“The effective prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
Prayer is probably the most important aspect of our Christian faith, because it is the primary way in which we communicate with God. Good communication is the main ingredient necessary for any strong relationship. Our beliefs, then, are founded on this relationship we have developed. A poor prayer-life keeps our God-relationship weak, which negatively affects our beliefs. Weak beliefs can then weaken our prayers even more. Thus, the cycle continues: poor prayer life, bad relationship, lacking beliefs, and even weaker prayers.
We do not have to continue in this unfruitful cycle, but can breakout with a renewed focus on prayer with our Creator. The verse above from James’ epistle is a powerful verse that teaches not only how our prayers should be, but also, the state that the person praying should be in.
In the months to follow, we will look more in depth at our being righteous and our prayers being effective. As an introduction to the topic, I feel that it is important to break this verse down to its very roots. I’m sure we all remember from English class (probably with much dread) the importance of weeding through all of the excess of words to find the noun and the verb. In the study of God’s Word this practice is even more vital to a correct understanding of the text.
I am not saying that any of the words are useless, because “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” (2nd Tim. 3:16). But, when we want to get to the essence of what is being conveyed by the author, we must break the verse down. In this case, when we take away all of the modifiers we get the following: “prayer avails.”
The Greek word used for “avails” has a threefold meaning. It can mean to be physically strong and healthy, to have supernatural power over evil forces, or to produce results. All three meanings can be true when we attach this word to prayer.
Many of us have seen some of those special news programs on television where Non-Christian scientists link prayer to positive health in individuals. Beyond that, God promises us that we can actually have a strength that goes past the physical to the spiritual realm, as we are given power to overcome the evil forces of Satan. Lastly, prayer produces results that can be seen. Even though many answers to prayers may not ever be known to us in this life, we can rest assured that our prayers are not in vain—prayer avails.
The reason our prayer is not in vain is simple: God hears us. The Bible highlights the kinds of prayers that God hears. In this article I will focus on just two of those: humble and authoritative.
Psalm 10:17 says, “O Lord, You have heard to desire of the humble.” The greatest thing that gets in the way of healthy prayers is our own selfishness. We are often so self-centered that we cannot effectively seek God. We think that we are strong enough to handle whatever situation we are in, so even when we do pray, it is just lip-service…we are simply going through the “proper” Christian motions.
Jesus constantly taught us to not only go against the societal norm, but to also resist the desires that are birthed from within. It may be helpful to think of Matthew 16:24 in terms of preparing ourselves for prayer: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” To “come after” Christ in prayer, we are deny ourselves—humble ourselves—leaving our own agendas at the door.
In John 14:13, Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do.” I don’t know about you, but my prayers can be so wimpy sometimes. By praying in the name of Jesus, we are actually given a great authority that we would not otherwise have.
Now, I must say, that simply uttering the words “In Jesus name I pray…” end the close of our prayers will not magically transform God into our own personal genie. After all, Jesus said, “many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and in Your Name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers’” (Matt. 7:22-23, emphasis mine).
Praying in Jesus’ name is more than appending the right words onto our prayers. When we truly pray in His name, Jesus legitimizes our prayers, just as someone would endorse a check to make it legitimate. When we pray in the name of Jesus we are to think about what Jesus would do in our situation and pray accordingly. Jesus makes our prayers heard by the Father; our prayers are made powerful and we are given authority over the Devil.
Whatever pressures we may be facing at work or at home, whoever may be opposing us, or however painful are lives may be we must realize the assistance God has already given us. Prayer is a powerful weapon against the spiritual forces that underlie our physical opposition. Prayer is a great comfort when the tears cloud our vision. When we come to the throne of God in humility, God will hear us and give us just what we need. If you forget everything else, remember this: Prayer avails. It does a lot of good.