James then makes a very simple but profound statement. He tells his reader that “The fervent prayer of a righteous person works a lot” (The Watsonian Translation). Wow, what a promise! Passionate prayer works and it works in abundance. This motivates me to pray and hope it does the same for you.
James then gives us an example of such a person and such a prayer. He uses the story of Elijah who prayed, and it didn’t rain for three-and-a-half years; and then he prayed again and rained. The story is found in 1 Kings 18:41-45 where we learned that Elijah prayed not just fervently and specially but also persistently because he prayed not once but seven times before it rained.
James uses Elijah and his circumstance with King Ahab as one amazing example of prayer working a lot. He could have used countless other examples though. The Scriptures are full of examples of people praying and God answering specially because prayer works a lot. For instance:
1-Abraham prays for his nephew Lot and his family, bargaining with God.
Request: Genesis 18:25, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Answer: Genesis 19:15–16, “As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.”
2-The people of God were under bondage to the Egyptians for 400 years and they cried to the LORD for deliverance from the world’s only superpower at the time.
Request: Exodus 3:7–8, “Then the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.’ ”
Answer: Exodus 14:30–31, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”
3-The people of God squared off against the Amalekites and Moses raises his arms to pray for victory.
Request: Exodus 17:10–12, “So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
Answer: Exodus 17:13, “And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.”
4-Joshua spoke to the Lord when the armies of the five kings of the Amorites came up against the nation of Israel to let him defeat his enemies that day.
Request – Joshua 10:12 – At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
Answer – Joshua 10:13 – And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.
5-Hannah was barren and felt abandoned, so she came to the house of the Lord to pray for a son.
Request: 1 Samuel 1:15–16, “But Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.’ ”
Answer: 1 Samuel 1:20, “And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the Lord.’ ”
6-David and the Plague
Request: 1 Chronicles 21:26, “And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering.”
Answer: 1 Chronicles 21:27, “Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.”
7-Hezekiah is confronted by the deadly threats of the King of Assyria
Request: 2 Kings 19:14–15, “Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: ‘O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.’ ”
Answer: 2 Kings 19:35–37, “And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.”
8-Nehemiah, the Kings cupbearer in Persia heard about his people the Jews and their plight back in Jerusalem
Request: Nehemiah 2:4, “Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven.”
Answer: Nehemiah 2:8, “…a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy. And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”
9-Esther, when her people are about to be destroyed because of the wicked man Haman.
Request: Esther 4:16–17, “…’Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.”
Answer: Esther 5:2–3, “And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. And the king said to her, ‘What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.’ ”
10-Daniel, when he needs understanding regarding the future of the Jews in the Babylonian Captivity
Request: Daniel 9:2, 20, “In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years…. While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God…”
Answer: Daniel 9:21-22, “While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, ‘O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding.’ ”