Praying the Fervent Prayer of the Righteous: Lessons from Elijah’s Prayer

By: Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr

The Anatomy of an Effective Prayer

Golden Text: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.  The effective 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 heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit”

(Jam.5:16-18).

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (Elijah)’’ availed much:  the rains came and the earth produced a bountiful harvest after a three and half-year drought.  The prayer had all the vital ingredients. It was effective because it was fervent, and it was offered up by a righteous man who “prayed earnestly”. 

The word “fervent” simply means ‘zeal’ or “ardour’’ in Greek (Strong’s 2205 “Zelos”).  So it carries the idea of praying with zeal or passion, a situation where one immerses himself or herself in the prayer. Jesus frequently prayed this kind of prayer.  On one occasion, He “contained all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).  Then in Gethsemane, just before his victory on the cross by death, He “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able  to save   Him from death, and was heard [as proven by His resurrection from the dead]  in that  He feared” (Heb.5:7). 

Similarly when Paul and Silas were thrown into jail in Philippi, they “prayed and sang praises unto God” at midnight; “and the prisoners heard them.” The prayer was fervent, and it had immediate effect:  “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed” (Acts 16:25-26).

Bro. Paul captures the essential spirit of ‘the fervent prayer’ in Eph. 6:18: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints”.

This is the prayer of a righteous man - one who has not bowed the knee to Baal (Rom.11:2-4).

The Prophet Prays!

Now, how did Elijah actually pray that earned his prayer the title of “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man”?

Here is the background to the prayer:  The prophet Elijah, a fugitive from King Ahab and Jezebel his wife for his righteous stand, is finally instructed by God to show himself to Ahab.  When Elijah shows up in the King’s palace, he requests a contest with 450 false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.  Either side is to prepare a bullock for a sacrifice, but neither is to put fire to it.  The side whose “God answereth by fire” and burns the sacrifice, “let Him be God,” Elijah challenged the false prophets.  “And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken” (1 Kings 18:17-24).

Suffice it to say, 450 false prophets of Baal prayed to their god from morning to late afternoon but to no avail; they even “cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them” yet there was no answer (v 25-29).

Elijah now readied himself to call upon His God.  First, “he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down” (v. 30).  The rehabilitation of “the altar of Yahweh that was broken down” is a restoration to fellowship with Him: 

“He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov. 28:9). Also john 9:31).

Therefore, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you, cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. “Be afflicted and mourn, and weep:  Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and and your joy to heaviness.

        “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (Jam.4:8-10).

If we harbor iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us (Ps 66:18).  So the first step in praying an effective prayer – because God answers it – is to mend one’s fractured relationship with God, if that’s the case. God promises to hear us and heal our land if we humble ourselves and turn from our wicked ways (2 Chron. 7:14).

So Elijah repaired the altar of God that was torn down on behalf of all Israel who had given themselves over to Baal-worship.

But Elijah went further. His relationship with God ought to have a base. That base was God’s covenant with the twelve tribes of Israel, descendants of the sons of Jacob: unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel [one who struggles with God and man and prevails] shall be thy name” (v. 31). This is a covenant God has vowed never to break: 

“Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sum for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for light by day, and the ordinances and of the stars for a light by night, which divided the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of Hosts are His name: “If those ordinances depart from me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before ME for ever “(Jer.31:35-36).

Interestingly, the sign of God’s everlasting covenant with Israel is the Sabbath: “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever:  for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed’’ (Ex 31:16-17).

To represent the twelve tribes of Israel, “Elijah took twelve stones…..  And with the twelve stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD:  and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.  And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood”.  The people poured the water on the altar four times.  “And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water” (vv. 32-35).

The altar was thoroughly soaked and dripping with water.  Nothing is impossible for the God of lsrael no matter how bad it gets.  When His altar is repaired, His glory appears!

For “the glory of the LORD shall be reveled, and all flesh” that prepare their way before Him “shall see it together” (Israel 40:3-5).

The power of God’s covenant with His people should never be underestimated:

                                “And He said, ‘Behold, l make a covenant. Before all your people

                                  I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor

                                  in any nation, and all the people among whom you are shall see

                                  the work of the LORD.  For it is awesome thing that l will do

                                  with you “(Ex 34:10 NKJV). 

The decisive moment finally arrives.  “And a solemn silence fell on the assembly. The sun was going down, a globe of fire, behind Carmel, covered it with purple glow.  It was the time of the evening sacrifice” (Alfred Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament, p. 691, Eighth Printing May 2009).

Elijah gets down to the actual prayer, and he chooses to do so “at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice” (v.36). The Psalmist prayed:  “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice “(Ps 141:2).  When the angel Gabriel went to Zechariah the father of John the Baptist to inform him of John’s birth, “the whole multitude of the people were praying without [the temple proper] at the time of incense.  And there appeared unto him [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense” (Luke 1:10-11).

The time of the evening sacrifice was therefore a propitious time purposefully chosen by Elijah, though strictly speaking it was largely symbolic in value.  (See Rev. 5:8, 8:3).  The Prime Mover was the God of covenant:  “Jehovah, not Elijah, would do the miracles; the Hand of the living God Himself must be stretched out.  Once more it was prayer which moved that Hand. Such prayer was not heard before--so calm, so earnest, so majestic, so assured, so strong.  Elijah appeared in it as only the servant of Jehovah, and all that he had  previously done as only at his word: but  Jehovah was the covenant-God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, manifesting Himself as of old as the Living and True, as Elohim in Israel” (Bible History Old Testament,pp.691-692).

In his prayer, Elijah emphasized his personal relationship with God – “l am Thy servant that l have done all these things at Thy word”:  “Go show thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 18:1, 36).  Implicit in Elijah’s relationship with God was an obligation for God to fulfill:  “Remember the word unto Thy servant, upon which Thou hast caused me to hope “(Ps 119:49).

This together with the appeal to the everlasting Abrahamic covenant underpinned Elijah’s prayer.  In calm, assured, earnest tone, he prayed: “Hear me, that this people may know that Thou art the LORD God, and that Thou hast turned their back again “(1 Kings 18:37.)

As a true prophet of God who represented Him, Elijah was of ‘strategic value’ to God’s kingdom.  Our strategic importance to the Kingdom of God is an important key to receiving swift answers to prayer.

Take Sister Dorcas in the N.T. book of Acts. This lady, who “was full of good works and almsdeeds,” died of her sickness to the shock and grief of the church.  The disciples sent for Peter, and “when  he was come, they brought him into  the upper chamber:  and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.”  Peter asked all the mourners and sympathizers out, “and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him[self] to the body said, Tabitha arise.  And she opened her eyes”. Having lifted her up by the hand, he presented her alive to the people, “and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:36-42).

Nehemiah used to pray, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Thy mercy” (Neh. 13:22, also vv. 14 and 31).  When King Hezekiah fell sick, he also prayed drawing on his ‘strategic value’: “Then Hezekiah turned his face towards the wall, and prayed unto the LORD,  And said, Remember now, O  LORD, l beseech Thee, how l have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight.  And Hezekiah wept sore” (lsa. 38:2-3.). In answer to Hezekiah’s prayer, the LORD healed him and added fifteen years to his life (v.5).

Elijah was a prophet God knew: He was His servant on a mission for Him, and he was in His good books.  His prayer wouldn’t go answered:

                                        “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the

                                         burnt sacrifice and the wood, and the stones, and the dust,

                                         and licked up the water that was in the trench.

                                        “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces:

                                         and they said, The LORD, He is the God; the LORD,

                                         He is the God” (1 kings 18:38-39). 

The people who were torn between Yahweh and Baal witnessed the glorious, infinite power of the former and prostrated themselves before Him.  Promptly the false prophets were seized and put to the sword.

But this was just the prelude; the real action was to come: the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise of the rainfall to break the three-and-half year drought. “Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain”  (v.41).

While Ahab wined and dined, “Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees” (v.42).  The prophet humbled himself before the Lord and prayed for the fulfillment of His promise.  But “It was agonizing prayer--not once, but seven times repeated.  At each break in it the faithful attendant climbed the highest knoll, and looked earnestly and anxiously over the broad expense of the sea, there full in view.  At last [i.e. at the seventh round of prayer] it had come-a cloud, as yet not bigger than a man’s hand. But when God begins to hear prayer,  He will hear it abundantly; when He gives the blessing, it will be without stint.  Ahab must be up, and quick in his chariot, or the rain, which will descend in floods, will clog the hard ground, so that his chariot would find it difficult to traverse the six miles across the plain to the palace of Jezreel.  And now as the foot of the mountain was reached, the heaven was black with clouds, the wind moaned fitfully, and the rain came in torrents.  But the power of Jehovah was upon the Tishbite.  He girded up his loins and ran before the chariot of Ahab.  On such a day he hesitated not to act as outrunner to the convert-king; nay, he would himself be the harbinger of the news to Jezreel” (Bible History Old Testament, pp. 692-693).

     “Indeed, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”!

While the answer to Elijah’s prayer for fire was swift, God’s answer in respect of the rain took time. But Elijah didn’t give up.  His faith in God was unwavering; neither did he doubt what he felt in the spirit about the promise of God-“there is a sound of abundance of rain’’!

So he prayed through until there was a breakthrough!  At the seventh round of prayer, God performed His promise.

What the prophet’s example teaches us is perseverance in prayer.  The righteous should never give up prayer because “the eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and His ears are given open unto their cry” (Ps 34:15).  Therefore the righteous ought to “pray always and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1 NKJV).  And he must pray fervently as God’s servant of the unbreakable covenant!

 

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