(By Rachel Joyce) “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:17-18).
If James’ words were not Holy Scripture, we’d argue with them, even deny them. Elijah like us? Come again? The prophet whose prayers held back rain for three years (and six months, don’t forget the added six months), whose prayers also brought fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice in the showdown with the prophets of Baal, like us? He seems more like some incredibly super-powered servant of God, rather than someone whose nature is the same as ours. What are we supposed to understand from this and how does God want it to impact our lives? What is the secret to Elijah’s powerful praying?
I think the clue to Elijah’s effectiveness can be discovered in a little phrase Elijah spoke twice:
“Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before Whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word’” (1 Kings 17:1).
“And Elijah said, ‘As the LORD of hosts lives, before Whom I stand’” (1 Kings 18:15).
Before Whom I stand. This little phrase is made up of three Hebrew words: pânı̂ym
‘ăsher ‛âmad (עמד אשׁר פּנים). Stay with me, please, because the truth of this phrase this is absolutely fascinating. The word pânı̂ym is sometimes translated face and other times presence. The primitive root ‛âmad means to stand, take one’s stand, remain, dwell, serve. And the word ’ăsher essentially means whom (Strong’s Concordance). The three words together mean to stand, dwell, and abide in the presence and before the face of God. And that is the secret of Elijah’s strength. As he served God, he chose to live his life in the constant awareness of God’s face before him and God’s presence with him.
What difference would it make in our lives if we lived every moment of every day conscious of God’s face before us and His presence with us? If the beauty of God’s holiness filled our eyes, would our gaze stray to unwholesome things? If His glorious presence delighted our hearts, wouldn’t we be less likely to respond when Satan dangled temptation in front of us? What about our interactions with others? If we lived as though God’s eyes were upon us, I don’t think we’d utter those unkind words or treat others as though they didn’t matter. How could we when these are the very ones that He died to save?
Too often, we live as though God isn’t real. We slip into patterns of behavior based on our particular list of dos and don’ts, but forget the reality of the relationship we’ve been called into and what sin does to our closeness with God. The more our hearts are satisfied with the nearness of God, the less we want anything that will jeopardize such intimacy. We want to avoid sin because it damages the sweet communion we share with our Lord. So, as we become more and more satisfied with Him, we are sanctified and made more like Him.
The psalmist said, “In Your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). He understood that when we find our delight in God’s presence, our values and desires begin to mirror His (Psalm 37:4). Not perfectly, of course, but they do gradually shift because as He becomes our everything, we learn to love what He loves. We want His will to be done, even when it hurts.
That’s how Elijah lived. He chose to serve God and follow His will for his life. He saw himself as standing before the Lord and his heart was fully consecrated to God and committed to doing His will. Because of that, his prayers were in line with God’s will and so they were powerful and effective. I believe that’s how God wants us to live, too. He wants us to abide in His presence so that we can come to know His heart and enjoy intimacy with Him. As we remain in His presence, our hearts will become more in tune with His and as we pray in accordance with His will, our prayers will become all God intends them to be.