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  • Writer's pictureDavid and Marilynn Chadwick

A Word from James: Work

by Marilynn Chadwick

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16 NIV)

I work hard at prayer because I believe prayer works. Or rather I should say God works in response to prayer. The tension between how God's sovereign will and my prayer work together is a mystery. But James is clear. Prayer is to be our first response for all of life's situations. Prayer is about a relationship with God. But it’s also productive—it accomplishes something. I’ll say it again. Prayer works.

Just how does prayer work? What are the conditions for power-filled prayers? James gives us some tips. He talks in the previous verse about how the "prayer of faith" will heal the sick person (James 5:15). But in verse 16, he raises the bar. It's the prayer of faith offered by the "righteous" that works best.

I especially like the Amplified version: “The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) is able to accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power]" (James 5:16 AMP).

If we glance over this verse too quickly, we can get weighed down by thinking we have to be "good enough" to earn answers to our prayers. However, nothing could be further from the truth. James would encourage us to be well-grounded in the biblical concept of "righteousness." What we could never do for ourselves, Jesus did for us through the cross. We're saved “by grace through faith,” a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).

The Greek word translated "prayer" in this verse, deesis, is different from the previous word James used for prayer. It describes urgent prayer and can mean "to be impoverished."

James is talking about desperate prayer—more like begging. When you pray in this way, you are coming "needy" to God. A beggar. A sinner, saved by grace. But you’re wearing Christ's robe of righteousness, so you can approach God with bold faith that he can do anything!

The result? James tells us this kind of prayer is “powerful and effective.” It’s prayer on steroids. Power-prayer! Moreover, the word in this verse translated "effective," energeo, is where we get the word energy. It means to "set in motion; to cause something to happen."

This kind of prayer is not only desperate, it’s active. It gets results. In short, it works. James wants to shake us free from lazy prayers and low expectations. Old "camel knees" knew the extraordinary power available through prayer. He wants us to know this power, too!

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