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How much is too much?

by Brad Fidler

Brad is the lead elder at Niagara Community Church in Niagara Falls and a member of the Board of Directors at NHOP.

“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.”

Jas. 5:16b-17, NKJV

The book of James has a lot to say to us about prayer. This is not surprising, considering the author earned himself the nickname “Old Camel Knees”: it was said that his long hours in prayer calloused his knees to the point that they looked more like a camel’s than a man’s. It makes sense that someone like that would have a few things to say about prayer.

Near the end of his letter, we see that James wrote about the “effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man”, using the example of Elijah who “prayed earnestly that it would not rain”. So what does “fervent” or “earnest” prayer look like?

When we look up the definition of “fervent”, here are some of the definitions Google will feed us: “having passionate intensity”, “strong and sincere feelings”, “intensity of spirit”, “feeling enthusiasm”, and so on. If we were asked to describe a fervent person, we would likely paint a picture of someone who is passionate, zealous, excited, possibly even loud or demonstrative. Right?

But is that what James was saying?

In verse 16, James used the Greek word deesis1, which gets translated to “fervent prayer” or a similar variation. The words “plea, prayer, request, petition” are listed as definitions for deesis

It shows up 18 times in the New Testament, and is always translated as pray, prayer(s), or supplication(s) in the ESV. In James 5:16, no Greek word for “fervent” is used. This is evidenced by the fact that several translations (ESV, NIV, NASB among them) leave out any mention of “fervent” or “earnest”. A natural conclusion seems to be that some translations add “fervent” to highlight the sense of deesis being a plea. When we read this verse across multiple translations, the thing they all agree on is that the emphasis is on the prayer coming from a righteous person, not necessarily that it is energetic or passionate.

What about verse 17? “Elijah prayed fervently that it would not rain”. The Greek words that are here translated “prayed fervently” are proseuxato proseuche. Proseuxato is a form of proseuchomai, which is translated “pray”. Proseuche is translated “prayer” or “place for prayer”. In fact, proseuche appears 36 times in the New Testament, and in every single instance it is translated “prayer” or “prayers” – except for this once. Basically, James was saying that “Elijah prayed and prayed that it would not rain”.

It appears as though James is suggesting that fervent prayer is characterized more by

endurance than by enthusiasm.

This fits with the story of Elijah that James referenced. In 1 Kings 18:1, Elijah came on to the scene for the first time and announced the drought in King Ahab’s presence. James said Elijah “prayed and prayed that it would not rain”, but we don’t exactly read about that happening at the front end of the drought.

We do, however, see it at the end of the drought. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah had the showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Afterwards, he went to the summit of the mountain, got low on his knees, and started praying. He asked his servant, “do you see any clouds forming?” “Not yet” was the answer he got six times. The seventh time, his servant responded with, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea”. Soon, the downpour began (v.41-46).

Notice the fervency at work here. Elijah wasn’t praying loud and demonstratively; he wasn’t pacing back and forth, shouting loud, or anything like that. But he was praying very persistently. On his knees, pressing through six negative reports. He determined to keep praying until God answered with rain.

This fits with other statements we see about prayer in the Scriptures. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He didn’t ask Peter, James, and John to shake the earth with their prayers, but He did ask them to persevere through their fatigue and watch with Him (Mt. 26:37- 45). In one famous teaching, Jesus taught His disciples they “ought always to pray and not lose heart”, stating that God will speedily answer “his elect, who cry to him day and night” (Lk. 18:1- 8). In another example, God promised to set watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem, “all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth” (Is. 62:6-7).

Here is our point: we can often have an unspoken belief that the loud, excited, “fervent” ones are more spiritual. If you are quiet by nature, we want to tell you to take heart: God hears and loves the sound of your voice, just the same; keep praying! If you’re loud and outgoing, by all means, keep it up! Keep loving Him with all your heart and all your strength. And keep praying!

Whether you are loud or quiet, expressive or shy, the brand of fervency God is seeking is the enduring kind. Pray and never lose heart. Seek Him day and night. Pray without ceasing. Introverts and extroverts alike are welcomed into this.

Mike Bickle said it very well when he said, “Radical Christianity is not going on a missions trip or a big conference. Radical Christianity is staying steady for decades”.

God has promised that from the rising to the setting of the sun, His name will be great among the nations, and that incense would be offered to His name from every place (Mal. 1:11). He is establishing His people as a House of Prayer throughout the nations and is releasing grace for weak and broken people like you and me to endure in prayer (Is. 56:7). We pray that you perceive that grace and take your place on the wall in agreeing with God and His plans for Canada, the Church, the people of Israel, and His return. Amen!

1 All definitions for the Greek are taken from James Swanson’s A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Greek New Testament.

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