if you compared this to our church’s prayer list, you’d find that it matches up pretty well. We typically spend the most time praying for our family and friends, followed by our own problems and difficulties. (I’ve been here for about two years, leading prayer meeting every week, and I’m pretty sure no one has ever asked the group to pray for their own sin. If you are praying for that, you’re praying for it silently and by yourself!

It was interesting, also, that LifeWay had a number of topics they asked people if they had ever prayed for. Take a look at these:

Now, keep all these in mind, and let’s see if our practices about prayer line up with what God’s Word says about prayer. Because the truth is, if they don’t line up, then our practices need to change. The book of James, which was written by James, Jesus’ half brother, contains a lot of teaching about prayer, and I’d like to start off by looking there. Those who are physically able, please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word, as we look together at James 5

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James 5:13-18


Before we dive in to this passage, I want to remind you of some of the teaching James has on prayer. In James 4:2, he says that one of the reasons we don’t receive what we desire is we don’t pray. In other parts of his letter he tells us:

• If we lack wisdom we should pray (James 1:5)—notice that doesn’t show up at all on the list of things people typically pray for.

• If we are suffering we should pray (5:13)—looks like we do that one pretty well.

• And if we are sick, we should call for the elders to anoint us with oil and pray for us (5:14)

• What about “confessing our sins one to another?” (5:16)

In other words: If there’s something you want from God - you should pray, or have others pray for you.

And most of us believe that God answers our prayers. The LifeWay research found that 83% of people believed God answered their prayers at least some of the time.

So let’s get back to the gap between what we say and what we do: If we believe that prayers have such power, do we pray as often as we should? There is a nagging suspicion that we don’t pray as much as we might think.

How many of you pray as often as you think you should? (Raise Hand). Now, I’m not here to be a guilt trip travel agent. The truth is, pretty much everyone would agree that they don’t pray as often as they should. And if you ask them why, most of the answers would come down to one of two things:

"I don’t know how to pray."

"I don’t know what to say."

It is common for many of us to feel we don’t know how to pray or what to say – and James understood that so he gave us an example of how we can pray. You don’t have to stand up again, but let’s look at the next verses in James 5:

17 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. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17-18)

In other words… if you want to have a good model of how to pray, look at how Elijah prayed. So that’s what we’re going to do this morning. Turn with me in your Bibles to I Kings 18. Before we read this passage, I want to give you the background on this story.

At the time of I Kings 18, the King of Israel was a man named Ahab, and he was married to a Philistine woman named Jezebel. Jezebel had a reputation for wickedness, and partly because of her influence, Ahab and the nation of Israel had fallen into a kind of "hybrid paganism."

• They apparently still prayed to Yahweh

• BUT they also worshipped some wicked pagan gods: Baal and Asherah

So - because of their disobedience - God sent Elijah to tell King Ahab that he and the nation of Israel would be punished with a drought. Elijah tells Ahab, in 1 Kings 17:1:

“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (this ended up lasting 3 ½ years.) At the end of that 3 ½ years, God sent Elijah back to King Ahab and offered a challenge. Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mt. Carmel. All of Israel gathered at the foot of the mountain and they heard Elijah confront them with these words:

"How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." (I Kings 18:21)

Most of you know what happens next. The prophets of Baal build an altar, Elijah builds an altar. They both lay out a sacrifice. And they decide that whichever god answers with fire from heaven, that’s the true god. Then the challenge begins. The prophets of Baal dance and yell and carry on and cut themselves, and nothing happens. Then Elijah, after pouring water all over his sacrifice, prays a very simple prayer:

All this precedes the prayer that James says is our example. Now let’s see what’s so special about Elijah’s prayer. Let’s look at I Kings 18:41.

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel.

What can we learn from Elijah’s prayer that makes it such a good example for us?

FIRST, Prayer that works takes work! Notice how he prays in verse 42: He prays bowed down with his head between his knees. In preparation for these sermons, I conducted extensive research… and so I decided to experiment with this particular posture in prayer. And you know what I discovered? [Demonstrate] I discovered that this is an extremely uncomfortable way to pray. Now there might be many possible theological reasons why Elijah prayed in this fashion, but my personal conclusion is that Elijah was using this painful posture to help himself focus on the prayer at hand. He didn’t want to be distracted by anything else, and the discomfort kept his mind focused on what he was talking to God about. I’m not saying we all need to pray like this. But I am telling you that there is value in getting physically uncomfortable.

Second, prayer that works takes persistence. Next, notice how many times Elijah prays. In verse 43, if you assume that Elijah is praying for rain every time he sends his servant out to look toward the sea, that it is Not just once, twice, or 3 times. No. Elijah prays 7 times. He kept at the prayer until he saw an answer.

ILLUS: C.H. Spurgeon once said, (this is on the front of your bulletin)

"Prayer pulls the rope down below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly;

others give only an occasional jerk at the rope.

But he who communicates with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously with all his might."

Why should that matter to God? Why should it matter that we “work” at our prayers? Why should He care that we "pull on bell rope of heaven?" Because when we work at our prayers – it shows the answer “matters” to us.

Likewise, Elijah “worked” at his prayer – he made it his business to pray. During this series, we’re going to help you “work” at your prayers. On the back of your listening guide, there is a place to record prayer requests. We want you to put it someplace in your home, where you’ll be often. In the living room, in your bedroom on the nightstand, in your Bible. Anywhere you’ll have it close at hand. This is your tool to help you "work at your prayers." And as you are thinking about what you would record on this chart, let’s talk about the third key we learn from Elijah: Prayer that works takes risks

Elijah didn’t simply ask God to “bless” Israel. He was asking for rain. And so when you fill out this prayer journal, let me encourage you to use it only for prayer requests you can actually “measure” or see fulfilled. Avoid vague, generic prayers for God to bless you, or for God to be with you. Number one, he’s already promised he will. That prayer is already answered. Second, how do you measure that?

Not only did Elijah ask for rain, but he let everyone around him know he was expecting rain. He told his servant to look for rain. Even more than that—he told wicked King Ahab to get ready for it.

Now, this might make you a little nervous, because you’re thinking, “well, if I am specific in my prayers, and then God doesn’t answer them, won’t that damage my faith? And if other people know that I am praying specifically, and then God doesn’t come through, won’t that damage their faith? Shouldn’t I be worried about God’s reputation?

In Tony Evans’ book “Kingdom Woman” (which he co-wrote with his daughter Crystal Evans Hurst), Tony talks about an evangelistic crusade he spoke at several years ago at the University of South Carolina football stadium. The weather report had predicted rain. In fact, it had said there would be a storm.

More than 25,000 people had already gathered in the stadium and were waiting for the crusade to begin, when we saw the storm clouds forming. So Tony and the other leaders and organizers of the crusade wanted to pray that God would hold back the rain. He writes,

We went downstairs into a small room, gathered together, and began to pray. Of course, we prayed things like, “Dear God, please hold back the rain” and “If it’s Your will, God, could You hold back that rain?”

Yet in the midst of all of us praying, a petite woman named Linda came forward. Perhaps she had gotten frustrated with the prayers of the so-called professionals—the preachers and the leaders.

Whatever the case, Linda stood up and asked, “Do you mind if I pray?”

What else could we say but “Go ahead”?

Linda prayed, “Lord, Your name is at stake. We told these people that if they would come out tonight they would hear a word from God. We told them they would hear from You. Now, if they come and You let it rain, and You don’t control the weather, then You will look bad. We told them that You wanted to say something to them, and if You don’t keep back what You can control—the weather—someone could say Your name is no good.”

And then she threw in a line that caused us all to look at each other out of the corners of our eyes. “Therefore right now I ask in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the rain to stop for the sake of Your Name!”

With that, we opened our eyes. Eyebrows went up. All we could say and think was “Whoa. Did she really just pray that?”

Following the prayers, we all went up and sat on the platform. The sky had now become entirely black behind us. A guy who had been assigned to communicate directly with the weather bureau said, “The showers are coming. They are heavy thunderstorms, and they are coming right at us.”

It is now 7:00 pm and the music is beginning. It is time to start the crusade when massive thunder and lightning surrounded us. People began to stir in their seats. Some even started to get up and open their umbrellas.

Linda was on the stage with the rest of us. A quiet look of expectation covered her face.

Then something happened that I have only seen once in my entire life. The rain rushed toward the stadium like a wall of water. Yet, when it hit the stadium, it split. Half of the rain went on one side of the stadium. The other half went on the other side. Then it literally met on the other side of the stadium. All the while, Linda sat there with a confident look on her face. The rest of us, the preachers and leaders, just looked at each other. Then we looked at Linda. Linda looked straight ahead.

I believe that God paid special attention to Linda’s prayer, because she had great faith. She understood that His name represented His character and that God is passionate for His own reputation. Her petite frame held power, simply because she was intimately connected with and invested in God’s name.

There is a fourth lesson we learn from Elijah. And that is, Prayer that works takes understanding God’s will. God wanted to send rain on Israel. That’s why Elijah had come back.

1 Kings 18:1 tells us "After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: ’Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’"

If you look at some of the powerful prayers in Scripture you’ll find that they all mention either:

* A specific promise God had made

* An outcome God was known to favor

* How answering this prayer would result in praise to Him

* How God’s answering of the prayer would affect how they could witness

When we pray we need to think about why God should want to answer our prayers. That’s what Jesus meant when He told His disciples: "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." John 14:14

To ask for something “in Jesus name” means you are asking God for something you believe He would want to do. Trish and I have a friend who spent years working as an event coordinator for a high ranking general in the Air Force. When she was making arrangements on behalf of the general, things happened. Doors opened that never would have opened if she had been asking in her own name. Even colonels and congressmen submitted to her requests when she was asking "in the name of" the General. That's what it means to pray in "Jesus name," It is asking for those things that will honor Him. That are in accordance with his will.

SO… when you use this Prayer Journal always ask yourself – is this prayer something God would want to answer?

Fifth, Prayer that works takes righteousness with God.

Now, if you’ve hung with me this long, maybe you get to this point and you feel a little cheated. You’re going, “see, I knew there was a catch. I can’t pray with the same results as Elijah! Elijah was God’s prophet. He was one of only two people scripture records as not dying. He appeared with Moses on the Mount of transfiguration talking with Jesus (Matthew 16). Of course his prayer works! But we are talking about me.”

Yes. We’re talking about you. Me too. Which I think is why the apostle James started all this off by saying “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (v. 17)

Brothers and sisters, the only thing that made Elijah anything is the same thing that we have access to: God’s imputed righteousness. On our own, our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). But Jesus died on the cross so that we could receive his righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. The great exchange is that Jesus takes all our sin and gives us all our righteousness.

This is why James 5:16 can say, The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Because we aren’t operating under our own power. We aren’t working for our own reputation. And we aren’t relying on our own righteousness.

CLOSE: DL Moody, in his book Prevailing Prayer, quoted Bishop Joseph Hall, saying, It is not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many they are; nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how eloquent they be; nor the geometry of our prayers, how long they be; nor the music of our prayers, how sweet our voice may be; nor the method of our prayers, how orderly they may be; nor even the theology of our prayers, how good the doctrine may be - which God cares for. Fervency of spirit is that which avails much.