Sometimes we pray for a loved one who is ill and the person gets better. Other times we pray and things get worse. It seems that God grants some prayer requests and ignores others. Why? James has already mentioned one reason: “when you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (4:3). Our requests are sometimes denied because our intentions are selfish. God does not simply hear our pleas; he considers our motives. James revisits the subject at the end of his letter and gives us the dual key to an effective prayer life: righteousness and persistence.
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will make the sick well, and the Lord will raise them up. And anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being just like us, and yet when he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, no rain fell for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky sent down rain and the earth produced its crops.
The specific application here is to prayers for healing, but the principles of persistence and righteousness are relevant to all prayers. James uses Elijah, one of the most powerful prophets of the Old Testament, as his example. The Book of Kings recounts how Elijah defeated the king of Israel with one weapon–prayer. He told King Ahab, “there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word,” and there was drought for three and a half years. The prophet’s attitude toward prayer is revealed after the Lord instructed him to tell the king the drought would soon end. Ahab went out to celebrate, but Elijah got on his knees and continued to pray. Time and again he sent his servant to check the sky for clouds, and when none were reported, Elijah went right back to praying. After seven prayer sessions, the prophet’s perseverance was rewarded and God sent the rain.