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.