Devotional Day 30
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 earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured and the earth produced its fruit.
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you strays from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that the one who has turned a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.James 5:17-20
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly…”
After the instructions about prayer for healing, James made an interesting choice in examples of Elijah’s miracles. Instead of telling of Elijah and the widow’s son, who died and came back to life (talk about miraculous healing!), he referenced a drought that came as retribution of Ahab’s sins. After three and a half years of drought everyone was desperate, and Elijah’s return led to a climactic confrontation with the priests of Baal, where God showed His power through fire.
The first, primary goal of drought and fire was repentance. At God’s prompt, Elijah then prayed for rain, persistently, with no cloud in the sky. After sending his servant to look for clouds a few times and finally seeing a small one, Elijah stepped out in faith that God would answer the request He Himself prompted.
Prayers can often be a long-term process, rather than a single prayer for repentance followed by immediate transformation of the entire nation. Those three and a half years weren’t easy for Elijah, constantly fleeing from an angry Ahab. But that period of drought was necessary for demonstrating Baal’s powerlessness and God’s sovereignty.
Day after long, dry day, Elijah had to trust in God’s timing and God’s work beyond what he could see happening. Likewise, when we pray for someone’s repentance, restoration, reconciliation, we may need to be persistent for years, trusting in God’s bigger plans even when dealing with an interim period of struggle directly affecting us.
Sometimes that season of drought lasts to the point where we hit rock bottom, and there realize we can’t move forward depending on our own strengths, coping mechanisms, or resources. We desperately need God. Sometimes we have to reach a place of brokenness to become humble enough to fully surrender our lives to God.
During trials, our most important goal should not necessarily be physical relief or even the termination of suffering. The ultimate goal of God’s work in our lives is salvation and sanctification. Salvation brings us eternal life through intimacy with God, while sanctification facilitates our own refinement for the glorification of His name. That is the prayer of a righteous person. That’s what God wants to do! And when in line with God’s purpose, our prayers can accomplish more than we even hoped for or expected. Not only does the drought end, but fruit emerges. Praying in faith, whether for ourselves or for others, includes trust in God’s timing, humbly surrendering ourselves to His will and holding on to the promises of eternal significance.
“and someone turns him back…”
When seeing these final verses as the follow-up, the lesson to take home from Elijah’s example, it may look a bit different than taken by themselves. Elijah’s 3.5 years of prayer and sacrifice was to turn not only Ahab, but all the people of Israel from their sins. He didn’t spend time arguing with them, trying to “convince” them that what they were doing was wrong, but he also didn’t ignore or accept their idolatrous behavior. Of course, it’s pretty hard to ignore complete rejection of God and the introduction of human sacrifice!
Elijah allowed the Israelites to experience the consequences of their sins, which God ordained because He still loved them. The Baal priests responsible for pulling God’s beloved into deep sin were the ones to experience God’s wrath. The Israelites received mercy and restoration with the coming of rain. They had witnessed Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal, the fire from God consuming the altar, “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The LORD, He is God’” (1 Kings 18:39).
Inviting Others Out of Sin
It took faith for Elijah to challenge 450 prophets, but doing so turned sinners back to God, and turned the deceived back to the truth. In our own lives, confrontation can be scary, or at the very least uncomfortable. (Those who enjoy it may need to re-examine their own hearts.) But addressing sin can be done as a demonstration of God’s power. That display of power may be part of our own testimony of how we have been transformed from sin, humbly sharing our own brokenness and restoration. Or God may directly intervene in the life of a sinner, even with the inclusion of distress. There are plenty of times when we care about someone who is lost, and are not in the place to intervene. Then we must trust God to do the work in their hearts, praying faithfully and remembering God’s love is greater than ours.
The critical piece is motivation: acting out of love, not self-righteousness. Our approach should be guided by the Holy Spirit, who knows the heart and mind of the person who has gone astray, and may require a long season of persistent prayer before the time is right for transformation. But the outcome is what makes it worth it—salvation from death, by God’s grace and love.
Straying from the Way
One evening when we were at an albergue we met up with the Mexican ladies we’d seen multiple times. They had been on El Camino much longer than we had, starting all the way in Lisbon. While they weren’t speed walkers, they usually started early and arrived before we did when going to the same albergue.
But this time, they arrived later than usual on a long leg following the “spiritual alternative” path. Over dinner they shared how they’d started off on track, but when coming to the junction that split the two routes, they’d taken the wrong turn. It wasn’t until walking about 1.5 km that they realized they’d missed the turn and had to backtrack, adding a total of 3 km to a grueling 28 km day.
In such a situation, many travelers may have changed plans and cancelled the extra section of walking, but an extra factor played into the picture. One of the backpacks had recently broken, so they had it sent to the next stop instead of trying to carry it. This detail served as an effective motivation to stick to the challenging, yet rewarding, path. I felt for these women who had already put time and energy into what they thought was the right way before discovering that every step they were taking led them further away from the intended destination.
The Value of Re-Direction
It’s not hard to get off track if we’re not paying careful attention to what direction we’re going at every turn, every junction. I developed a habit of looking for the right arrow whenever approaching an intersection, and usually had no trouble finding it. But occasionally attention would be directed elsewhere. On one corner was a small church, where we peaked into its with open doors. Upon stepping back onto the road, going the direct we’d been walking, we were very grateful when a man working there pointed us to the turn we were supposed to take.
The sooner we realize we’re off track the better! Likewise, the sooner we help others recognize that it’s time to assess what direction they’re going, the easier it will be to turn around, if necessary, retrace their steps, and get back on track. It’s not our responsibility to force them back to the Way, but offering our own testimonies of the arrows we’ve seen or the principles of truth we’ve encountered can make a difference. The impact of our words is greatest when we are already in a loving, trusting relationship, where we know we have each other’s best interests in mind.
Following the Right Directions
At times choices are not clear, especially if other sources are misdirecting us. On one leg, when getting closer to a larger city, yellow arrows had been painted directing pilgrims toward a private albergue instead of the true Camino. If we had paid attention to the instructions in our guidebook, we would’ve read the warning about those extra arrows and followed the directions to walk along the river all the way to the next stop.
Likewise, it can be much easier to stay on track when turning to the Word of God, listening as we read the Bible for what God wants to tell us, and spending time in prayer. If we haven’t seen confirmation in a while that we’re on track, we must carefully assess where we are and sometimes ask for directions. Let’s help each other stay on track!
Thank You, Lord, for Your heart for the lost, the sinners who have strayed from Your Way. Help us to always stay centered on You, and humble enough to receive direction when we get off track. Teach us how to best show love those who are not headed toward You, whether by prayer, by example, by testimony, by actions, or by words.
- Think of a time when you were “lost” or off track, not headed toward Jesus. What turned you around? What made you feel loved?
- Who are the people around you who are straying from the truth of God’s love? Put yourself in their shoes and think about what would help them see grace and light.
- Spend time with Jesus, praying for those people you care about and asking Him to show you the best way to help them.
You Made It!
Thank you for walking with me throughout the month as we explored the book of James. I pray that it has been a blessings for you, pointing you closer to Christ.
I have one more post here with some final thoughts! 🙂
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