Prayer works

Maybe you’ve occasionally wondered if there’s any point in prayer. Does it work? Is God listening? Does he even care?

Whenever I start doubting, I go back and reread James. Here are a few translations of the end of James 5:16:

  • The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (ESV).
  • The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (NKJV).
  • The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (NASB).
  • The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (NRSV).
  • The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (TNIV).

James apparently thought prayer worked, and you and I ought to believe him. He goes on to give an example:

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 5:17-18).

We might be tempted to think that well, of course, God answered prayer back then, but we live in a different age, a more hands-off age.

But that reasoning doesn’t work. There’s absolutely nothing in the Bible that suggests God ever stopped hearing and answering our prayers.

Do you believe that?

Sometimes it might seem like he’s not answering, and that might point to a couple of things.

It could be that he’s not answering us because we’re not righteous, that is, we’re not living in his will. Peter once wrote that a man who’s not treating his wife well is going to offer unanswered prayers (1 Pet 3:7).

It could also be that what we’re asking isn’t according to his will; if so, we wouldn’t want him to answer it our way anyway. I’ve begged him for things that I later realized I didn’t need. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’m glad he said no.

And it could be that he’s already in the process of answering our prayers, but he’s doing it according to his own timetable. Sometimes we get impatient with his “delays,” but we should probably remember that he exists outside of time. He knows the end from the beginning, and some things just don’t need to happen right now.

But does he answer?

Absolutely. The prayer of a child of God who pours out her heart to him is powerful and effective.
Believe that, and then pray accordingly. —Chuck


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