By Dr. Herbert Samworth
This is an excellent question. There are times when it appears that our prayers are not heard, or we are too discouraged to pray, or we think that our prayers really don’t make any difference. After all, we reason that God is sovereign and His plan is unchangeable, so what difference does it make whether we pray or not?
The above reasoning is an example of drawing wrong conclusions from correct assumptions. It is a fact that God is sovereign, He is working out His plan, and that all will come to the end that God has ordained.
However, these truths give us all the more reason to pray than not pray. Why is this so? It is because God has ordained prayer as one of the means by which His perfect will is accomplished.
There is a remarkable verse found in James 5:16 concerning the importance and efficacy of true prayer. The verse is located between the admonition to pray for the sick and the example of Elijah as a model of persevering prayer. At the end of James 5:16 we read these words, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). In these ten words, there is much to be learned. These words can be translated differently to emphasize the key thought of the verse, “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.”
First, it is important to understand what James means by prayer in this context. It is the word that is used exclusively for petition or request. The emphasis lies on the need of the person to receive God’s blessing.
Second, we have the promise of God that prayer is effective. James states without equivocation that it avails much. James does not define exactly the meaning of this word but in the context, it has application to God’s perfect will. The goal of the Christian should be to glorify God and God is glorified when His will is accomplished. The application of what God’s will is for the individual person may vary, but true prayer advances God’s glory and brings great blessing to man.
Third, prayer is powerful. There is something dynamic in prayer. No prayer ever falls to the ground without accomplishing something. The reason for this is that God is all-powerful. Frequently, the effect of prayer is felt in the person praying as much as in the meeting of the request itself.
Fourth, prayer should serve as a wake-up call to us. Note that James states that it is the prayer of a righteous person that avails much in its working. This should cause us to reflect on our relationship to the Lord. We need to be Christians who are walking in fellowship with Him. In addition, it is fervent prayer that produces much. Often we find that our prayers are heartless and without passion. True prayer occurs when we are convinced that it is only God Who can supply us with what we need.
So why do we need to pray? It is our response to God’s gracious invitation to partner with Him to carry out His great purposes. Note what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:1, “We are workers together with Him.” God calls us into partnership in doing His will. One manner by which we can enter that partnership is through prayer.