(1) He appeared at a time when God's People were in spiritual decline and decay.
"And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all that were before him." (1 Ki 16.30)
(2) He immolated himself utterly into a life of prayer.
"Depart from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, that is east of Jordan...Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain." (1 Ki 17.3 & Jas 5.17-18)
(3) He was an agent of radical reformation and transformation of the "Church".
"And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The Lord, he is God, the Lord, he is God' " (1 Ki 18.39)
Now, it is quite true that the contemplative-intercessory "stream" has flowed uninterrupted down through the centuries...but more often than not underground (as is fitting)! But it has always unfailingly burst back into high visibility at times of degeneration, crisis and change...both ecclesiastical and social. And must do so again in full-bloom in these Last Days.
When Christianity was "legalised" in the Roman Empire during the reign of Constantine (4th C), many Believers viewed this move not as progress, but compromise that would endanger and vitiate the Church. Hundreds fled into the deserts of the Middle East where they abandoned themselves physically to God and spiritually to day-and-night intercession for the Church and the world. Their impact was massive. They became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Their stories and teachings have been preserved and continue to challenge and instruct us today. (1)
During the 5th and 6th Cs, the Roman Empire which had seemed so completely ascendant and permanent under the Emperor Constantine, was rapidly declining, fracturing and disintegrating. It was onto this scene that a young Italian, Benedict of Nursia was "sent" armed only with a hunger for God and for prayer. He is now usually credited with bringing to the contemplative movement (monasticism) in the West, form and discipline. His "Rule of St. Benedict" continues to be inspirational and foundational for hundreds of prayer communities all around the world. In particular, Benedict prescribed times of prayer at regular intervals through the day and night; these consisted mainly of singing the Psalms...the Temple's hymn book. This "Liturgy of the Hours" is usually the sine qua non of any house of prayer which survives the honeymoon period of spiritual experimentation or religious novelty and enthusiasm.
(Later, during the 16th C Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther said, "In real prayer the fancy cannot roam as it wills: there must be discipline.")