The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16 (KJ 2000 Bible)
James refers to this type of prayer as a “prayer of faith. (vs. 15) In just a few verses he gives us a primer on prayer that may be one of the best explanations of effective praying in the entire Bible. Specifically in this one verse he provides insight into the three primary ingredients for praying a prayer of faith
James, the author of this book by the same name, is uniquely qualified to do so because, as most scholars agree, he was the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ and the lead elder in the early Jerusalem church. (Matthew 13:55 & Acts 15:13) He was also highly esteemed by the two leading apostles of the day, Peter and Paul (Acts 12:17 & Galatians 2:9). And so if anyone had firsthand knowledge about the prayer of faith it was James.
Bottom line, the measure of an effective prayer is ultimately whether or not it gets an answer. What would be the point of asking someone for something if there is no expectation or hope of getting an affirmative reply? And that is where faith comes in. Prayer by its very nature is undertaken from a place of faith, trusting that there is a God who is greater than us and who hears and answers our requests. Prayer is a faith proposition from beginning to end. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Prayer is based on a trust in someone who is not seen, initiating something from a realm that is unseen and causing it to make its appearance in a realm that is seen. Faith then truly is “fixing our eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen . . . for the things which are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
James is underscoring this when he writes “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (vs. 16b) There are three defining characteristics of the prayer of faith in this verse and they specify that it must be:
1. PURE HEARTED – Faith in God hearing us is rooted in two things. 1) First it requires having a heart that is pure in righteousness because it has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus through repentance and forgiveness of sins. James makes this clear in these verses as he encourages “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (vs. 15-16)
2) Secondly it requires having a heart that is pure in its motives because a person’s will has been fully yielded to the will of God. The Greek word in this verse from which the phrase “righteous person” is translated is “dikaios” which specifically refers to a righteous person who is just or impartial. It is a term that conveys a righteousness both in spirit and in motive. It is a noun that could be used to describe a judge who is unbiased or unprejudiced in making a ruling on a case. Whenever a person prays from a place of having fully relinquished their own desires, that prayer is a prayer they can be confident God will answer.
2. PASSION FUELED – James tells us that the prayer of faith is “fervent.” He describes this type of prayer using a Greek word “energeo” from which we get our English words energy and energized. Energeo, depending on the English version of this verse, is translated as “effectual fervent” prayer and means to be fully engaged in, to be mighty in or working at. It conveys a no holds barred, passionate level of commitment to prayer. Working to move a big obstacle and overcome inertia requires a steady all-out effort and determination to persist no matter what the cost.
Passion summons answers to prayer like nothing else. James illustrates this in the next two verses when he cites Elijah’s faith fueled by his earnest persistence in praying for both Israel’s drought and its eventual relief. (vs. 17-18) A common phrase, used over twenty-six times in the Bible, for this passion-fueled type of prayer is crying unto the Lord. Jacob wrestled with the angel all night begging “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26) Jesus himself “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.” (Hebrews 5:7)
3. PROMISE BASED – James says the prayer of faith ‘avails much.’ The Greek word which he chooses here is “ischuo” which is a verb meaning to have power, to be of strength and to prevail. Availing and prevailing prayers are always based on the word of God. Another way of saying this is that God’s word is what makes prayer work. That is the secret to the prayer of faith. Relying upon and confessing the word of God releases faith. (Romans 10:17) This is often referred to as praying the promises. Everything around us may be trembling and falling, but as long as we stand upon and pray God’s word we will prevail. When promises from Scripture proceed from our mouths in prayer they do not return void but will accomplish that for which they were sent. (Isaiah 55:11)
So to summarize, we have learned that the prayer of faith must be 1) uttered from a pure heart which is righteous by faith and free from personal bias, 2) must be passion fueled and committed to persistence, and 3) must be based upon a promise from the word of God.
If you dedicate the time and attention necessary to pray prayers of faith in this way, you can be assured you are going to get answers. This type of praying moves the heart and hand of God like nothing else.
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