Work! I work hard at prayer because I believe prayer works. And God works in response to prayer. The tension between how God’s sovereign will and my prayer work together is a mystery to me. But James is clear. Prayer is to be our first response in all of life’s situations. More than a gesture of piety, prayer is productive. It actually accomplishes something…prayer works.
So just how does prayer work? And what are the conditions for power-filled, hard working prayers? James gives us the key. He has already talked about how the “prayer of faith” will heal the sick. But now he raises the bar. It’s the prayer of faith offered by the “righteous” that really works bestt:
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16 NIV)
Let’s pause a moment. If we glance over this verse too quickly, we can leave weighed down with the feeling that we have to be “good enough” to earn answers to our prayers. Nothing could be further from the truth. A “works–based” prayer prescription is not at all what James intended. But we must look closely at this verse to absorb its powerful message.
FIrst, James would have us be thoroughly grounded in the biblical concept of “righteousness.” What we could never do for ourselves, God did for us through the expansive work of the cross. And it’s by faith we access that free gift. “We’re saved by grace through faith, and not our works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8). Even the Old Testament saints were made “just through faith,” a concept that could never be grasped by the works-obsessed Pharisees.
Second, let’s look at the Greek word for “prayer” as it’s used in this verse. Deesis, a different form of prayer than James previously described, is an urgent prayer. The word actually comes from a word that means “to be impoverished.” This kind of desperate prayer is really more akin to begging. When you pray in this way, you are coming “needy” to God. A sinner, saved by grace, wearing Christ’s robe of righteousness, approaching God as a beggar with a great need, coming in bold faith that He can do anything? That’s the kind of prayer James is talking about here.
The result? The verse tells us this kind of prayer is powerful and effective. The word “powerful” means mega-power…prayer on steroids. Power-prayer.
The word “effective,” or energeo, gives us the word “energy.” It means to “set in motion; to cause something to happen.” This kind of prayer is quite active. It gets results. In short, it works.
James wants to shake us free from lazy prayers and low expectations. Old “camel knees” knew the extraordinary power available through prayer. He wants us to know this power, too.
Lord, I come boldly to You today in prayer, made confident only because of my righteousness in YOU. And because I have faith in what You can do, though my neediness is ever before me, I can expect great things through prayer. Give me a steadfast heart to pray and believe the promises in Your Word. Give me alertness to watch for signs of You at work. And And when I notice the answers to prayer (and even when I am still waiting), help me remember to give glorious praise and thanks to You. -Amen