Why does prayer not work for us any better than it currently does? It’s certainly not because God has no interest in what we have to say. Think about it. We know He is interested in hearing from us because He is the one who came up with this thing called prayer, and the sole purpose of prayer is for us to communicate with Him. Moreover, we are commanded to pray always (Luke 18:1). So why would God come up with the idea of prayer, command us to pray, and not be interested in our prayers?
Since the above scenario does not jibe with reason, I have concluded that the solution to the problem has to do with us. Furthermore, I believe that two Christians can pray the exact same prayer to the same God and get different results. So now am I saying that God is a respecter of persons? The answer is no; absolutely not (Romans 2:11).
But consider this verse: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b). That is the rendition from the King James Version (KJV). The New International Version (NIV) records it this way: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” In this article, I will use the KJV because I want to zero in on a couple of keywords that the KJV makes it easier to refer to. Please note that this verse makes it clear that the type of prayer being referred to “avails much,” meaning it accomplishes a lot.
According to the above-mentioned verse, effective prayer is powered by two forces: a righteous man and effectual fervent prayer. Of course, every one of us who has been born again through faith has been declared righteous. But that does not necessarily mean we walk in righteousness as a way of life. And it is the latter that the verse is referring to. That’s why I said earlier that two Christians can pray the exact same prayer to the same God and get different results. In other words, if one believer is committed to walking in righteousness and the other is not, God’s response to their prayers will be different.
Secondly, the King James Version refers to “effectual fervent” prayer. These two words are rendered from one Greek word which means to be operative, as in to work. A clear implication in this statement is that not all prayer works. So it’s not true that it does not matter how we pray. Sometimes, the way we pray makes it impossible for God to positively respond to our petitions. And so if we can identify and eliminate these hindrances to our prayers being answered, we will move in the direction of operative prayer. Here are a few examples:
Self-serving prayer– “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3). Prayer void of faith– “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord” (James 1:6-7). Iniquity in our heart–“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18).
These are three major hindrances to effective prayer. Any of them can creep into our prayer life very easily. But if we are vigilant to eliminate them, and if we walk in righteousness, the Bible promises that our prayers will avail much.