Have you ever felt like the bottom has just dropped out of your life? Have you ever felt like you were just hanging on by a thread, because things had become so incredibly difficult? What does God tell us we should do when we are suffering, when we are in trouble?
We find the answer in James 5: we should pray. Why? It just may be that God will remove your problems because of your prayer. By simply bringing your circumstances before the Lord and acknowledging your need and dependence on Him, God can lift that problem you are presently facing.
That is not to say that God will always take our suffering or troubles away. But even then, prayer gives us the grace we need to endure our troubles and grow closer to God.
I find it interesting that James, in the midst of addressing this very important subject of prayer, cites the example of a righteous man greatly admired by his readers and says,
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5:17–18 NKJV)
The prophet Elijah was known for his special acts of courage and dramatic miracles. When we think of him, we recall his outrunning chariots, raising the dead, and resting in the wilderness while ravens dropped off his food. We read about him calling fire down from heaven and stopping the rain with his prayers.
It is hard for us to think of a man like that as human. He seems superhuman. Yet James points out Elijah, one of the most dramatic of the prophets, and says that he was someone like us.
What we forget is that the same Elijah who called fire from heaven in that great contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel is the same Elijah who ran for his life when he heard that Queen Jezebel wanted him killed. He prayed, "It is enough. Now Lord, take my life..." (1 Kings 19:4 NKJV). He was a man just like us — a man subject to like passions, a man with the same vulnerabilities. If a man like that, with his weaknesses, could still muster up the faith to believe God for great things, then surely we could do the same.
James tells us that Elijah "prayed earnestly that it would not rain" (5:17 NKJV). Now, Elijah's prayer was not some laid-back request. He didn't say, "God, I don't know. It would be kind of nice to have some rain." He put his heart into it. He passionately poured out his heart to heaven.
It says in 1 Kings that Elijah "bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees" (18:42 NKJV). Elijah poured himself into it. He prayed with fervor.
A servant came and said, "There is a cloud out there about the size of a man's hand." That is a pretty small cloud. Elijah kept praying. The cloud grew, and soon it began to rain. God answered, and still, Elijah kept praying and praying. Soon it was El Niño time. Yet Elijah didn't give up.
We need to remember to do the same. Sometimes we will be praying and we'll see a partial answer — a cloud the size of a man's hand, so to speak. Maybe you are praying for someone who is closed to the gospel. Then you begin to see a little openness here and there. Or maybe you are praying for someone to be healed. The person you're praying for gets a little better, but not completely better. Maybe you're praying for provision. You have received some of that provision, but not all.
Don't give up. Keep praying. That little cloud may grow. That answer may come in God's timing. Pray with fervor. Pray with passion.
Much of our prayer has no power in it because there is no heart in it. If we put so little heart into prayer, then how can we expect God to put much heart into answering? We need to truly pray.
Rather than offering up some casual, God-save-the-earth-amen kind of prayer, we need to pray specifically. We need to pray fervently. We need to pray continually. Don't give up, James is saying. Pray with energy. Put your heart into it. That is what really matters.