Elijah Series: Developing an Effective Prayer Life (1 Kgs 17:17-24)
Developing an Effective Prayer Life
After this the son of the woman who owned the house got sick. His illness was so severe he could no longer breathe. She asked Elijah, “Why, prophet, have you come to me to confront me with my sin and kill my son?” He said to her, “Hand me your son.” He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him down on his bed. Then he called out to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, are you also bringing disaster on this widow I am staying with by killing her son?” He stretched out over the boy three times and called out to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, please let this boy’s breath return to him.” The LORD answered Elijah’s prayer; the boy’s breath returned to him and he lived. Elijah took the boy, brought him down from the upper room to the house, and handed him to his mother. Elijah then said, “See, your son is alive!” The woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a prophet and that the LORD really does speak through you.”
1 Kings 17:17-24 (NET)
How can we develop effective prayer lives? Often prayer is considered something secondary to ministry or as preparation for ministry. However, Oswald Chambers, the writer of the famous devotional, My Utmost of His Highest, rightly said this, “Prayer is not preparation for the great work. Prayer is the great work!” It is by prayer that individuals are saved, relationships are reconciled, prisoners are set free, and nations are healed. Prayer is how we access God’s power and get his work done. If this is so, then we must ask, “How can we grow in prayer both individually and corporately?
This question is especially relevant as we continue our look at the story of Elijah. In Scripture, Elijah is given as a model of prayer. James 5:16-18 says,
… The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest.
Elijah was like us, and yet he prayed for the heavens to be shut for three and a half years and it was so. He then prayed for it to rain, and it did. Elijah’s prayers were powerful, and James implies that power can be in our prayer life as well.
In fact, a powerful prayer life is a common component in the lives of those God used greatly. Abraham was a man of prayer—in his narrative, he is constantly seen communicating with God and even interceding for people. Moses, Nehemiah, and the prophets were also people of prayer. Likewise, when Christ was preparing weak disciples who would one day turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6), he constantly emphasized their need to pray. He modeled faithful prayer for them (Lk 11:1), taught them the Lord’s Prayer at least twice (Matt 6, Lk 11), taught them parables emphasizing their need to pray (Lk 18:1-8), took them away for prayer retreats (Lk 22:39-46), and at times rebuked them for their lack of prayer (Mk 9:19, 29). In the book of Acts, the world is turned upside, in part, because the disciples developed power prayer lives (Acts 17:6). They prayed in the upper room and the Holy Spirit fell on them at Pentecost (Acts 1:14, Acts 2:1-4). They had a corporate prayer meeting after being told to no longer preach the gospel and the building was shaken, the Spirit fell on them again, and they left proclaiming God’s Word boldly (Acts 4:23-31). They, like Christ, at times even turned down ministry because they needed to stay committed to prayer (cf. Mk 1:35-37). In Acts 6:1-4, they told the Jerusalem church members to find someone else to care for the widows because they needed to be committed to prayer.
God using people who were faithful in prayer is not just clear in the narratives of Scripture but also the history of the church. Martin Luther upon being asked by his friend about his plans for the next day said, “Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." When God raises up someone to mightily to use, he trains him or her to be mighty in prayer. Therefore, as we look at Elijah resurrecting this young boy, which is the first resurrection in Scripture, we learn principles about developing a powerful and effective prayer life.
Big Question: What principles about developing an effective prayer life can we learn from Elijah’s raising the widow’s dead son?
To Develop an Effective Prayer Life, We Must Develop Strong Faith
After this the son of the woman who owned the house got sick. His illness was so severe he could no longer breathe. She asked Elijah, “Why, prophet, have you come to me to confront me with my sin and kill my son?” He said to her, “Hand me your son.” He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him down on his bed. Then he called out to the LORD…
1 Kings 17:17-20a
Observation Question: How did the widow respond to the death of her son, and how did Elijah respond to it?
In verses 17-18, we see how the widow responded to the death of her son. Instead of trusting the God who had faithfully provided for her needs through the prophet, she accused Elijah (and by implication God) of punishing her, reminding her of the sins she committed, and killing her son. Unfortunately, when many people encounter a trial or difficult situation, instead of responding in faith by praying to God, they get mad at God and mad at others.
How did Elijah respond when accused by the woman? He didn’t argue with her. He immediately asked for her son, took him to the upper room of the house, laid him on the bed, and began to cry out to God for a resurrection.
Here we see the first step in developing a powerful prayer life. It is developing a strong faith. Again, at this point in Scripture, there has been no resurrection; therefore, Elijah is taking a leap of faith. No doubt, he must be rationalized to himself, “Cannot the God who created the heavens and the earth, stopped the rain, fed me by ravens and this poor widow also be able to resurrect this dead boy?”
This is an important step in developing a powerful prayer life. We must develop a strong faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Also, Hebrews 11:35 says this, no doubt in describing Elijah’s great faith, "women received back their dead raised to life." Hebrews 11 is the Heroes of the Faith chapter, and apparently Elijah is given not only as a model of prayer but of faith. If we’re going to develop powerful prayer, we must, like Elijah, have great faith in God. It takes great faith in God to move mountains, heal people, bring revival in communities, and be used in our weakness.
Throughout Scripture, the importance of faith is often emphasized as a prerequisite for receiving blessings from God. In Matthew 17:20, Jesus taught if we only had the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains, which probably refers to insurmountable difficulties. And likewise, when Christ went to his hometown of Nazareth, in Matthew 13:58, it says he didn’t do many miracles there because of “their unbelief.” How many people don’t receive from God and can’t be used by God simply because of a lack of belief? Faith is believing and trusting in God despite our feelings or circumstances. And when there is true faith, God often rewards it (Heb 11:6).
In Mark 2:3-5 and verse 11, we see a great example of faith in Christ’s healing of a paralytic. The verses say,
Some people came bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. When they were not able to bring him in because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Jesus. Then, after tearing it out, they lowered the stretcher the paralytic was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” … “I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.”
Even though the four men could not get their friend to Christ because of the crowds, they were willing to climb the roof, tear a hole in it (regardless of damage and cost), and lower the paralytic down so he could be healed. They demonstrated great faith in the midst of what seemed like a closed or delayed door. The text says Christ forgave the paralytic’s sin and healed him because of seeing “their faith” (v. 5). Christ rewarded their faith by healing and forgiving their friend. Likewise, when Elijah was confronted with insurmountable odds—the death of the widow’s son—he did not give up either. He demonstrated his great faith by asking for a resurrection.
Similarly, in order to have a powerful prayer life, we also must take steps of faith by bringing impossible situations and grand requests to God. Taking a step of faith doesn’t necessarily mean that God will always answer our prayers affirmatively, but it is often one of the prerequisites for God to do so. In James 5:14-17, James encouraged the sick to seek prayers from their elders because the prayer of faith will bring healing. Certainly, God will not always heal when elders pray, but according to James, taking a step of faith by seeking prayer from our leadership in obedience to Scripture is often needed for Divine healing.
Likewise, in James 1:5, James encourages believers going through trials to ask God for wisdom because he gives generously; however, he then prefaces this promise in verses 6-8, saying:
But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.
Apart from faith, we won’t receive anything from God; it renders our prayers ineffective.
Lifestyle of Faith
With that said, Scripture not only demands faith—trust and belief in God—when we bring our requests before God but also lifestyles of faith. Elijah’s bringing the dead son to God was just one step in his continual walk with God. Hebrews 10:38 says, “my righteous one will live by faith.” A lifestyle of faith is also a prerequisite for powerful prayer. Moments or steps of faith when encountering the impossible should only be parts of a faithful life which God rewards. James taught the necessity of a faithful life to effective prayer by applying it to Elijah’s effective prayer life. In James 5:16-17, he said, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. Elijah was a human being like us…”
There are two types of righteousness described in the Scripture. There is the righteousness that God gives us by faith in Christ so we can be saved and not punished for our sins. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” But there is also practical righteousness, which true believers must demonstrate as an outworking of their faith in God. This is probably the righteousness James is talking about. In John 15:7, Christ said the same thing: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” Christ’s words abide in us as we read Scripture, study it, and obey it as a lifestyle. When this is true, we will find that our prayers are more effective. This happens, in part, because as Scripture saturates our hearts, we start to pray God’s will and not our own. Our prayers become selfless instead of selfish.
Living in sin, and therefore apart from faith, hinders the power of our prayers. In Psalm 66:18, David said, “If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” When living in sin, David’s prayers were ineffective. With the believers James wrote, he said, “You do not have because you do not ask; you ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, so you can spend it on your passions” (James 4:2b-3). Their wrong heart motives in prayer hindered their effectiveness. Living in sin, and therefore not walking in faith, hinders our prayers.
In considering Elijah’s response to the dead son, we cannot but be struck by his great faith. Since God is honored by faith and rewards those with it (Heb 11:6), it is no surprise that God commonly moves on the behalf of those who trust him supremely.
Application Question: How can we grow our faith?
1. Our faith grows by knowing God’s Word. Romans 10:17 says, “faith comes from hearing God’s Word” (paraphrase). The more we know what God says in his Word by reading and meditating on it, the more faith we will have. By diligent study, we’ll know God’s promises, which we can pray in accordance with (cf. Phil 4:6-7). And when praying about something we don’t have a promise on, we’ll know God’s character and will trust him when he responds, with “No,” “Yes,” or, “Wait”.
2. Our faith grows through disciplined praying. Communication is essential for trust. If we are not communicating with a person regularly, we will be more prone to doubt his or her character. Likewise, when we are weak in prayer, our faith in God, especially when in trials, will be weak as well. Like the widow who had seen God’s miraculous provisions, we’ll be more prone to doubt God or get angry at him and others when encountering an unexpected difficulty.
3. Our faith grows as we repent of things hurting our relationship with God. Sin creates distance in our relationship with God and erodes trust. We don’t share everything with those who are untrustworthy or entrust them with important tasks. Therefore, to grow in our faith, we must continually repent of wrong attitudes and actions hindering our relationship with God. When we repent, God is faithful to forgive and restore our relationship (1 John 1:9).
4. Our faith grows as we develop a history with God—seeing him use the bad for good, forgive and restore us, and be faithful in all seasons. As God parts our Red Seas, provides water in drought, restores relationships, and resurrects dreams, we’ll be more prone to trust him in the various stages of life. Elijah had seen God shut the heavens, provide food through ravens, and multiply oil so he could eat through a poor widow, which strengthened his faith to pray for a resurrection. Likewise, as we walk faithfully with God, our faith will increase, which will allow us to experience more of God’s grace through prayer.
Are we growing in our faith?
1. What are some ways that you have developed a history with God—watched him provide in drought, use bad for good, and use you in weakness, among other things? How has your history increased your faith?
2. What are some disciplines we can practice to help us remember God’s faithfulness in the past, so we don’t forget God or doubt him during the storms of life?
3. How is God calling you to practice and grow in your faith in this current season of life?
To Develop an Effective Prayer Life, We Must Practice Private Prayer
He said to her, “Hand me your son.” He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him down on his bed.
1 Kings 17:19
After being accused by the widow for the death of her son, Elijah took the boy away from the mother, went to his room, and laid him on a bed before God. Why did Elijah not simply pray there with the mom? Why did he choose to be alone? No doubt, because there is tremendous power in the practice of secret, private prayer. In Matthew 6:5-6, Christ said this to his disciples:
Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
Christ said there is a reward for those who endeavor in secret prayer when no one is watching. This doesn’t mean there is no power in public or cooperate prayer because there is, especially when done with a right heart. But God especially rewards those who are champions when nobody is watching, when it’s just God and the person. God favors and rewards those who diligently seek him in the quiet place.
Have we developed the practice of private, secret prayer? Do we have a place where we consistently go to block out distractions and meet with God alone? Do we go there commonly to rest in our Lord and bring our requests and fears before him? This is something God enjoys and rewards.
No doubt, this was a discipline that Elijah further developed while at Kerith Valley, the place of cutting. While there, he was isolated from the world and grew in the discipline of solitude with God. Often God uses trials to help us develop or restore our private prayer discipline—our intimacy with him.
Example of Christ
Certainly, we see this discipline in Christ who would constantly leave the disciples and his ministry to go up on a mountain to pray (Mark 1:35). It is very easy to be busy serving God and not ever go to the mountain to be intimate with him. Christ not only constantly went to a mountain, but he even went to the wilderness too fast for forty days before beginning his ministry—undoubtedly, a season of intense private prayer. And, God saw and rewarded him. In Luke 4:13, it says that Christ left the wilderness in the “power of the Spirit,” as he began his ministry. After this season of quality prayer, God began to use Christ to do the miraculous. He healed people, cast out demons, multiplied bread, turned water into wine, all in response to his prayer and reliance on God (cf. Matt 13:28).
What about us? Have we developed this discipline—getting up early before our family, roommates, and neighbors get up to be with God? David practiced this. In Psalm 119:147, he said, “I am up before dawn crying for help. I find hope in your word.”
When encountering this impossible situation, Elijah left the widow and went straight to his room to privately cry out to God; therefore, God rewarded him publicly. Have we developed secrecy in our prayer lives? Do we have a prayer closet? Certainly, we should pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)—at all times and in all places—but Scripture also teaches the importance and power of being alone with God in prayer. Again, Christ said, “But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6:6).
1. Why is the practice of private prayer so important?
2. Where is your prayer closet? How do you practice intimacy with God in prayer?
3. How is God calling you to grow in this discipline?
To Develop an Effective Prayer Life, We Must Grow in Empathy
He stretched out over the boy three times and called out to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, please let this boy’s breath return to him.”
1 Kings 17:21
After taking the boy to the room, Elijah stretched himself out over the boy’s dead body three times. We don’t know how long the boy had been dead, but as one might imagine, his body was probably cold. Elijah’s lips would be pressed against his lips, his chest against the boy’s chest, and his arms against the boy’s arms. Elijah could feel his cold and lifeless body.
Why did he do this? What did this do to increase his capacity to pray for him? It seems this created a form of empathy for the boy. By touching the boy’s cold lifeless body, Elijah was entering into his pain. Likewise, if we are going to be effective in our prayer life, we must learn how to enter into people’s pain and feel what they feel.
Certainly, we get a picture of this with Christ before he raises Lazarus from the dead. He goes to the tomb and weeps (John 11:35). He saw the pain—the effects of sin and death—and wept. For Christ, in one sense, it made no sense to cry, as he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. Why weep? In mourning for Lazarus before praying for him, Christ felt the sting of his death, the pain of losing him, and the mourning of others. Christ entered Lazarus’ pain and that of his family and friends. Only after this did Christ pray, leading to Lazarus’ resurrection.
However, this is not only true in how Christ related to Lazarus before his resurrection, but also Christ’s whole ministry. Why did Christ become a man? He became a man in part to relate to us so he could effectively minister to us, including through intercession. It is the mystery of the incarnation. He became like us so he could understand us and be our interceding high priest. Consider these verses:
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.
For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.
So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
No doubt, this is the very reason many of us struggle with prayer. We only know our own problems and pain and, therefore, struggle with interceding for others. Empathy—a holy burden—is very important for being an intercessor. For this reason, we can trust that this is one of the major reasons God allows trials into our lives. He does this to break us down and make us weak so he can empower us (2 Cor 12:7-9), but he also does this to make us empathetic, so we can feel and relate to the pain of others and pray.
This is one of the reasons that people with the gift of mercy are such good intercessors. These people have a God-given ability to enter into the pain of others and care for them. This gift continually brings them to their knees in prayer for others and also to their feet to serve them.
Application Question: What should we do to develop empathy, so we can feel others’ pain and effectively pray for them?
1. To develop empathy, we should touch those who are hurting.
For some, the best thing we can do is go to a hospice or a mission trip and touch the sick, the poor, and the hurting. By doing this, we start to develop a holy burden that helps us faithfully pray for and serve others.
In Ecclesiastes 7:4, Solomon said, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking.” The heart of the wise—referring to those who love God and follow him (Prov 9:10)—is in the place where people are hurting. It is there that they learn to love God and others better. However, the fool, who doesn’t acknowledge God (Ps 14:1), only focuses on his pleasure instead of serving others in their pain. There is great wisdom in the house of mourning—it is good for us to go there. It is where we gain both wisdom and empathy.
2. To develop empathy, we must walk with the Lord.
Ephesians 2:4 says God is “rich in mercy.” Likewise, often in the Gospels, we see Christ having “compassion” on the hurting. Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Therefore, to grow in empathy, we must continually walk with God—the merciful one. As we abide in prayer, the Word, worship, and serving God, we will become more like him. In Philippians 1:8, Paul said that he actually longed for the Philippians with the “affection of Christ.” As Paul walked with the Lord, he gained his heart, and we can do the same by walking faithfully with the Lord.
3. To develop empathy, we must pray specifically for it.
In Romans 12:8, “mercy” is called a spiritual gift. And in 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 14:1, we are continually encouraged to desire greater gifts. Certainly, as James says, we have not because we ask not (4:2). Being merciful to others is not a gift that many pray for, but it is a gift that will enable us to both serve others and effectively pray for them. So we should pray for God to remove our hardened and often self-consumed hearts and give us soft, merciful hearts like his—ones that empathize with others, serves them, and prays for them.
1. Why is empathy so important for intercessory prayer?
2. What’s the difference between empathy and mercy?
3. How is God calling you to grow in empathy?
To Develop an Effective Prayer Life, We Must Practice Persistence in Prayer
Then he called out to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, are you also bringing disaster on this widow I am staying with by killing her son?” He stretched out over the boy three times and called out to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, please let this boy’s breath return to him.”
1 Kings 17:20-21
It must be noticed that Elijah called out to the Lord twice in verses 20-21. He calls out to the Lord, stretches out on the boy three times, and then, calls out to the Lord again. What can we gain from that? Elijah practiced persistence in prayer. We will see this again when he prays for rain in 1 Kings 18:41-45. In that narrative, he prays seven times as he waits for a rain cloud to show up. Elijah practiced persistence in prayer.
Certainly, we see the practice of persistent prayer throughout Scripture and calls to do the same. With Christ, right before he was betrayed, he went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray for three separate hours. During each hour of prayer, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Also, in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, Paul shared how he prayed three times for God to remove his thorn in the flesh. He said, “I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness...” In both circumstances, God said no; however, with Elijah, God was pleased to answer his prayer. Either way, persistence is an important step to developing powerful prayer lives.
God desires us to be persistent in prayer. Persistence shows that our petition is genuine and important to us. Many people lift a prayer to God and then they never bring it back up. Sometimes our lack of consistency shows that we are not truly concerned or only mildly concerned with what we are bringing before the Lord.
In Luke 18:1-8, through a parable about a persistent widow bringing her request before a judge, Jesus emphasized the importance of persistence in prayer to his disciples. The text says:
Then Jesus told them a parable to show them they should always pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. There was also a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but later on he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor have regard for people, yet because this widow keeps on bothering me, I will give her justice, or in the end she will wear me out by her unending pleas.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unrighteous judge says! Won’t God give justice to his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay long to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
In training his disciples, Jesus said that they must be like this widow by praying and not giving up. In fact, he implies that people who pray persistently will be in short supply when he returns to the earth (v. 8). He ends the parable by saying, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The implied answer is “No.” People who demonstrate their faith by persistently praying will be in very short supply. Sure, some people will pray, but there will be very few “persistent intercessors” who turn the world upside down like Elijah and the disciples did.
We see another example of persistent prayer is the story of the Canaanite widow who approached Christ about healing her daughter who was demon-possessed in Matthew 15:22-28. In response, Christ first said nothing (v. 23), and then eventually he said, “no,” because he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. However, she persisted in asking Christ, and then Christ said, “Woman, your faith is great,” and he healed her daughter (v. 28). She was not willing to give up even when Christ seemed uninterested in healing her daughter by being silent or when he essentially said no. This is “persistent prayer” that God enjoys. Persistence is the fruit of great faith—faith that won’t give up regardless of circumstances.
In fact, God looks for people who will pray persistently and deploys them to pray over strategic targets. In Isaiah 62:6-7, God said this:
I post watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they should keep praying all day and all night. You who pray to the LORD, don’t be silent! Don’t allow him to rest until he reestablishes Jerusalem, until he makes Jerusalem the pride of the earth.
God strategically calls men and women to persistently pray over difficult situations, people, and nations. He commands them to give him no rest until he accomplishes his will on the earth. Unfortunately, sometimes he cannot find people to persistently pray. Ezekiel 22:30 says, “‘I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one.”
What is God calling us to continually cry out over like Elijah? What is he calling us to persistently pray over to accomplish his will in the land? For many of our prayer assignments, we may never see the results in this lifetime. We will faithfully pray, God will eventually take us home, and he will call someone else to continue in prayer until he accomplishes his will. Christ told the disciples they were reaping where others had sown and done all the hard work. In John 4:37-38, Christ said, “‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.” One day the sower and reaper will rejoice together in heaven (4:36). Amen!
Are we willing to pray persistently? God looks for willing people and puts them to work.
1. Why is persistence in prayer so difficult?
2. Is there something you feel God has called you persistently pray for? If so, what and how have you seen the fruit of those prayers?
3. In what ways is God calling you grow in persistence in prayer?
To Develop an Effective Prayer Life, We Must Practice Fervency in Prayer
Then he called out to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, are you also bringing disaster on this widow I am staying with by killing her son?” He stretched out over the boy three times and called out to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, please let this boy’s breath return to him.”
1 Kings 17:20-21
The last principle we learn about developing a powerful prayer life from Elijah’s ministry to the dead boy is the need for fervency. Where do we see this? As mentioned, twice in the passage, it says Elijah “called out to the Lord” (1 Kgs 17:20-21). It can also be translated as “cried out” (NIV). This not only represents persistency but fervency. It is clear that Elijah passionately prayed for the dead child. He was fervent, no doubt inspired by his entering into the widow’s pain and touching the child’s dead cold body.
We see the importance of fervency throughout Scripture. In James 5:17, it was used of Elijah’s prayer life. It says, “Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months!” Elijah not only prayed fervently for this child but also for it to not rain and then later for it to rain in Israel. He was an earnest and fervent intercessor.
We also see this with Christ’s prayers. Consider how Hebrews 5:7 describes Christ’s prayers before his death: “During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion.” This probably refers to Christ’s prayers on the Mount of Olives before he went to the cross. Though he asked for God to take away the cup of suffering, he also prayed fervently to be delivered from death and his prayers were heard (Lk 22:39-46).
In addition, Scripture uses similar language about the early church praying for Peter to be released from prison. In Acts 12:5, it says, “So Peter was kept in prison, but those in the church were earnestly praying to God for him.” In fact, in James 5:16, the KJV says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
What does it mean to pray “earnestly” or fervently”?
First, let’s consider what it is not: (1) It is not vain repetitions. Matthew 6:7 says, “When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard.” Christ calls for us not to “babble repetitiously” or use “vain repetitions” (KJV) like the heathens. This means we should not use rote, mindless prayers like many of us do when praying for our meals or even when quoting the Lord’s Prayer. (2) Also, praying with fervency doesn’t necessarily mean praying long prayers. We won’t be heard for our many words. Though persistence in prayer is important, when Elijah prayed for fire from heaven in 1 Kings 18:36-37, it was a short, quick, effective prayer, while the pagans had prayed for hours and received nothing. (3) It is also not conjured up emotions to act like we are passionate. Some will pray in a loud manner and it will be fervent; some will pray in the silence of their heart it will be fervent.
Therefore, what is fervent prayer? Fervent prayer is simply genuine prayer that includes effort, sacrifice, and focus. It is real praying. It is prayer that takes work; it is prayer that fully engages a person’s mind, will, and emotions. It is focused prayer and not drifting prayer. It is God-exalting and not self-exalting.
Most prayers are not fervent, they are rote and casual, and often lack a truly engaged heart and mind. There are lots of prayers that are not effective because they are not earnest—heartfelt and focused. To develop a powerful prayer life, our prayers must be fervent—engaging our mind, will, and emotions.
1. What is fervent prayer?
2. Why does prayer often lack passion and instead become rote, dry, and lifeless?
3. How can we develop more fervency in our prayer lives?
As we consider Elijah praying for the first resurrection in Scripture, we learn principles about having effective, powerful prayer lives. This important because when God sought to bring revival in Israel, he found a man of prayer. Only prayer taps into the power of God to bring about truly great works. Likewise, when Jesus sought to reach the world, he raised up the apostles to be men committed to prayer, even more than ministry (Acts 6:6). In order to be used greatly by God, we must be people of prayer—not talent, ambition, wealth, or influence, which many expect—but people of prayer.
How can we develop an effective prayer life, which God can use greatly to display his grace to a lost and needy world?
1. To develop an effective prayer life, we must develop strong faith. Faith includes taking steps of faith as we bring problems and impossible situations before God. But it is also a continuous righteous walk with God, even when encountering difficulties. God looks for faith and rewards those who continually approach him in faith (Heb 11:6).
2. To develop an effective prayer life, we must practice private prayer. Elijah went to his prayer room when tragedy struck. Where do we go? Have we developed a vital, private prayer life? We need to practice stepping away from busyness and blocking all things out to be with God. There is power in private prayer. Those who continually approach God in the secret place, he rewards in the open.
3. To develop an effective prayer life, we must develop empathy. Elijah stretched his body over the dead boy; he felt the boy’s lack of a heart-beat, cold lips, and cold body. We will never truly grow into intercession unless we develop empathy—an understanding and care for the needs of others. Maybe God is calling us to touch the leper or to live with or interact with struggling people to develop a love and care for them.
4. To develop an effective prayer life, we must practice persistent prayer. Twice Elijah cried out to God for healing. Likewise, we must continually bring our requests before God even when there is no change or even when things get worse. There is power in persistent prayer.
5. To develop an effective prayer life, we must practice fervency in prayer. Fervency is an urgent passion for God to move. Elijah fervently cried out for the boy’s life. Christ fervently prayed until he sweats drops like blood. What are we fervently praying for?
Again, Ezekiel 22:30 says God is seeking for people to stand in the gap—people who will pray and he will move mightily through their prayers to save people. Are we willing to allow God to develop us into people with powerful and effective prayer lives? Lord, according to the riches of your grace, use us!
• Pray for God to forgive us for our lack of praying, lack of spending time alone with God, lack of caring enough about others to sacrifice sleep, work, and entertainment to petition for them and serve them.
• Pray for God to give us a heart and passion to pray. Pray that God would give us supernatural empathy for our family, our church, our co-workers, and our nations and a passion to see them blessed and healed.
• Pray that we as individuals and as a church would grow greatly in prayer this year. Pray that we would not neglect our private prayer, corporate prayer, and seasons of especially devoted prayer.
• Pray for those who are dead in their sin to be resurrected to a new life—those who have rejected God to turn back to him and be saved. Also, pray for strongholds hindering the gospel and God’s will in families, workplaces, governments, and nations to come down, so God can bring transformation and healing.