The Man Like You
“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 the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”—James 5:17-18
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed, and he prayed again. No one can read the Bible with any degree of care without being impressed with the importance of prayer. Especially the kind of prayer that is referred to in this narrative—fervent, effectual or prevailing prayer.
One of the older writers of the Church has said, “God decreed that prayer should be a power, universal, distinct, real, as natural and universal as the power of gravitation, of light, or even electricity, and that man may use this power as trustingly and soberly as any of these other things.”
Another more modern writer and preacher has said, “Man may go aside and shut the door and as truly spend a half hour of his life in India for God, as if he were there in person.” That is a wonderful statement.
Someone else has said: “Prayer surrenders us up to the energy of God.” I want to add to that, Prayer—effectual prayer—releases to us the energies of God.
When you go back into the Old Testament and consider the achievements of God’s great men, you will find that the emphasis as far as the human side of their achievement is concerned, is placed upon prevailing prayer.
What a wonderful place prayer had in the program of such men as Abraham, Moses, Elijah. A wonderful story is told us in the eighteenth chapter of Genesis, where God had made known to His servant that a great judgment was coming upon a wicked city, and where he, with a heart filled with compassion, stood in the presence of God and plead on behalf of that city.
You remember he began with fifty righteous persons, as a reason why the judgment should not come. Some time I believe the world will wake up to the fact that Christianity has meant more to the welfare of society than they have any conception of. He lowered the number to forty and five, then down the scale of numbers by tens until he pleaded for ten righteous persons. Then God said, “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.”
Someone has suggested that if Abraham had continued even down to one that God would have heard his pleading. But you know, beloved friends, that Jude talks about praying in the Holy Ghost, and when a man is praying in the Holy Ghost he not only knows where to being but he knows where to stop, so Abraham stopped at that particular point. And it was in the will of God that he should.
Take Jacob. What made the difference when Jacob met his brother Esau? Something made a difference. “Thou hast power with God and with man,” said the angel of the Lord, and he went out to meet the brother who was coming with four hundred soldiers, and sword unsheathed, and instead of Esau running upon him with his sword, he threw it down and “fell on his neck and kissed him.”
What made the difference? It was prayer. Take the first five chambers of Nehemiah. See how he was confronted with all sorts of difficulties. Over and over again you will find this saying or its equivalent, “Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God.” God looked after the difficulties and it came to pass that the great work was finished. So I might continue.
This morning I took the Old Testament and hunted up some of these incidents of prayer in the lives of God’s great men, and I came upon one that humbled me to the very dust. In the thirty-second chapter of Exodus, Moses was coming down from the very presence of God and was met with a very great discouragement. Have you ever noticed that when you are having a good time with God you are very apt to meet with some difficulty right afterward. Moses is coming down from the presence of God, and when he gets near the camp he hears the songs of the backsliders. It broke his heart and he broke the commandments. He was very wroth and dashed the tables of stone to the earth and broke them. But the next day his heart softened towards them. Thank God for the next day! He said: “Oh Israel, thou hast sinned a great sin. Nevertheless, I will turn aside to God.” Oh Jesus! How we thank Thee for the privilege of turning aside to Thee when our hearts are broken, and we don’t know what to do with men.
“Peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin” and up he goes into the presence of the Lord, and he said: “Oh God! This people have sinned against Thee. Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin—:and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.”
It almost seemed too much for God to forgive them. “And if you will not forgive them, Oh God, blot me, I pray Thee out of Thy book.” He said, “Let me be damned instead of them.”
I want you to see what a great power God has put into the hands of His people. It is the power of prevailing prayer.
The Ministry of Prayer
When you come to the New Testament, of more than any other man, it is said of Jesus: “He tarried all night in prayer.” “He went out a great while before day.” “He left Peter and James and John and went a little farther and fell on His face and made intercession, with strong crying and tears.”
Beloved friends, He did not teach us to sing. He did not even teach us to preach, but He did teach us to pray. He taught His disciples to pray, both by example and precept. “Ask and it shall be given you.” “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” “Enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.” “Whatsoever things ye desire when you pray, believe that you receive them.”
All through His ministry, and especially in the closing hours of it, Jesus puts the emphasis on the ministry of prayer. I have come to feel that if I pray right I will preach right. If I pray right I will live right. How vital is prayer to the Christian life and to the Church of Jesus Christ.
“Prayer changes things,” we sometimes say. All prayer does not change things. When you come over to the Epistle of James, he is giving it as kind of a recipe for everything; for your social troubles, for your physical difficulties, and for your spiritual problems. One great thing he gives us as an antidote, the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. That we might know what the effectual, fervent prayer is, he gives us a pattern.
First of all, we note it was a human pattern. He was “a man of like passions as we are.” He does not want you to think that Elijah was a genius. He was not a giant. He was an ordinary man. I know that he was mighty, but the Holy Ghost wants you to see that he was mighty through God. Not Elijah, but Elijah’s God is what is testified to throughout his whole life.
Look at George Mueller, the man that has given to the world throughout the last century the best testimony that God is today the same as He was in the days of the Apostles. Who was George Mueller? Apart from God, George Mueller was a thief, and at twenty-one years of age, was in prison for stealing, but George Mueller, with God, did what seemed to the world to be the impossible.
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we: just common, ordinary everyday clay. When I study his life and see him standing up before Ahab he seems so powerful and courageous that I cannot see any resemblance at all, but when I see him fleeing from the face of that wicked woman and crawling under that little bush, and hear him say: “Oh, God! Let me die!” then I see the likeness.
He did supernatural things. How did they come to pass? “He prayed, and he prayed again.”
I have gone back into the Old Testament to learn something about Elijah’s praying, and I find certain characteristics that I believe must be observed, and unless they are observed I cannot pray the effectual, fervent prayer.
The Basis for Prayer
First, his prayer was based on a promise given from God. “Go, show thyself unto Ahab and I will send rain upon the earth.” He fulfilled every condition, and then he took the promise of God and he went up to the Bank of Heaven and said: “Now, I want this cashed.”
There are a great many Christians who take the promises of God simply as pictures to look at. They are something like a man who has been out of work for many months. Cold weather comes upon him and his family are faced with starvation. Day after day he seeks work but finds none, and finally in despair he gives up. The children cry with hunger. Suddenly the door opens and one of the richest men of the community steps in and greets the despairing brother.
“I have heard of your trouble and thought possibly this would relieve you,” and he places a little piece of paper in the poor man’s hand. Before he could really comprehend the meaning of it, the benefactor had retired. The wife and children gathered about him and looked over his shoulder and he read a check, good on the National Bank, for five hundred dollars. He reads it aloud and smiles. That is more money than he has ever had at one time in his life. The children dry their eyes and the wife looks happy.
The man folds up the check and places it in the old clock, without a pendulum, and smiles complacently. The children look at the clock and then at their father, wondering what it all means, and finally from the pangs of hunger they begin to cry again.
The wife says, “John, why, what do you mean? Don’t you know these children are starving?”
“Oh, Helen,” he replies, “they have no need to starve. Just think of it! We have this check good for five hundred dollars!”
He gets up, unfolds it and reads it again carefully, and again the children dry their eyes, wondering what is going to happen. But nothing happens, for he puts it away again.
Now, we would conclude that such conduct indicated insanity. His troubles have impaired his reason. If not he would surely take that promise, hurry to the bank, get the real money, and with the money get real meat, potatoes, bread, etc. In other words, he would transfer that promise into the things that would meet the actual needs.
Now, God’s promises are more than pictures. They are all good at the Bank of Heaven, signed with the very blood of Jesus, and will meet the deepest needs of your heart and life.
It Was Definite
Most of our prayers, and especially our public prayers, are like arrows shot in the air. We have no target. We have no aim. We shoot at nothing and we get nothing. Have you ever had a prayer answered in your life? Do you know what that prayer was? It was a prayer that was born of some deep soul need. A difficulty so high that you could not surmount it. Alone somewhere, you took that one thing to God and you prayed definitely. Elijah just kept on saying, “Rain! Rain! Rain! Rain!”
Isn’t that the force of the lesson that Jesus gives us where the man came at midnight and importuned for bread! Bread! Bread! He just kept on the one thing.
May the Lord give us some definiteness of purpose in our praying.
Then it was fervent prayer. “He prayed earnestly.” “He prayed fervently.” Let me say, and he prayed secretly. You cannot pray that kind of prayer in public.
I suggest to you if you will go back to Abraham and follow down through the Old Testament and on through the New Testament, you will find the prayers that changed things were prayed alone with God. You will have to even leave Peter, James and John, and “go a little way farther” if you are going to pray the prayer of intercession.
The prayer the church needs, the prayer that The Moody Church needs more than any other ministry at this hour, is prayer that goes up to God from the secret place.
“And he prayed earnestly that it might not rain.” You remember down at Mt. Carmel, Elijah stood up beside the altar and said, “Let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel,” and the fire fell.
When the Holy Spirit holds up Elijah as a pattern for the prayer life, He does not say anything about that prayer on Mt. Carmel. He puts the emphasis on the secret and private prayer. If back of the public prayer you have been in the closet praying to God in secret, the fire will fall.
When Jesus stood at the grave of Lazarus, thousands looked at Him. He stood and prayed a simple prayer. It seemed such an easy exercise, but when He was alone He fell on His face and made intercession with strong crying and tears.
In the garden He prayed three times, always saying the same thing. It would appear as if the flesh grew weary, and He arose and went back to those three disciples only to return again and pray the same thing.
So it was with Elijah. Time and time again he called for the lad whom he had left on the mountain top, to see if there was any sign of that coming rain, and when informed that there was nothing yet appearing in the sky, he said, “Then I will pray again,” and again, and again, until seven times, when a cloud the size of a man’s hand appeared on the horizon. Of course it was like a man’s hand, for it was Elijah’s hand! His “prayer-hand” unlocking the reservoir of Heaven, and what the church needs today is that kind of praying.
You will find that back of the great revivals of the past somebody like Elijah prayed, and prayed again.
I remember an incident a number of years ago. A woman had a vile husband. One day she happened to be praying in a little room in connection with a place of worship. No one was in the place. I happened to pass and heard a voice. She was a Scotch woman. I could hear her say, “Oh God, my husband is coming near the end of his journey. He must be saved or I will die.” That night in that very church, I sat on the platform. The house was crowded. I saw the husband of that woman coming in the door, and the usher brought him up and gave him a front seat. As soon as the invitation was given he fell at the altar and cried for mercy. I wonder what made the difference. The wife’s prayer! She had gotten to the place of extremity, and that is God’s opportunity.
Did prayer make any difference? It was not only secret prayer. It was not only earnest prayer. Thank God, it was answered prayer!