James 5:17, 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 earth.
In light of this verse, the evangelical Christian in his mysticism will say, “See, if you just pray hard enough, God will answer your prayers.” As if the example of one human being is the example for all! Especially a prophet called by God! No, saying such a thing is begging God for our will to be done rather than trusting in His will (cf. Matthew 6:10b). If that’s not what this text means, what does it mean? Let us go to the actual account.
In 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah says, “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.” Why could Elijah say something with such authority? Because God gave him the authority. (It is this same authority from God by which pastors forgive sins.) It was God’s punishment against the evil Ahab. Now, before St. James cites this account, he says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16b). Evangelicals make the interpretative mistake that prayer is on us. Rather, prayer is all on God. If prayer were on us, what would be the point of turning to God and talking to Him?
So, what did God do to Elijah that He can do to us? God willed Elijah’s prayer, not because Elijah prayed hard enough, but simply because it was God’s will, which Elijah totally relied on (“As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand”).
Thus, we are driven to the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer again. Our prayers do not have great power because we give them power, but because God hears the prayers of the righteous and gives them power at His choosing. He does not do this with the unrighteous; indeed, He does not even hear their prayers (John 9:31). Thus, when we pray, we cling to God, confident that He has heard us and will answer according to His will. Even when His answer is “no,” it is still His good and gracious will for us. We can never fathom it nor know the reason; we can only trust Him and praise Him.