Effective prayer is not as easy as it seems. While on one level prayer is “just conversation with God” and is a privilege that is available to all believers. The Bible indicates that prayer also comes with an efficiency rating. Scripture makes it apparent that prayer can be heard or not, be effective or not, and most obvious of all be answered or not. The disciples who were the fortunate witnesses to the awe inspiring prayer life of Jesus quickly learned an important insight about prayer. Not all prayer is created equal. They were swift to notice that there was a huge contrast between The Master’s prayer efforts and their own feeble attempts. On one occasion we are told an unnamed disciple watched Jesus pray and was clearly humbled by what he saw. In a moment of clarity he turned and asked Jesus the wise and inevitable request “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
The original twelve saw something in Jesus’ prayer life that made them want to enroll in His school of prayer. It becomes evident that on top of being a privilege and a spiritual discipline; prayer is also a skill. It is a competency that must be learned and an aptitude that every believer should desire proficiency in. To say the least, from a pragmatic point of view, skillfulness in prayer is highly beneficial for all of us. Warren Wiersbe states it simply, when you know how to pray, the Lord can help you meet every need. There is a reason that prayer has always been regarded as a key part of a successful Christian life, an ability to connect with God in prayer provides the under girding for all other aspects of Christian living. John Henry Jowett, a renowned preacher of the early 20th century felt so strongly about the advantageous nature of prayer that he wrote, I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.
There is no way to get around the fact that there is much to be understood in the Bible about prayer and that most Christians have stopped short of an adequate education on the topic. Scripture teaches that prayer when it is practiced well is able to produce great benefits in the spiritual realm but few take the time to tap into it as a dynamic resource. James 5:16 promises us that, the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Two adjectives “effective” and “fervent” are used to describe prayer that works. The English word effective is translated from the Greek word energeo and means capable of putting forth much power. While the second term, fervent means; to glow with heat, or to exhibit great intensity of feeling. In one verse we have two clues to the kind of prayer that accomplishes much. Prayer that bears spiritual power coupled with genuine passion when offered from the righteous heart has the ability to hit the mark.
Many after surveying James 5:16 might think that not being a righteous person is the problematic factor that would disqualify them from a fruitful prayer life. However righteousness according to New Testament standards is often misunderstood. Being a “righteous” person according to New Testament definitions requires being a person who comes by righteousness from being “in” Christ. Romans 3:10 states it plainly, There is none righteous, no, not one. The painful truth is that on our own none of us are capable of having a right standing (being righteous) before God. It is passages such as 2 Cor. 5:21 that point out where our righteousness must come from. The good news is that, God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Our righteousness comes from being in Him. Jesus Himself laid out the truth in regard to the connection between intimacy with Him and a successful prayer life. He made “abiding in Him” and acceptance of His words pre-requesites of an effective prayer. He taught, If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. John 15:7
In short, the promise of James 5:16 is that properly energized, genuinely emotional prayer from a believer who is in a loving and dependent relationship with Jesus Christ should accomplish a lot spiritually. The Bible teaches it and it is fact. The reason so many of us experience so little in prayer however is that few of us take the time to understand the basics of prayer much less take the time and energy to “do” prayer well. Prayer like any skill requires education and practice. In other words in order to excel at prayer it takes time learning about what effective prayer entails and then more time spent doing it in order to get good at it. If you are tired of experiencing an anemic prayer life the task before you is two fold. First you must learn how to pray; that is take time to search the Scripture and discover the principles of successful prayer. And secondly you must take time to diligently practice those principles.
Jesus told his disciples that “they should always pray and not give up” Luke 18:1. The word translated “give up” means to become weary and to give in to evil. Despite Jesus’ warnings many Christians today have long ago given up on practicing real prayer as a part of their Christian lives. In this “fast food” society that gets all its needs met on the run, many believe they are satisfying the divine mandate to pray by merely sending up self-centered S.O.S’s to God throughout the day. They throw up regular brief petitions to God as they go about their daily grind but their prayer lives are largely unfocused and their agendas are largely uninterrupted.
I believe that a call to pray and a spiritual unction to enroll in “the school of prayer” are going forth from the heart of God God into the church today. God is calling us to His throne of grace to “wrestle” with Him in prayer as the saints of old wrestled with him. Colossians 4:12 gives us the account of Epaphras, a believer who was held up as an example in prayer by Paul. Epaphras the text tells us was known as one who was “always wrestling in prayer” for the work of the Church (Col 4:12 NIV). The Greek word translated wrestling is agonizomai and gives us the English word agonize. This word agonizomai perhaps describes most adequately the level of intensity that is required to produce true effectiveness in prayer and it draws a stark contrast to the effort that most of us are willing to extend.
In conclusion, too few of us have sought to be educated in prayer, fewer still have the time set aside for practicing prayer and the I believe fewest of all of us comprehend the intensity that is required in order to see results in prayer. There is no doubt that the lack of effective prayer amounts to a great weakness in the church today. The unnamed disciple of Luke chapter eleven when faced with the embarrassing contrast of his prayer life with that of Jesus knew enough to ask “Lord teach us to pray.” That simple prayer is the prayer that first and foremost needs to be on the lips of those that Jesus is currently calling to prayer. Let’s acknowledge how far we have to go as we evaluate and acknowledge the efficiency ratings of our own prayer times and let us vow today to become willingly enrolled in the school of prayer.