James was intent on teaching wisdom, and had been creating a list of actions a wise person takes. They are

  1. A wise person lives in humility, submitting their life to God, allowing the Holy Spirit to control their thoughts, their feelings and thereby their words and actions. 
  2. A wise person knows a reboot is just a confession away and is therefore always living a life of repentance.
  3. A wise person is strong in the Lord by humbly submitting to God, to be patient, to persevere, and to stand firm against evil, against Satan himself.
  4. A wise person speaks words that naturally glorify God and build up the people who listen.
  5. A wise person, in submission to God, understands their complete and utter dependence on the Lord for the course of their life, the course of their day-to-day living, and sees the hand of God in all the events and people in their life.
  6. A wise person views wealth as God’s resources to be invested in what pleases God and furthers God’s purposes.
  7. A wise person keeps their word out of reverence for God and in reflection of God’s character.

Prayers of a Righteous One

James saved the end of his letter for the importance of prayer. Prayer is communion with God, the intimate experience of God’s presence, the awareness of being within God even as God is within you and me. Is anyone among you suffering-hardship? James asked, then let that one be praying. But prayer is more than a way to connect with God’s mercy and grace for suffering hardship! Is anyone cheerful? James continued, then let that one be singing-praise!

Prayer is as much enjoyment, the enthrallment of ecstasy, the transcendence of spiritual union, as it is being woven into the fabric of God’s sustaining power, healing power, and restoring power.  

A prayer of a righteous person can-do much while working.

Elijah was a person of-like-nature to us, and he prayed with prayer that it not rain. And it did not rain upon the land for three years and six months.

And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

James 5:16-18 (DLNT)

It was a famous story for James’ audience. During a particularly dark chapter of ancient Israel’s history, their king, Ahab, had made a canny political alliance with the Phoenician Consortium by marrying the daughter of the King of Tyre. She was not only of royal rank and privilege, bringing great wealth into Ahab’s kingdom, the assurance of military aid, and lucrative economic contracts.

She was also a deeply spiritual person.

A high priestess, in fact.

Of Ba’al.

God had warned the people before they ever entered the land,

If you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you:

. . . The Lord will afflict you . . . with drought.

Deuteronomy 28:15, 22 (NRSV)

Later, when King Solomon dedicated the temple to God, he prayed,

When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, and then they pray toward this place, confess your name, and turn from their sin, because you punish them, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk; and grant rain on your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.”

Solomon, 1 Kings 8:35-36 (NRSV)

There were many other disasters listed among God’s warnings, but God brought drought in response to the people’s embracing of Jezebel’s Ba’al.

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 17:1-3 (NRSV)

Solomon’s prophetic prayer would be the only way out for the people.

The crisis point came when the priests of Ba’al and Elijah squared off on the summit of Mt. Carmel, and God sent down a conflagration of flames on Elijah’s water-soaked sacrifice (imagine the costliness of that, in the midst of a drought!) while Ba’al’s altar sat inert. The people rose up and executed all the priests of Ba’al, and Elijah went up to pray.

Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; there he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. 

He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” He went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” Then he said, “Go again seven times.” At the seventh time he said, “Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.” Then he said, “Go say to Ahab, ‘Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” 

In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was a heavy rain. 

1 Kings 18:42-45 (NRSV)

Elijah, the Example

To James’ readers, there was nothing about Elijah they would have claimed was like themselves. Elijah was bigger-than-life, perhaps their greatest prophet after Moses. And just as Moses had been buried personally by God, so also Elijah had been translated to heaven in a chariot of fire. As believers, they would also have known that at His transfiguration Jesus had met with both Moses and Elijah.

And besides, no one besides the Lord Jesus Christ (not even Moses and Elijah) has ever been perfectly righteous, according to God’s standard, so how could James say, a prayer of a righteous person can-do much while working?

And how could James make the claim, Elijah was a person of-like-nature to us?

The clue is found in the word “like-nature.”

By his anointing, Elijah had the Holy Spirit of God upon him. And in the same way, all those who have put their faith in Jesus have been filled with the Spirit of Christ.

A human nature filled with God’s life, God’s Holy Spirit.

By the power of God, when Elijah prayed, he prayed fervently and his prayer had the same potential, the same divine power as God, because the Spirit of the prayer, and the intent of the prayer, was coming from God. Elijah prayed for what God told him to pray, and he fully expected the Lord to deliver what God said the Lord would do.

8) A wise person is always praying, thanking and praising God, seeking healing and cleansing from all unrighteousness

9) A wise person regularly prays for others, for their salvation and for the maturing of their faith.

10) A wise person knows the mighty wonder-working power of prayer comes by the divine outworking of God in concert with God’s will, plans, and purposes as they are realized through prayer.

Patience and prayer reveal trust in a compassionate and merciful Lord

Trusting God is what makes it possible to be patient, and provides the motivation to pray.

To experience the exhilaration of true freedom, you and I will first need to learn and master restraint, self-control.

True freedom is found—quixotically, counterintuitively—in full surrender to the sovereignty of God.

And that, too, needs patience and perseverance, forbearance, waiting on God.


[Elijah being taken into heaven in a chariot of fire | By Juan de Valdés Leal – [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51641525]

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