The Effectual Fervent Prayer of a Righteous Man
Prayer is the statement of the sincere desire of the heart to our Creator. Personally, I do not believe that we can study this subject enough, and this issue will examine the prayer lives from some of the most righteous men contained in the Bible. Several verses previous to our text, James encourages his readers to pour out their hearts unto God in the midst of suffering (James 5:13) and in sickness (James 5:14-15).
By making a comparison between those who are physically sick and spiritually sick, James writes, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). By inspiration, James designed this statement to encourage us to pray, which is why James has said everything previously to this grand declaration. Unfortunately, it may actually have the opposite effect on some of us. Instead of reading this as an encouragement to pray, one may say, “Well, I know that God will hear and answer the prayers of a righteous man, but I am a person with human frailties, and I fall very short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Thus, I guess that God does not hear or answer my prayers,” and we quit praying. How tragic that a statement of encouragement by design becomes a statement of discouragement through our misunderstanding of it. As Christians, we are made righteous, not by living a perfectly sinless life, but by virtue of the fact that the Lord died for us, and His shed blood keeps us cleansed and forgiven of our sins (cf. 1 John 1:7-10). Therefore, God may hear our prayers!
What a great blessing to know that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much!” To illustrate this, James mentions Elias (Elijah), the prophet. He “was a man subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17). We find the expression “of like passions” only one other time in the New Testament (Acts 14:11-15), and it points to our same sorrows, heartaches, joys, human weaknesses and frailties. In other words, here was a man who was not sinlessly perfect like God, but as James continues, God heard his prayer! When we pour out our joys, our sorrows, our obstacles, our heartaches, our confessions, our admissions of human frailties, weaknesses and imperfections, then I know that God will hear me, just as he heard Elijah. When I become discouraged in life, then God will be there to hear me, just as He listened to Elijah! When I become fearful and afraid, then God will hear me, just as He heard Elijah! When I tread near the point of wanting to become critical with God for situations that have happened in my life, then God will be there to hear me, just as He heard Elijah! How fascinating that James picks Elijah as an example of “a righteous man” whom God heard in prayer.
I realize that a miracle is used in connection with God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer (James 5:17), which some may try to allude back to the previous verses. Yes, the miracle was only in connection with the revelation that God gave Elijah concerning the rain that would come after a drought that lasted three and a half years. We can read of this account in First Kings 18, and as Andy Griffith would say, “It came a frog’s rain!” Nevertheless, the point in this passage is that through James, God used Elijah as a divine illustration to show that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” and if Elijah was “a man subject to like passions as we are” and God heard his prayer, then we ought never to doubt the power of prayer! May this series of articles point to our need of living righteous lives, ever leaning fervently on Jehovah God through prayer, and realizing the great power that God works through them!