It is pretty amazing what human beings are capable of doing. Just think about what’s been invented in your lifetime. Or let us all consider, with great humility, just the things that have been created here in the Bay Area. It’s stunning what humans can do. This reality has become so abundant that it’s easy for us to take it for granted. But don’t lose the wonder at the massive capacity that has been given to mere human beings.
And instantly you’re thinking, “I might be surrounded by super humans, but unfortunately, I’m not one of those super humans. I’m not sure I’ll ever affect the world in any meaningful kind of way.
But what if you could? What if there’s something about you that means you can actually alter the course of events in the future, which could change history? I’m calling today’s message, “What Humans Can Do”.
James 5:13-18 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
Make no mistake, Elijah is one of the great prophets of the Old Testament and he’s so prominent that he even gets recognition in the New Testament. Because I know these realities, I’ve always thought of him as some kind of super human. Or at least I’ve thought that he has some kind of special access to God that’s reserved for a very small percentage of people who have ever lived on this earth.
And yet, here we have James arguing the exact opposite of that. He’s trying to convince us that somehow, Elijah was just like us…which obviously means there’s something about us that’s just like Elijah.
There are moments in Elijah’s life where we witness a humanity that reminds us of our own. We see him dealing with exhaustion. We watch him battle with depression, to the point that he wants to die. We see fear make him literally run for his life. Now that you know this, you realize there is part of Elijah’s humanity that you can relate to.
But that’s not the part James is writing about. He’s telling us that we too can see God’s activity unleashed in our lives, in our church, and in our city - as a response to our prayers, just as Elijah did.
1 Kings 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
This is the story that James references in our passage. This is also the first time Elijah is introduced in all of Scripture. What’s the point? What are we missing that can help us make sense of this moment? Because you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal about rain?” Well this is about way more than rain.
Ahab has just become king of Israel. And he did even more evil in the eyes of the LORD than those before him.
1 Kings 16:32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.
Quick history lesson on this god, Ba’al. Ba’al was known as the storm god and bringer of rain. This god was worshipped as the god who brings the rain and makes the crops grow. Elijah’s passion was not primarily about rain or the lack of rain. His passion was God and making sure God was seen, heard, and worshiped as the One True God.
Our passion for God or lack thereof will ultimately determine the presence or absence of our prayer life.
“In our desire after God let us keep always in mind that God also has desire, and His desire is toward the sons of men, and more particularly toward those sons of men who will make the once-for-all decision to exalt Him over all.” A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
Just as Elijah had said, there was no rain. In the third year of this drought, God tells Elijah to go and present himself to Ahab and that God will send the rain. This leads to an incredibly entertaining showdown on the top of Mount Carmel.
Elijah tells Ahab to go get 450 prophets of Ba’al and 400 prophets of Ahserah. They assemble and Elijah tells all of them, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Ba’al is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing – no response.
Elijah tells them to go and get two bulls, basically one for Elijah and one for the prophets of Ba’al. They’ll both call on the names of their gods and the god who answers with fire must be the one true God.
So the prophets of Ba’al called on their god from morning to noon. Elijah starts taunting them. “Shout louder! Maybe your god is in deep thought or busy or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping. So they shouted louder and started cutting themselves. But there was no response.
Elijah poured water on his offering and the wood for his sacrifice – not helpful when you’re trying to get a fire going. He did this three times. And here was his prayer:
1 Kings 18:37 Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.
He prays so that they will know who the One True God is and that hearts will turn back to this God. Then the fire of the LORD fell. This caused all the people to cry out, “The LORD – he is God!”
Elijah’s aim is to expose who or what these people are trusting in. They’re asking someone or something to do what they cannot do. Which I think should cause all of us to ask these two questions:
Who are you trusting for what you desire to see happen?
Your achievement. Wealth. Your outgoing personality. Your intellect.
What are you asking to do for you what only God can do for you?
The stock market. The new company. Some guy or girl.
1 Kings 18:41-46 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.
His posture shows how earnestly he was praying to God. He tells his servant to go look towards the sea. But the servant reports that there’s been no change. Elijah continues to pray. The servant goes to look 7 times and the seventh time he reports that there is a small cloud rising from the sea. And Elijah knows this is the answer to his prayer; here comes the rain.
Because of his passion to know, worship and follow the One True God, prayer became Elijah’s go-to response. Towards the end of last year, I re-read An Unhurried Leader by Alan Fadling and he wrote this:
“Leadership prayer is vital to being a person of godly influence, so it is always best as a first response rather than a last resort.” Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Leader
This isn’t just true for leaders; it’s true for all of us. So James writes: If you’re in trouble, pray. If you’re happy, sing songs of praise. If anyone is sick, call the elders to pray and anoint them with oil. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. Then he tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.
There is some correlation between our character and the effectiveness of our prayers.
Please hear me. I am not saying we should try to live a moral life so that God will do whatever we ask Him to do. God is Sovereign and ultimately He does whatever He pleases. But I am saying there absolutely is a correlation.
Psalm 24:3-4 Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.
Psalm 66:18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
If and when we realize our hearts aren’t clean, we lean into the promise and practice of 1 John 1:9:
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
We’re seeking to build a “big ask” culture here at Epic. But we must believe that our prayers really can change us, others, and this world.
“Prayer is where I do my best work as a husband, dad, worker, and friend.” Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life
“Prayer is the act by which the people of God become incorporated into the presence and action of God in the world. Prayer becomes a sacrificial offering of ourselves to God, to become agents of God’s presence and action in the daily events and situations of our lives.” M. Robert Mulholland Jr., Invitation to a Journey
“There are wonderful things that will only happen if we ask for them, and unspeakably terrible things that will prevail unless we harness our wills with God’s will to resist them in prayer.” Pete Greig, How to Pray
Elijah was a human just like you. Do you believe you can see God answer your prayers just like He answered Elijah’s? It’s true – our prayers can have the same effect as Elijah’s – that’s the whole point.
In light of all you’ve heard today, what response seems fitting?
Putting God first. You’ve realized that you’ve put something above God in your life. You can give your life to Jesus and ask Him to become Lord of your life.
Cleansing. Repentance. Confession. Receive God’s promise to cleanse you.
Faith. You want to live and pray with confidence that God absolutely will answer your prayers.
Start praying like what you’ve heard today is true.
Elijah kept praying – 7x. What if it takes 20 years? What if it takes after your lifetime? Would you still pray?
You now know you have a greater capacity to make a difference than you thought you had when you walked in here today. Will you use your full capacity to see God do what is humanly impossible?