“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5:16b
You have probably heard someone in a time of crisis say, “Well, I guess there is nothing to do but pray.” Though the individual who makes the statement seldom intends to suggest that prayer is a last resort after more preferable options have been exhausted, such an implication is nonetheless conveyed.
There is no weapon in the believer’s spiritual arsenal, however, as powerful as prayer. In fact, fervent prayer is not merely one thing that you can do in a time of crisis – it is undoubtedly the best thing that you can do.
The verb “availeth” speaks of something that is strong and powerful. The Greek word ischuo means “capable of producing results.” Far from an exercise in futility, fervent prayer is a powerful God-given resource with a capacity to produce incredible results. It would not be incorrect to interpret the thought expressed in this text by saying “Fervent prayer accomplishes much.”
People tend toward cynicism and skepticism as they get older. The disappointments of the past trigger a desire to protect oneself from further pain. “I’m not going to get my hopes up…”, the wearied and weathered soul says, “…for nothing ever really works out anyway.” We know that youthful optimism is frequently naïve and that maturity is marked by the ability to acknowledge and accept reality. But somewhere along the line, we forget that “reality” includes the existence of a God with whom nothing is impossible.
Perhaps this is what the Scripture means when it talks about the need to pray “in faith” (Jas. 1:6; 5:15). “He that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Have you forgotten, my dear friend, that the God to whom you pray is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask or think” (Eph. 3:20)? It is very possible that this kind of child-like confidence in the Heavenly Father is one of the things Jesus meant when he told his disciples that they needed to be converted and to become as little children once again (Mt. 18:3). Battle-hardened and weather-worn people like me need to listen closely to those words.
Do you pray in faith? By that question, I am asking: Do you believe that God rewards those who diligently seek Him? Are you confident that your Heavenly Father invites, solicits, and even welcomes your prayer (Lk. 11:9; Ps. 65:2)? Do you approach the Lord with an unwavering confidence in his goodness and love (Ps. 84:11; Jno. 16:26-27)? Do you pray with complete confidence in God’s ability to help (Jer. 33:3)? The prayer of faith is a prayer that dares to ask great things from God.
I’m convinced that we underestimate the power of prayer at our peril. Prayer shut up the heavens from giving rain for three and one-half years in Elijah’s day (Jas. 5:17). Prayer opened a barren womb (1 Sam. 1:11), added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life (Is. 38:5), stopped the sun so that Israel could finish a battle in the valley of Ajalon (Jos. 10:12), unlocked the prison bars so that Peter could escape (Acts 12:5), and much, much more. Prayer is powerful because God is powerful and He has made himself and all of heaven’s resources accessible to His children by means of prayer.
Periodically I encounter someone who objects to the idea that “prayer changes things.” Though I seldom employ this particular cliché to explain my views on prayer, yet the objection is usually my cue to ask the detractor if he believes that every event in history is absolutely and unalterably predestinated and fixed so that it cannot be other than it is. Sometimes he says “yes” and that he believes that the only thing “changed” by prayer is the person doing the praying. I respond that prayer does indeed help the person who is doing the praying, but according to James 5:16, it also accomplishes much, much more. How else can one reconcile the promise in Luke 11:9 (“Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you…”) with the sobering reminder of James 4:2 (“You have not because you ask not”)? Don’t these two verses indicate that blessings may be missed because of our failure to ask (cf. Mr. 6:48-49; Lk. 24:28-29)? Perhaps the better way to express the sentiment instead of saying “prayer changes things” is to employ the Biblical language of James 5:16 – prayer accomplishes much.
With that confidence, may we resist every subtle inclination toward skepticism and unbelief, and betake ourselves to prayer. Pray for God’s servants, the success of God’s word, the health of our churches, the integrity of our families, the moral and physical safety of our youth, and the protection of our own hearts and minds. Pray for those in trouble…pray for those in need. Pray diligently. Pray fervently. Pray with confidence and faith in God (Mt. 21:21-22), for prayer is the best thing you can possibly do in any and every situation. It avails much.
Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw,
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.
Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.
– William Cowper
by Michael L. Gowens