“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
How can we know if our prayers are effectual? How can we know if they avail anything? How can we know if they are fervent enough?
Daniel Whedon, in his commentary, considers that the original Greek words translated “effectual fervent prayer” denotes prayer that is prompted and energized by the Holy Spirit. This turns the questions around: am I listening when the Spirit prompts me to pray for a condition in my life, in the life of someone else, or for conditions in the world around me?
Sometimes we will know whether such a prayer has availed, or been effective; most of the time we won’t. When I pray for forgiveness for myself, I should be able to know that my prayer has been answered. If not, perhaps I am holding something back, unwilling to confess the seriousness of what I have done, unwilling to face the consequences. When our repentance is complete and unqualified, we will know that a burden has been removed and we are free before God. Perhaps there are things we need to confess to others, wrongs that need to be made right, we should also pray for courage and grace to do them as the Spirit leads.
We should pray for our family, the church, our ministers (and not only for the Sunday morning sermon), and our governments. We may never know what those prayers have accomplished, yet we need to pray as often as the Spirit prompts us.
We are disturbed and perplexed by the growing power of the forces of darkness in our land, and often tempted to blame the government. Perhaps the real problem is that Christians have not prayed as they ought for those in authority. We should also take into account that the situation could be much worse if there were no Christians praying for those in authority. Our prayers for those in government will accomplish far more good than our criticisms in casual conversation with our neighbours.
The apostle John’s instructions on prayer give us further direction: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” (1 John 5:14-16).
Here is the assurance that if our prayers are prompted by the Holy Spirit, they will be heard in heaven. Here is also the instruction to pray for the faults we see in our brethren. They may do and say things that are not really in accord with Biblical teachings about how a Christian should conduct themselves. We are probably not so much aware when we do the same things, but feel hurt and offended when our spiritual brothers and sisters do them. These things spring from the corruption and weakness of our human flesh. As long as these are not wilful sins, the apostle tells us to pray for our brothers and sisters and God will have mercy on them. Hopefully they are doing the same for us. There is no such promise of a happy outcome if we talk to each other about the faults and weaknesses of others. Let us then be fervent in praying for one another.