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I Was Wrong [7-9-23]


July 9, 2023

James 5:14-18

“I Was Wrong”


I think it was before I left for vacation that I said by now we’d be done with James 5:14-18. We’d be ready to wrap things up with the final two verses. I was grossly mistaken.


Here we are, on the cusp of the middle of July, and perhaps we’ll finish verses fourteen through eighteen. I make no promises.


In my defense, once I started digging in to the Elijah reference, a rabbit hole soon opened. And while, when you find you are digging yourself deeper in a hole, and the best advice is to stop digging, in this case I was glad for an extra shovel. There’s always great stuff here.


Today we’re considering Elijah and how he fits into James’ thinking on

prayer.


Remember, first, the big picture:

SOME PEOPLE PRAY, BUT THEY DON’T REALLY PRAY. THEY TALK TO GOD AS IF HE IS A DIVINE WAITER AND THEY ARE JUST GIVING HIM AN ORDER…OR HE IS A DIVINE SECRETARY AND THEY ARE JUST DICTATING A DIRECTIVE.


Elijah was different. When he prayed, he really prayed. Here’s what James said about him:

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.


Elijah was a huge deal. He was one of the most popular of all figures among the Jews. Even today, if you name your kid Elijah, you are doing something right. He was celebrated for the miracles God performed

through him as well as his prophetic denunciations of sin.


Here’s the first important point James makes about Elijah. When James said he was a man with a nature like ours, he wants us to understand that the power of prayer is available to all who follow the Lord. It’s not solely for a special or privileged few. Are you with James on that?


Here’s what Elijah had to deal with. Pagan influences were strong. The One, True, Monotheistic faith had gained a foothold but was always harassed and assailed by any combination of pagan, evil, misguided, wicked people. Elijah was a herald of the coming Messianic age. He was a century or more ahead of Isaiah and the rest of those guys. So Elijah was a big deal. His prophetic voice was the foundation upon which God would build his message of salvation.


Did I say Elijah was a big deal?


Not only that, but Elijah was also a man of great courage. He stood against

an evil king and his wicked wife, as well as the two most common deities

of his time.


Let’s get a basic understanding of the deities first.


Baal was the universal god of fertility. His title was Prince, Lord of the Earth. He was also called the Lord of Rain and Dew, the two forms of moisture essential for Canaanite soil fertility. We see such pagan manifestations today in our culture’s obsession with sex/sexuality.


Second, there was Asherah. She was the companion of the Sumerian god, Anu, as well as the Ugaritic ‘El, the oldest of the ancient deities. She held an esteemed place among the ancient gods. In Deuteronomy 12 God commanded the destruction of her shrines so as to maintain the purity of His worship.


What happens when you smash idols? Because that’s what Elijah did. If you’re not a U of M football fan and you point out the foibles, flaws, and imperfection of the Maize and Blue, what can happen? You’ve just smashed somebody’s Baals. They will not be happy. When it comes to sacred cows, it’s all fun and games until it’s your ox getting gored.


That’s the job God gave to Elijah. He bravely went where no prophet had gone before. And courageously so. James wants us to see in Elijah a person whose life was undergirded with prayer. Prayer wasn’t an afterthought or a narcissistically driven request from Elijah to God. Prayer was essential to a life of faith well-lived.


To give you a sense of the importance of this, here’s something you might want to write down:

ELIJAH’S PRAYERS HAD THE GOAL OF BRINGING REPENTANCE AND CONFESSION TO THE WHOLE NATION, THUS RESTORING THE PEOPLE TO A PROPER RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.


Who was leading them away from their relationship with God? None other than Ahab and Jezebel. Two of the aweful-est people in Israel’s history.


First, Ahab.

1 Kings 18:17-18 best summarizes the dynamic between Elijah and Ahab:

When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.”


Ahab devoted himself to the worship of Baal and Asherah. Elijah warned him of the coming judgment if he did not obey God. But despotic rulers are

going to do what despotic rulers do. He was going to take his own advice. He was going to be his own god. And he was going to indiscriminately kill innocent people.


Next, Jezebel.


She was the kind of woman you won’t take home to mother. There’s a reason no one names their daughter Jezebel, even today. {Although, who knows? With the way our culture is going, Jezebel might pop up here and there.} She reveled in leading people away from God. And so, her depraved life came to a gruesome end. She was thrown from a window to her death. Her corpse was trampled by horses hooves. Her remains were eaten by wild dogs. As 2 Kings 9:37 reports, “And the corpse of Jezebel shall be as dung on the face of the field in the territory of Jezreel.”


That is one powerful point about defying God and leading people away from Him.


When James gave his brief mention of Elijah, his hearers knew the fullness and richness of the backstory. Under the leadership of Ahab and Jezebel, there was much disobedience to God. So God sent a drought. As 1 Kings 17:1 puts it, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God if Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” For three-and-a-half years, it didn’t rain. And then Elijah prayed for the rain to pour down from heaven. And it rained. In the interim, we’re not told much about what happened in Elijah’s life for those forty-two months. We are told God provided for Elijah. In that process, 1 Kings 17 gives us simple examples of obedience to God.


And then something amazing happened. Elijah’s personal encounter with a

widow opened up the story to a deeper meaning. As we read in 1 Kings

17:17-24:

After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

This beautiful story carries the weight, in a personal encounter, of how God works to heal a nation. It is pure grace and mercy. As James described it, Elijah prayed, and the drought ended.


So what’s the point?


Let’s go back to how James prefaces his Elijah point. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” In other words, Elijah brought nothing significant or extraordinary within himself to the table. It was all about how God was equipping him. More than anything, Elijah had grit. He persevered in faithfulness to God. The rhetorical structure of verse seventeen makes this point in its literal translation, “in prayer he prayed.” The power of prayer is available to any believer who sincerely believes in God and desires an effective prayer life.


I think, when James mentions Elijah, he intends us to see in the deadness of the land brought back to life an analogy to the illness of the believer restored to health. What that restoration looks like rests within the sovereign will of God. But there will always be restoration. That’s why James used the perfect illustration. God sends down refreshing rain on dry, parched land. The weary, weak, exhausted, parched spirit of the wounded warrior receives the downpour of the refreshing rain of God’s blessing. What a wonderful ministry of prayer.


So what are we to do? What of our prayer lives?


Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1:

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.


Here’s a letter a hairstylist received on June 27, 2020:

“Dear Sara,

This is a little bit awkward. But I’ve waited a really long time to pass this on to you.

My wife and I came in for haircuts shortly before Christmas last year.

My wife is suffering from dementia, and you treated her as if you’d

been working with dementia patients all your life. You let us sit next to each other, and when it came time for her cut you turned her chair towards me so I could watch her expression as you cut her hair.

It turned out even better than I thought.

Sadly, she died in March. And that haircut was one of the last, best moments of her life.

To see her so happy was priceless.

Looking back, it was likely one of many haircuts you gave that day. But one which revitalized a woman’s sense of self…I hope you always realize the power of your profession.

It’s easy to take things like that for granted.”

Sincerely,

A Grateful Customer


Prayer, offered in love, brings health, healing, and comfort to parched

souls.


Let us pray:

WE THANK YOU, FATHER, FOR THIS WORD OF PRAYER. GIVE US A RENEWED HUNGER FOR PRAYER. WE PRAY FOR ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THOSE WHO ARE WEARY. WE PRAY FOR HEALING FOR THE PHYSICALLY OR SPIRITUALLY WOUNDED. HELP US TO KNOW THAT OUR PRAYERS HAVE GREAT POWER. THANK YOU THAT PRAYER BRINGS COMFORT, RESTORATION, FELLOWSHIP, AND POWER. WE PRAY IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.







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