Summary: The very instant that we turn our hearts to God in humility, sincerity, and faith, we are on praying ground! It is also true, that as Christians, who love God and want to know Him more, we can grow in our understanding of prayer.
People sometimes say that they don’t feel like their prayers get any higher than the ceiling. The truth is, they may not get any higher than the ceiling. There are some conditions under which God will not even hear one’s prayers. The question as to how can one pray effectively is certainly worth considering. Two answers are given, right here in the text.
To pray fervently is to pray with intensity. I am aware that modern translations omit the word “fervent.” Actually the words “effectual fervent,” as translated in the KJV, are one word in the Greek, and that is the word, “energeo.” Our word “energy” comes out of that word, so again, I say that the Bible is in fact saying that it is praying with energy, or intensity, that is one of the characteristics of effective praying. That doesn’t mean that we speak loud or say a lot of words. It means that we have an intense purpose in our heart, that we are not reciting a poem or voicing vain repetitions. Peter’s short prayer, as he made his attempt to walk on the water, was fervent. He simply said, “Lord, save me!” The thief on the cross prayed fervently, as he said, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
God is never fooled by false piety. He knows if it’s real. God help us to know the difference between saying a prayer and really praying. In Matthew 6:5, Jesus said, “And when you pray...” He didn’t say, “If you pray,” or “When you say a prayer,” but “When you pray!” We sing about the “Sweet Hour Of Prayer,” but very few people of our day have ever spent an hour in prayer. In church, we often take prayer requests for 30 minutes, then get them prayed for in 30 seconds. I’m not suggesting that we have to pray for an hour, but I am saying flat out that we’ve got to really pray! Fervent prayer is the kind of prayer spoken of in 2 Chronicles 7:14: “And if My people who are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” If I understand that right, and I think I do, that means God’s people have the power through prayer to absolutely change the complexion of the world around them. We can’t make everybody else do what they need to do, but we can look into the mirror of our soul and determine if we are doing it.
A righteous man
This demands that we ask and attempt to answer the question, “Who is a righteous man?” Romans 3:10 says, “There is none righteous, no not one.” So, does this mean that nobody can really pray effectively? No, this means that within our own characteristics and capabilities, we are not righteous. As a matter of fact, we miss the mark of righteousness so badly, that Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” A righteous person is one who has been granted the righteousness of God. Second Corinthians 5:21 very plainly says, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
When James 5:16 speaks of a righteous man’s effective prayer, we need to understand that every true believer has positional righteousness which has been granted freely in Christ. But, we also need to understand that the context of this passage, and this entire book of the Bible, is saying that this effective prayer is being prayed by someone who is acting in a righteous manner. We’re not talking “sinless perfection,” because as long as we remain on this side of the river, we all come short of the glory of God. We are, however, talking about one who is more than just a hearer of the word of God, but is one who sets out to follow Him in humble obedience.
Look at the Model Prayer, as recorded in Matthew 6, and see some “heart attitudes” that is called for in this kind of praying. First, there is the acknowledgment of personal relationship and of the holiness of God. He is the one on the throne of heaven. He is the one who is to be on the throne of our lives, and not we, ourselves.
Next, in verse 10, there is the asking that God’s kingdom would come, and that His will would be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Have you ever considered how God’s will is done is heaven? I would suggest that it is done joyfully, instantaneously, and completely! We would do well to understand that our praying is not simply the presentation of our wish list in attempt to get our will done in heaven, but rather it is acknowledging His righteousness and holiness, desiring the where-with-all to carry out His will in our lives upon this earth.