The Effective Prayer of a Righteous Man

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish 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 earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:16-18).

I had breakfast one morning in a local restaurant with a friend. When the waitress brought our meals, I told her we were going to give thanks and asked if there was anything specific in her life for which we could pray. She was stunned as though no one had ever offered to pray for her before. Then, she shared some needs she had and stood at the table as we prayed. Whenever I saw her after she’d shared updates on her situation and thank me profusely for praying for her.

Prayer is one of the great underestimated weapons in the Christian’s arsenal. Have you ever said (or thought), “Well, all I can do is pray”? Prayer is all a Christian can do. Prayer was never designed to be a last resort – “When all else fails, pray.” Prayer is always to be the Christian’s first line of defense.

We resist temptation by drawing near to God – in prayer. We encourage and minister and serve one another in prayer. Now, that’s not to say that we don’t ever have to get our hands dirty in ministry to others, but we must bathe whatever else we do in prayer. Some of the most undervalued members in a church are the senior adults who can no longer get out much. So, they spend copious amounts of time in prayer and reading Scripture.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed with saints like that. They’re no longer too busy, too tired, and too occupied. I love to visit with those dear treasures of grace and invite them to pray for me. They don’t just say the words, “I’ll be praying.” They mean to pray. Every pastor would do well to seek out those earnest prayer warriors and elicit their prayers early in ministry.

The Christian who’s unaided by the mutual prayers of Christ’s church will inevitably suffer the fate of Uriah, the Hittite whom David had murdered. After committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, David tried to cover his sin and sent a note to Joab, the captain of the army, that read: “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die” (2 Sam. 11:15).

The Christian who stands in spiritual battle stripped of prayers might just as well accept defeat. God designed Christians to walk together in communion and fellowship. There are no lone rangers in the body of Christ.

Prayer is more than seeking healing for hangnails and muscle aches. I sometimes wonder what God must think when a pastor invites prayer requests and meets a barrage of bunions and joint pains. To hear most prayer meetings, you’d think that God is little more than a cosmic aspirin dispenser. What a blessing to join in prayer with God’s people who pray for the salvation of their friends and family and who seek the glory of God before their own comforts and conveniences.

When James said to pray for one another “so that you may be healed,” he wasn’t talking about the simple aches and pains of life. Those things matter too, but salvation refers to the completeness and totality of healing. We suffer illnesses and die because we’re fallen, depraved creatures. Salvation is the absolute removal of all sin and our introduction into the perfect joy of our Lord. That’s what we’re to seek.

We shouldn’t be content with the temporal cessation of suffering, as if all that matters is Aunt Bessie’s head cold. We’re to labor relentlessly before God for her salvation.

James encouraged us with a principle: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” What makes prayer effective is learning to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). Prayer is effective when it conforms to God’s will. Instead of treating prayer as a means to get the things we want from God, we need to see that prayer’s main purpose is to bring us in line with Christ and His purposes for His glory.

James illustrated the principle with the history of Elijah the prophet and King Ahab. Elijah told Ahab there’d be years of drought in Israel (1 Kings 17). Then, after confronting the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah prayed and it rained greatly (1 Kings 18:36-46).

We tend to think that God answered Elijah’s prayer because the prophet was a great man, but James begged to differ. “Elijah,” he said, “was a man with a nature like ours.” In other words, we should expect God to hear us when we pray not because we’re so important, but because He is God.

Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Our first thought is often to tell God what we want. We ought to begin by seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness and desiring to know His will and ways. The effective prayer is that which brings us before God’s throne of grace so that we begin to understand His purpose and results in our bringing glory to God.

May Christ build His church for His glory. May He teach us to pray as we ought for His name’s sake.

By grace,

Chris

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