Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.— James 5:16-18
James uncovers a key factor that makes our prayers more meaningful to God.
Our prayers can be more or less effective before God; a fact which many American believers today miss. Of course, we do not always know how God answers our prayers. But the Bible is clear that prayer does more than change us; it changes God, according to His sovereign will (e.g., Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8; Exodus 32:7-14).
So, how can our prayers be more effective before God?
Our personal righteousness strengthens our prayers. It is “the prayer of a righteous person” that is powerful. The Bible speaks about our righteousness in two different ways — Christ our righteousness (also called “forensic righteousness”) and our personal righteousness. Christ our righteousness (e.g., 2 Corinthians 5:21) is what removes our sins and wins our salvation. But this kind of forensic righteousness does not remove the significance of our own personal righteousness in our relationship with God (e.g., 2 Corinthians 5:10). James underscores our personal righteousness throughout his letter. The apostle teaches that a Christian must practice true religion (James 1:27), exhibit works that flow from faith (James 2:17-26), that sins keep God from hearing our prayers (4:1-3) and sometimes lead to sickness (James 5:16). James knows that one’s personal righteousness affects his relationship with God and the effectiveness of his prayers. If you want to have powerful prayers, live a holy, repentant life in close relationship with God.
There’s one more thing: James encourages us to pursue effective prayer by reminding us of the power of Elijah’s prayers. We can live the same kind of life that Elijah did. In fact, Jesus says that a Christian is greater than any Old Testament saint, even the greatest prophet under the Old Covenant (Matthew 11:11). Therefore, God hears our prayers with great attentiveness when our lives are pleasing to Him.
Lead a righteous life and go confidently before God. Your prayers will change the world, by the power of the Spirit, in Jesus’ name, and for God’s glory.
Yours in Christ,
Chuck Hetzler, Ph.D.
Senior Associate, Christian Union Day and Night