Without a shadow of doubt, the greatest crisis that marked the reign of David was when his own son, Absalom, rebelled against his throne. Apparently this rebellion was birthed when Ammon had raped Tamar and David did not take care of the situation in the way that he should have, at least in the eyes of Absalom who decided to take justice into his own hands exacting revenge on the incest suffered by his sister. Absalom coldly murdered his own brother at a family gathering. It was a shocking way to denounce the impunity of the King.
Because of this, David simply exiled Absalom from the city and from his presence. The indifference of his father fueled the resentment of the injustice even more in Absalom’s heart. In the end, he merely did what the king should have done to Ammon for having raped his sister. The fact is, according to the law, the crime of Ammon should have been punished with his death.
After some time Absalom was brought back to Jerusalem. Still indignant, he began to steal the hearts of the people. He tried to convince the people that there was no justice in the kingdom of David. He was still deeply hurt by his father. He would detain the people who came to the Royal Palace resolving their complaints to the detriment of David’s government.
Finally, through his bitter scheming, he was able to garner enough support to declare a coup d’état. To demonstrate his intention of killing the King and occupying his place, he slept with his father’s concubines in full daylight. This was a tearful page in the history of David’s reign. What was really behind this terrible story? Why wasn’t David able to execute justice concerning his sons? What was the key that could unlock this whole legacy of immorality and violence that had cruelly struck the royal family?
Apparently the situation painted David as an innocent party and Absalom as the rebel, which is true. However, it is necessary to fully understand the facts to uncover the attitude and the discernment of David.
The truth is, going back to the source of the problem; everything began when David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, which resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. After failing in his attempt to simulate a romantic encounter between Uriah and his wife to cover up the consequences of his sin, he ended up killing his faithful warrior with the sword of the sons of Ammon.
The scandalous details that we have been mentioning happened as a consequence of David’s crime. Everything happened just as the prophetic word had predicted:
Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord:’ Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. (2 Samuel 12:9-11)
Many years had passed and now God was confronting David’s sin through the rebellion of Absalom. However, it wasn’t Absalom that God was correcting, but David. When David perceived that the trap had been set, he abandon the palace in the attempt to save his life.
On the path of his flight, David was confronted by a name called Shimei who cursed him and threw stones at him. In reality, David was before one of the greatest circumstantial tests of his life. When Abishai, one of his men wanted to react against the insult and cut off the head of Shimei, David rebuked him revealing his discernment of the moment that confronted him. Understanding that in that moment God was correcting him and humiliating him, he submitted himself, accepted the humiliation and facilitated an incredible intervention and a tremendous prayer to God:
Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the Lord has ordered him. It may be that the Lord will look on my affliction, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing this day. (2 Samuel 16:11, 12)
That was an impressive thing for a king to do. Imagine someone cursing you and rejoicing in your destruction by telling you that you deserve the damnation that you are suffering! How could anyone say that such a thing was of God?! Normally it would be interpreted as something from the devil! However David did not say that Shimei was being used by the devil, but by God! He discerned the moment that he faced. He didn’t take the enemy’s bait! It wasn’t a fight against flesh and blood! He recognized that he deserved what was happening to him and submitted himself to the circumstance thus transforming the curse into a blessing. I would call that an intelligent prayer. I believe at that moment David turned the key in the spiritual world and the attack against his kingdom was destroyed.
The brokenness that came from the discernment of the present moment began to reverse the direction of the situation and with a brief “prayer of a righteous man” David reversed the direction of the spiritual battle that almost cost him his own life:
“O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!” (2 Samuel 15:31)
Ahithophel was a principal counselor of the King. Unfortunately, he betrayed him by supporting the rebellion of Absalom. To choose to be on Ahithophel’s side represents choosing to be on the winning side. This man was so close to David that he knew exactly how to destroy him and for this reason David also discerned the need to offer this prayer and as a result God answered. When Ahithophel perceived that Absalom had not obeyed his counsel, he committed suicide. He was literally the “Judas of the Old Testament” (Psalm 41:9).
The most important thing in this whole story is that David discerned the moment that he was living in. He was being visited and punished by the consequences of his murder and adultery. He understood that the matter wasn’t between him and Absalom. God was visiting his sin through this terrible condition of cursing. Sin is always expensive. David still tried to save his son Absalom, who ended up being killed at the hands of Joab. However, the prophetic discernment of the moment led him to a level of brokenness and revelation that saved his life and preserved his kingdom.
This is the moral of the whole story: a great sin, a great repentance, a great punishment, a great discernment, a great attitude and a great prayer, the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man that avails much. The prophetic discernment of the present moment made all the difference!
Key elements of prayer
James affirms that “the prayer of a righteous man” is effective. Or in other words, the prayer of a righteous man produces an effect. The lack of prayer and the lack of answers to prayer is basically the collateral effect of the “character crisis” that afflicts the church today.
All prayer will certainly have one of three answers: yes, no and wait. What causes a prayer not to be answered? What elements of prayer and in our own lives can increase the effectiveness of our prayers? What is it in our lives that can affect the spiritual world in a way that would alter the speed and frequency of positive answers to prayer? Obviously patience is part of the fruit of the Spirit and God will always create situations for us to exercise it. What causes a prayer to lose or to gain effectiveness? What elements of prayer can alter the effectiveness of someone’s prayer life?
The answer to all of these questions is simple but deep: the elements of a prayer of a righteous man. The answer dispenses with the manner that a person prays and rewards the character of the person who prays; it dispenses with the length of the prayer and rewards the discernment of the prayer. It dispenses with culture and rewards the knowledge of and intimacy with God. It dispenses with human merit and rewards the crucified life.
When we speak about the elements of prayer of a righteous man, the only recipe that God gives us is dependence on Him. This is not merely a matter of believing in God, but of God believing in us and knowing that we will not use His power to destroy ourselves.
Defining the elements of prayer of a righteous man
How can we define the elements of this “prayer of a righteous man” that causes it to be so effective? I believe we can safely say that there is no better model of the “prayer of the righteous” then the high priestly prayer of Jesus. More than just “righteous” Jesus is also our “justifier”, giving us access to ownership of His character.
to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)
Of all of the prayers of Jesus registered in the Bible I believe that this is the most meaningful principally in virtue of the existential confrontation of the moment at which He offered it. In order to define the meaning of the “prayer of the righteous”, I suggest we take a closer look at this prayer.
Elements of prayer in Christ’s Priestly prayer
“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said:” Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:1-26)
We can glean some elements in this prayer offered by Jesus without which prayer begins to lose its effectiveness. Some things block our prayers and other things make our prayers more effective. Contained in this prayer are elements that characterize the prayer of the righteous and establish the genuine character as well as the lifestyle of the intercessor
The prophetic discernment of the moment
This element of prayer defines the spiritual intelligence in prayer and of prayer.
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You” (John 17:1)
A perseverant character
Another element of effective prayer is the lifestyle of the intercessor which is marked by a perseverance that defines the cutting edge effectiveness with which prayer can break out against resistance in the spiritual world.
“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4)
Spiritual objectivity – the goal of prayer
This element of prayer limits the scope of prayer focusing it on something specific enough so that when the prayer is answered, there will be no question whether God responded to what we specifically asked or not and thus the favorable answer can bring more honor and glory to Him.
“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours” (John 17:9)
The spirit of covenant
Covenant is one of the indispensable elements of prayer that is much more than simple agreement; it is an integral sharing of mutual life. Covenant begins with surrender. Surrender testifies to the trust that defines the strength and spiritual power of prayer.
And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. (John 17:10)
Consistency and identification
Another element of prayer is consistency with the identity that God has given to His people. The legitimacy of a relationship depends on consistency. From this genuine authority emerges through prayer. Authority is inseparable from truth.
And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth (John 17:19)
Vision and hope
Yet another element of prayer is the ability to spiritually see the answer to our requests in prayer. Vision determines the reach of prayer and the spiritual ceiling of our faith.
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20)
The spirit of unity and love
Lastly the element of unity among those who agree in prayer guarantees the answers that we seek. Unity releases revelation and the saving presence of God in and through prayer.
I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:23)
The romantic idea that spiritual life is a “bed of roses” needs to be overcome. It is important to grow and mature. It may be hard to believe but God meant for our afflictions to draw us closer to Him and not lead us further away from Him. It is exactly in this matter that many neglect and waste the opportunity to experience the power of prayer. James taught that if anyone is sad, that he should pray. To stop praying because of tribulations is a mistake. Neglecting prayer opens the door to murmuring. Murmuring is a pact with defeat. This was the sin that condemned the whole generation of Israel to death in the desert.
Afflictions work like an alert for us to depend on God. Through afflictions we have a great opportunity to crucify our self-righteousness, self-piety and other subtleties of the ego. Therein emerges the true spirit of prayer. The cross is the chisel that sculptures the character. When we crucify our afflictions we exercise faith, strengthen our spirit and offer up with highly effective prayers.
It is biblical to affirm that together with so many tremendous promises that God has made to us, Jesus also includes the promise of affliction: Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world (John 16:33). When good cheer and peace coexist with afflictions God’s people give credit to the work of Jesus and increase a real possibility of a divine intervention. This exercise of faith and godliness transforms character, builds victory and produces a qualitative growth.
No one needs to continue in affliction and sadness. It is imperative to pray. So pray! Soon there will be an atmosphere of gratefulness and praise. And as James continued: is anyone joyful? Sing praises. Prayer ties affliction to contentment. This is the path to victory: affliction, prayer, contentment and praise.
Afflictions can come in varied forms and directions. Whenever we perceive a circumstance or situation as an affliction, it indicates that it is an area of our lives to which we have not yet died. For example a small boy may be devastated by a classmate that calls him a derogatory name like for instance “skinny” if he is slight of build. However a grown man who is extremely slender has learned to mature over the years will not be devastated when someone calls him “skinny” or “bean pole”. This situation is no longer perceived as an affliction because he how recognizes it as shallow and unimportant and sees no need to yield his perception of self-identity to it. In the same manner afflictions in the life of a Christian are perceived as afflictions because they point to an area of our lives that has not yet been yielded to the lordship of Jesus Christ. The more that we yield the areas of our lives to the lordship of Jesus the less we will perceive situations and circumstances of life as afflictions. Therefore, we must recognize that afflictions are opportunities for growth and spiritual maturity. For this reason James taught that we should rejoice when we come up against all kinds of afflictions, tribulations, trials and tests.
When we sense affliction we should pray immediately. Hopefully at this point you can perceive that we should not ask for the source of affliction to simply disappear from our lives which will only bring on the need to repeatedly go through similar situations or circumstances until we pass the test and advance to higher levels of maturity. It is important to recognize that God’s goal is not to cause us affliction but to help us see where we need to grow and to pray in the direction for our growth in the context of the affliction that we are going through so that we can move on and enjoy the deeper life and more fruit in our Christian walk.
Therefore in prayer, we must learn to embrace the affliction and the lessons that we must learn from it. Some things that we should ask for in prayer include understanding what area of our character is being tested. Another valid request in prayer in reaction to affliction is asking God what he expects us to do in the light of this affliction. After a time in prayer and fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit we begin to see the direction that we must pray in order for the affliction to be removed and as a result we will have grown and positioned ourselves to experience more of God and his power.
After we have successfully passed through the affliction and we have discerned God’s will in it, as a result we experience contentment. We feel content in the first place because the perception of the affliction has subsided, and peace and joy are restored but beyond that, there is a deep sense of contentment due to the perception that we are advancing in our walk with Christ and that the opposition of the enemy against us seems more and more insignificant.
Then finally this inner peace and contentment progresses to the point of praise. It is at this point that we shame the devil and experience what it means to be more than conquerors by praising the name of God in the midst of persecutions difficulties and afflictions. As we grow, we will begin to perceive that we approach the experience that the apostle Paul had when he said: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In all things we are conscious of God’s love and power and as a result we can utter sincere words of joy and praise unto God even in to the point of suffering afflictions like being imprisoned.
The Psalmist assures us: “Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). When affliction and sorrow do not come to an end and weeping persists, depressing life, it is a symptom that in some way we are failing in our relationship with God.
The effective prayer of a righteous man
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16)
Not all prayer is effective and not all people who pray are effective intercessors. The problem of ineffective prayer is not God’s lack of power or goodwill or the spiritual exercise of prayer itself but ineffective prayers and people who ineffectively offer them. Just as the strategy of a prayer is a highly relevant element in its effectiveness so also is, and principally so, the character of the person who is praying. That is why some prayers are effective and some are ineffective, some are powerful and others are “harmless”. Some prayers are so dangerously ineffective or negatively effective that they can even do more harm than good.
And He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul. (Psalm 106:15)
James testifies that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). How can we define that which James called the prayer of a righteous man? The best example would logically be the famous “High priestly prayer of Jesus”, the “righteous or just one” and the “justifier” of the entire human race.
I would suggest that this prayer above all of the prayers voiced by Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, serves as a model for the Christian leader, due to the crucial moment of testing that confronted His character and revealed the secrets of His lifestyle. From this “prayer of a righteous man” we can identify at least seven elements that are necessary to produce powerful effects of a prayer and must be synergized and integrated into the lifestyle of the person who prays:
1. The power of effective prayer
The power of effective prayer is founded upon a covenant with God as its object. The first requirement of effective prayer is a proper relationship with God. There is a huge category of people who have absolutely no promise of getting a hearing from God, namely those who are outside of God’s family.
While it is true that God is free to answer any prayer we must recognize that the first “basis” for answered prayer is to be “in covenant” with the God who answers prayer. The scriptures teach us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust but those who are outside of God’s family have no “ground” upon which they can exercise faith because there is no promise from God upon which they can believe. The only exception is that whoever wills can approach God for salvation based on promises such as Romans 10:13 “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And Hebrews 11:6 “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Therefore for the unconverted that cry out to God for salvation, there is a basis for positive and effective answered prayer, but beyond the point of salvation God expects all further requests to be uttered firmly upon the basis of a covenant relationship. This implies that the unconverted may never expect any answer to prayer except to the request for their own salvation, but it also implies that God’s covenant people who pray outside of the sphere of any of God’s covenants cannot expect God to hear or answer their prayers since they pray against the spirit and intent of covenant purposes.
2. The authority of effective prayer
The authority of effective prayer is established by coherency with God’s purposes. Before we can begin to act as agents of God on the earth we must recognize that there is a proper basis upon which we must proceed in prayer. In the same way that it is unreasonable to act in the name of a stranger, or improperly use someone’s name with whom we have no relationship, it is useless to pray in a direction or manner that God has made clear is contrary to his will. God will not listen to just any and every prayer but only those that are in accordance with his will and character. No child or servant of God is authorized to pray in any direction that they please and expect God to comply. The relationship of the servant of God with the Father even though he is a legitimate son does not trump the Father’s purposes.
3. The spiritual intelligence of effective prayer
The spiritual intelligence of effective prayer is optimized by the prophetic discernment of the moment. Not every legitimate prayer is spiritually intelligent nor should it be uttered at any given moment. Believers, as God’s collaborators (1 Corinthians 3:9) have the responsibility to perceive the direction that the Spirit of God is moving in any given circumstance and at any given time. This ability of course must be developed in each Christian and must be tried and tested in the case of approving a leader. The effective intercessor needs to know when it is time to ask God for something, how it should be asked for, when it is time to patiently wait, when it is time to boldly act, and numerous other factors that are impossible to anticipate thus making the dynamic ability to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit an absolute necessity.
4. The aim of effective prayer
The aim of effective prayer defines the focus of its spiritual objectives. After discovering what God intends to do in any given situation it is necessary to discern how he intends to use us as his co-laborers. This requires the knowledge and understanding of the spiritual and supernatural arsenal of tools that God has provided us with, which of these must be used, when they should be used and the order in which they must be applied.
5. The cutting edge of effective prayer
The cutting edge of effective prayer is sharpened through perseverance. Once we are able to discern what God intends to do in any given moment or circumstance and we discern the manner that he wills to bring it about and we voice the corresponding objectives in prayer, we must resolutely persist and press on in the direction of the prayer. The enemies of Intelligent and persistent prayer are many and varied. Although many leaders are able to discern God’s intentions in any given circumstance, many do not have the state of mind to insist and persist in the direction that they have been praying. If we falter in this respect, our prayers can be rendered useless and we will fail as God’s co-laborers.
6. The spiritual impact of effective prayer
The spiritual impact of effective prayer is manifested through the spirit of unity and love. Unity is the key to the revelation of the gospel and the love of God to the world. Jesus prayed:
“… that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:23)
Whenever a body of Christians on any level whether it be a small group, a congregation or even an entire denomination begins to succumb to the attacks of the enemy with respect to its unity and love, the effectiveness of its prayers will be adversely affected. Just as within the covenant of marriage a husband’s prayers will be hindered because of problems in his relationship with his wife, so also the corporate prayers of a small group, local church, or group of churches will be hindered because of lack of unity.
7. The scope of effective prayer
The scope of effective prayer is defined by the limit of our faith, vision and hope with respect to God’s covenant purposes. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray he gave them authority to ask that God’s will be done here on earth just as it is done in heaven. As we begin to experience effectiveness in prayer in the circumstances of our own life, we must lift up our eyes and expand the horizons of our hope, vision and faith. We must grow in our conviction that only we can limit the scope and dimension of our spiritual influence on the earth. While we must be careful not to presumptuously use the name of Jesus in our requests in prayer, the greatest danger is to become paralyzed in the name of “godly fear” in overstepping the limits of God’s will. In other words, we must waste no time imagining that God has a smaller ministry than what our heart cries out to accomplish. Our hope must grow ever stronger, our vision must extend ever further, and our faith must grow ever bolder.
Effective prayer is attainable, it is God’s burning desire for each of us, but we will never reach it unless we dedicate ourselves to these seven factors: authority, spiritual intelligence, aim, cutting edge, spiritual impact and scope. Upon these seven pillars any child of God can enjoy a rich experience of a spiritual overcomer through an effective prayer life.