The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).
I work hard at prayer because I believe prayer works. Or maybe I should say God works in response to prayer. The tension between how God’s will and my prayers work together is a mystery. But James is clear. Prayer is to be our first response all of life’s situations. Prayer is about our relationship with God. But it’s also productive. It actually accomplishes something. I’ll say it again. Prayer works.
Just how does prayer work? What are the conditions for power-filled prayers? James gives us some tips. He talked earlier 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” person that works best. I especially like the Amplified version here:
The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power](James 5:16 AMP).
If we glance over this verse too quickly, we can become weighed down with the idea that we have to be “good enough” to earn the answers to our prayers. Nothing could be further from the truth. A “works–based” prayer is not at all what’s implied. But we must look closely at this verse to fully absorb its powerful message.
First, we need to be firmly grounded in what it means to be “righteous.” What we could never do for ourselves, Jesus did for us through the cross. And it’s only by faith that we have access to 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. It comes from a word that means “to be impoverished.”
This is desperate prayer—more like begging. When you pray in this way, you’re coming “needy” to God. A sinner, saved by grace. But you’re wearing Christ’s robe of righteousness, so you can approach God with bold faith that He can do anything.
The result? Prayer that’s powerful and effective. The word “powerful” means mega-power. It’s prayer on steroids. Power-prayer!
Let’s dig a little deeper. The word in this verse translated “effective,” or energeo, is where we get the word energy. It means to “set in motion; to cause something to happen.” So you see, this kind of prayer is not only desperate, it’s 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, made confident 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! Give me a steadfast heart to believe the promises in Your Word. Give me alertness to watch for signs of You at work. 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.