Commentary and Mission Report
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Jam 5:16b
What a tragedy it is that in modern Christian thinking, the greatest power ever entrusted to men by God is both misunderstood and typically misapplied! The average believer today does not understand what James is saying in this magnificent promise and, in trying to harness this power, is commonly frustrated and disappointed in the outcome.
In these “perilous times,” it is critical that we have absolute clarity in this matter of effective prayer, and that we exercise it with boldness and confidence.
What is James saying, and how do we engage in powerful and effective prayer?
In the context, three things define powerful prayer. We will consider them in logical, rather than textual, order:
1. The only one capable of powerful prayer is the child of God by faith in Jesus Christ. Such a one is designated as a “righteous man,” that is, one to whom the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been imputed as a result of faith in the Son of God (cf., Rom 3:21–22, Rom 4:5–6, Rom 4:11; 2Co 5:21). Therefore, if you, the reader, are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, this dynamic prayer potential exists for you.
2. It is only “the prayer of faith” (Jam 5:15) that is in view here. Not every prayer of every believer is powerful. To the contrary, most believers become disillusioned with the idea of “powerful, prevailing prayer,” precisely because they are not engaged in “effective” praying. To be powerful, prayer must be offered in faith. This does not mean “I really believe God is able to do this,” which in most cases is a vain hope when praying for something contrary to God’s will, and often with selfish motive. Rather, to pray “in faith” is to offer prayer consistent with the revealed will of God in His Word. In effect, we are asking God to do what He has said He will do. Certainly there are many areas of life about which we do not have direct revelation: Who shall I marry, what occupation shall I choose, etc. I will touch on these areas later.
3. Prayer that is mighty is “[made] effective” or energized by the Holy Spirit. The word translated “effective” in the New King James text is from energeo from which we get the word “energy.” It is a present, passive, participle in form. This could be translated “being energized.” The “energizer” is the Spirit of God, who we are told intercedes on our behalf before the throne of grace (Rom 8:26–27) as we pray. Note that in that context His intercession is in light of His searching the hearts of the ones praying to discern the mind of the Spirit in the prayer.
So we can conclude that when a believer offers a prayer in faith, based on accurate understanding of God’s revealed will, that prayer is then energized by the Spirit of God before the throne of grace. The result is that the prayer “avails much”—a weak translation better rendered “has mighty power” or “has great might.” The point is that the prayer accomplishes what God desires in the affairs of men.
This brings us to two questions that trouble believers:
- Why do my prayers seem so ineffective? and
- How can I pray about life’s questions that are not directly addressed in Scripture?
To the first question, I would suggest that too often we pray selfishly, narrowly, and shortsightedly. In other words, we fail to pray submissively, inclusively, and from an eternal perspective. Like all things in the Christian life, prayer has an inherent quality of self-denial (Luk 9:23). It may express its deepest desires, but only when we append “Your will be done” (Mat 26:36–46), a caveat that, if honestly expressed, brings every prayer into line with the “powerful prayer” principle, for we are subordinating our will to the higher will of the Heavenly Father.
In regard to the second question, the issue of spiritual maturity comes into play. How we pray for guidance, for friends who are sick, or regarding any of a multitude of mundane daily cares will depend on how well we are able to discern God’s “good” will in such matters, as opposed to the “evil” of anything contrary to His will (cf., Heb 5:12–14). It is worth pointing out that if we are not in the habit of exposing our inner man to the scrutiny of God’s Word (Heb 4:12–13), we will not likely have His mind in discerning outward matters.
Since James uses the example of a sick or suffering believer (Jam 5:13–16), we can use this as a common area where we often need to pray. Right now, I know of many believers who are suffering—a number through sickness. How shall I pray for them? The all-too-common prayer is, “Dear God, please raise up so-and-so to good health again.” This prayer expresses our desire, and that of the sufferer. But does it express the will of God? Since the Father has not revealed His will to us in the matter, it is worth exercising a bit of spiritual discernment. First, has the illness any connection to discipline? James says, “If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” This is, of course, connected to the fact that confession has been made—first to God, then to those affected (Jam 5:13, Jam 5:16).
But beyond the issue of discipline is the further question of God’s purpose in allowing the illness. God has a good purpose in all He permits (Rom 8:28). Do we pray, when friends are sick, that God will strengthen and purify their faith? This is unquestionably God’s will for believers in all trials (Jam 1:2–8; Rom 5:1–5). When we pray for this, we are on “prevailing prayer” ground. And what of God’s greater and broader purposes? Since we are all members of one Body (Rom 12:3–5, Rom 15:1; Eph 4:1–6, Eph 4:16), is this affliction of my brother/sister designed to give me opportunity to minister in the Spirit of Christ? We ought never to pray for a suffering saint without also asking what we should do to alleviate their suffering. To rephrase Jam 2:17, “prayer by itself, if it has not works, is dead.”
We will find that we pray with greater effect and power if we also pray for wisdom in what to pray. The Spirit of God, who is the “energizer” of our prayers, greatly desires that we pray effectively. Pray for His wisdom when offering prayer. We will certainly find that if we subordinate our desire for the will of the Spirit, our understanding to the Word of God, and our request not only limited to the need of others but to our responsibility to those needs, our prayer life will be enhanced, and we will see mighty answers to our prayers.
“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” 1Jo 5:14–15
It has been some time since we have reported on our activities to those of you who pray and support the work. While our overseas travel has been considerably less this year, we have been quite busy. At the beginning of the year, I (Gene) determined to “slow down” to do some writing and produce some new publications. While I have worked at this, it has been much less than planned, as we have crisscrossed this country for Bible conferences, sensing that the nation is at a critical point in history.
This year, Nan and I had the privilege of speaking to the annual meeting of Christian camp leaders at Camp Jumonville, outside of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Using the book of Philippians, I presented “Joy in the Journey,” using the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. Nan also had the opportunity to address the ladies for one session and spoke on the Church as “The Glorious Bride.”
The first conference of the year was the flagship Northern Virginia conference. Under the theme of “Knowing God,” we went through the amazing book of Second Corinthians—a very personal letter in which Paul lets us look into his deep and powerful relationship to God, and how it affected his every decision.
Our only overseas trip this year was to Australia where I conducted the Canberra conference, while Nan—once again—conducted the children’s ministry in India. In Canberra, we studied the ancient tabernacle of Israel as a “shadow” of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. How are we, in light of these shadows, to “abide in Christ”? As with any visit to Australia, this gave us a chance for short visits with kids and grandkids—which are all too few.
Next came the Denver conference, with a study of “The Anchor of the Soul.” This was a review of and expansion on an earlier publication. At the heart of all Christian stability and durability in troubled times is the conviction of the all-sufficiency of the finished work of Christ.
In Homer, Alaska we were hosted by John and Laurie Glanville for a study called “In the Imitation of Christ—To Learn, Do, and Teach,” in which we followed the example set by our Lord in the transition of biblical knowledge from perception, to practice, to proclamation. The conclusion is that every believer is called to be an effective agent of historical impact through personal growth, practical application, and effective communication of truths learned.
Then came the Iowa conference, with the fine group in Norway at the Prairie View Christian Church. This we entitled “The Daniel Project,” with the focus from Dan 11:32–35 on challenging young men and women to take up the baton for their own generation. Since then, we have found many uses of “Daniel Project” already on the internet and, therefore, have challenged the “team” to find an alternate title. It appears as of this writing that “We R Unchained,” from Isa 61:1–2 will be the team designation. Our goal is to provide a website and format for young Christians to reach their own generation through social media, videos, and articles.
The annual Kansas conference this year was on the topic, “The Watchman on the Wall.” Along with other teachers, we explored the issues facing us in these present perilous times, and how we must meet and overcome them. For my part, I chose to look at prophecies of what is yet to come in the future Kingdom of our Lord, taking the prophecies of that time in a literal approach.
Our latest conference was in Uniontown, Pennsylvania at the Abundant Life Church. We studied "The Hidden Hand of God—God Standing in the Shadows" (based on the book of Esther)—the great story of the Jewish victory over the satanically inspired hatred of Haman. We noted both the ancient roots of this hatred and how it affects world politics to this day. The story of Esther is yet to be played out in the final anti-Semitism of the Tribulation period and the victory of Israel through the Holy One of Israel—the Lord Jesus Christ—by His soon return.
As you can see, this is what we call “slowing down.” Still, I am trying to develop material for some future publications that I think will be quite relevant in the days ahead.
Though we have been busy with travels and conferences throughout the United States, we have also been refreshed by the many opportunities to teach and fellowship with like-minded believers. Travel inside the U.S. is much easier than traveling abroad when our bodies have to deal with long flights, adjusting to major time changes, and the lingering effects of jet lag. We feel refreshed both physically and spiritually. This year, I enjoyed sharing the Word of God with ladies in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Iowa and—just last month—in Texas at the Baytown Community Church Fall Ladies Retreat. In addition, I have had the opportunity to continue work on some printed material for future studies. In May, we conducted our 14th series of Children’s Bible Schools in India—always one of the highlights of my year!
As Gene asked me to include something in this report, there are two words that come to my mind: grace and truth. The source of grace and truth is in the Person of Jesus Christ, but we see it played out in the lives of His children. We are always amazed by the abundance of God’s grace as supplied to us through His Body. Thank you all for your faithful prayers and support that constantly encourage us, sustain us, and cause us to go to the Father with thankful hearts. Truth comes to mind as well because we are always refreshed to see the passion of hungry hearts for the Word of God and the power of that truth lived out in the lives of our friends and family in Christ. As our economy struggles and the uncertainty of our times increases, we live in the assurance of the outpouring of God’s grace and the stability of His truth!
He is faithful and true!
- Texas conference, Thanksgiving weekend. Theme: “The Word Became Flesh”
- Faisal and Carrie—now serving in Asia
- Overseas travel and ministry which will resume just before Christmas
Your servants in His cause,
Gene and Nan