Summary: Message 14 in series on James. You can be powerful and effective in prayer, if you meet the biblical qualifications.
His contemporaries knew James by the nickname “Camel-Knees.” He spent so much time on his knees that they literally bagged. James’ letter says more about the doctrine of prayer than any other New Testament epistle.
James said, in chapter 4, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (vv.2-3). That is how to be ineffectual in prayer. As he concludes the letter, James wants us to know that we can be powerful and effective in prayer.
Six verses (13-18) mention prayer seven times. This is the counsel of Camel-knees. Christians should pray whether troubled or hilarious. We can pray for the sick and expect their recovery. We should pray for one another in all situations. A life without prayer is like failing to use your checkbook when you have millions of dollars in the bank.
We have already looked at some of the practical times for prayer. We should pray in the midst of trouble. We should pray when physically afflicted and bedridden. We should pray when corrupted by sin - “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (v. 16). Some believers are ill because of unresolved sin. They need to confess to those they’ve offended and get on with health and life.
I. A PREMISE FOR PRAYER - IT WORKS!
“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Here is a simple promise— prayer can work. You can be powerful and effective in prayer, if you meet the qualification of righteousness. The same conviction is expressed in Psalm 34:17- “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” Proverbs 15:29 says- “The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”
The righteous person is first and foremost, one who is in a right relationship with God. He is reconciled to God and justified by faith. He stands acquitted before God because his sins are confessed. You would expect such a person to be a person of prayer. Prayer is the strength of his life and the secret of his godly influence.
The word translated “prayer” in v. 16 is not the same word used in the preceding verses. Here it refers to specific petitions with definite results in mind. Explicit prayers with specific requests are powerful and effective. Our word “energy” comes from energeia, here translated as “effective.” There is a working energy in specific prayer that makes it effective. In sports, business, or even public speaking just a spark of energy can make the difference between winning and losing, success and failure. There are no limits to the force of such prayer. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective because it taps the unlimited resources and energy of God.
II. A PERSON OF PRAYER: THE EXAMPLE OF ELIJAH
James demonstrates the truth that prayer works by citing the story of Elijah. Elijah held a unique place in Jewish thought. He had a great reputation for prayer. He was so esteemed that some regarded him as almost divine. James allows him no super-human status. “Elijah was a man just like us.” He was human. He felt stress. He knew failure. He was influenced by his feelings just as we are. He climbed to heights of faith and commitment as he defeated the priests of Baal (1 Ki. 18:36-38). Like us, he became deeply depressed on the very heels of success (1 Ki. 19:4).
James tells us something we don’t learn from 1 Kings 17-18. Elijah’s courage before Ahab and the hosts of Baal was a result of his prayer life. He willing stakes his whole reputation on one fact: there is a God who answers prayer.
The prophet seems to appear out of nowhere to declare...”As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Ki. 17:1). Elijah was fearless in this proclamation because his prayer was based on God’s Word: De. 11:16-17 - “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD’S anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.” That was exactly the situation in Israel under Ahab and Jezebel. God had promised that if the nation forsook Him, He would hold back the rain. In communion with God, Elijah learned and prayed this truth until the Lord sent him to announce it.