“…and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” (James 5:16-18)
What do these words truly mean? How are we to apply them today?
As I have observed and listened to others, I have come to the belief that these words are hugely misunderstood by many who read them and attempt to apply this instruction given by James.
Do these words mean that if we pray hard enough and long enough, while we are behaving as righteously as could be humanly possible, we can make anything we want happen? ...
Can we make sure “good things” happen or prevent “bad things” from happening?
Can we change current or future events?
Can we prevent or ease the effects of a natural disaster?
Can we bring healing to the sick or change the heart of someone who behaves terribly?
Can we prevent someone’s death?
Are our prayers “The Power” which moves God’s hands this way or that and changes His will or course of action in a matter?
Do our prayers change God’s mind and make him rethink and change His plans?
If our prayers have that power, God is not God—we are.
If our prayers have that power, God is not sovereign—we are.
If our prayers have that power, God does not rule—we do.
If our prayers have that power, God is not in control—we are.
If our prayers have that power, God must be pulling His hair out and confused all the time.
If our prayers have that power, we are in BIG trouble.
At this very moment, whose prayers should He heed and act upon? Of all the millions of prayers lifted up to Him at this very moment, which ones should He take under serious consideration and do accordingly as asked and which ones should He ignore? What if two “righteous” persons, with humble and earnest hearts, are praying for the very opposite things to take place? What is God to do? Is He wringing his hands in agony or uncertainty?
The power of our prayers is not the power behind God’s work.
The power of our prayers is not the power behind what God does and does not do.
If the fervent prayers of a righteous man do not manipulate the hands or the will of “…the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will…” (Ephesians 1:11), what difference does praying make? What is it that these prayers accomplish? Does it matter what we pray?
Yes, it absolutely does matter that we pray!
Our prayers do matter! They matter to us and to others, and they matter to God.
Of what effect are our prayers?
How do prayers matter to us personally?
Our prayers are our intimate conversations with God. Through prayer, we share the depths of our hearts with God. Through prayer, we share with Him our joys, sorrows, hopes, dreams, despairs, fears, and thanksgivings. When we call and cry out to God, we have communion and relationship with Him. As we pray, we entrust ourselves and all the aspects of whatever we are praying about into His care. As we repeatedly do this, His peace comes to fill our minds and hearts.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
As we make our requests known to God, His peace, which surpasses all human comprehension, will guard our hearts and minds. When I am afraid or sad or confused and I share those things with God, His peace fills me. His peace is a fortress that keeps out paralyzing fear and utter despair or hopelessness. The more I share my concerns with Him, the more peace that fills me. As we pray, we can also be reassured knowing He is listening and cares about all our concerns or sorrows. Nothing is unimportant; He cares about anything and everything we want to share with Him. As we pray, we repeatedly put our trust in Him and His sovereignty over all matters in our lives and the lives of those we care about and love.
How do our prayers matter to others?
When we pray for others, we share their burdens or joys. I know I find great comfort in knowing that others are praying for me and whatever concerns I have. I do not expect their prayers to make God do anything different than what He already plans on doing, but their prayers help to hold me up and ease my burdens. When we pray for others, we are having community with them and with God. When I am going through tough times and I do not feel that others are praying for me, I feel very lonely and unloved, and the burdens I’m carrying are much heavier to bear. When we pray for others, we show them that we care and are willing to support them through their circumstances. The prayers of others comfort us, encourage us, hold us up, lift our spirits, and increase our hope.
How do our prayers matter to God?
In the same manner as I long for my children to have a close relationship with me, God also longs for us to be in close relationship with Him. As I yearn for my children to share their hearts with me, talk to me about their day’s events, and share with me their thoughts or questions or desires, God yearns for us to do the same with Him. When my children do not share their hearts with me and instead distance themselves from me, our relationship is not of the same quality. Instead, it is a disjointed and somewhat distant relationship. When the relationship is that way, it is more difficult for me to impart loving truth to them and to comfort or encourage them.
We can clearly see that our prayers absolutely do matter and “accomplish much”. They make a difference in the quality and depth of our relationship with God, in our faith and trust in Him, in how He is able to communicate with us, in the feelings we have about life’s circumstances, and in how others feel or are encouraged to endure through their circumstances.
Our prayers do not ordain God’s doings, but through them, we are changed and cultivate intimate relationship with God and with others.
When we have prayed for a particular outcome and God’s moving brings about the outcome we asked for, it is not because our prayers moved the hands of God, it is because we were led to pray in accordance with God’s plans. When that happens, we can cheerfully rejoice. As we rejoice, instead of saying, “God answered my prayers!”, we should more accurately say, “Praise be to God! My desires and prayers were in accordance with His perfect will!” If we say, “God answered my prayers” when things go the way we asked for, we give the impression to ourselves and others that when things do not go the way we prayed, God must have ignored our prayers or not cared enough to bring about the outcome we asked for. It leaves us with the feeling of “Where were you God when I needed you most? I prayed my heart out and this still happened (or did not happen).”
I fervently write here and profess to you, our prayers are never ignored. God hears every one of them. However, often times, our prayers are based on human desires, wills, and plans and not in agreement with His desires, will, or perfect plan. I cannot say that I always understand what He does and that I never question it. But I do believe He knows perfectly well what He is doing, regardless of my finite understanding.
Just before the most painful ordeal of His life, Jesus cried out to God in intense agony: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) It was not the will of the Father to remove that cup of suffering from Jesus. If He had done so, all mankind would be at an immense loss and without a greater hope. “…Christ suffered for your sakes…by His wounds you were healed…” (1 Peter 2:21,24)
May Christ grant us and fill us with the faith to trust God enough to say the same as He did. It is not easy, but it will bring a superior and longer lasting peace.