Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16
My phone rang—a distraught man had just received word that his wife had a malignancy. He was very distressed because he loved his wife deeply. He was known to be an alcoholic, and his mother, one of the most saintly women I ever knew, had been praying for her son Bob to be saved. Bob asked, “Preacher, would you come over?”
I went right over and we gathered in the kitchen. Here was the old saintly mother, the shameless son, and the young preacher. We sat down around that kitchen table, and I started to pray. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of praying, but right in the middle of my prayer, Bob said, “Pray, preacher, you ain’t praying.”
Well, I turned it up a little bit. I don’t know that the prayer was any more effective, but I got a little louder and a little faster. After a while, he interrupted me. He had just enough liquor in him to loosen his tongue. “Pray preacher, you ain’t praying.” Well, I just stopped altogether then because I was somewhat frustrated. I looked around and noticed that his little mother was gone.
I got up and started to walk through the house. In another room I found her, stretched out on the floor. She had her hands spread out and her face in the rug. I just stopped with a holy curiosity and listened to her prayer.
I listened as she ascended the ladder to heaven. I listened as she pushed back the gates of pearl. I listened as she walked down the golden streets. I listened as she went through the curtain into the Holy of Holies. I listened as she applied the blood there on the altar and pled with God, as she got hold of Him. I listened as she groaned and agonized in prayer, stretched out there on the floor. Then I knew what the son meant when he said, “Pray preacher, you ain’t praying.” He had heard his mama pray.
This kind of prayer is stretched-out prayer. Often we give without sacrifice. We pray without fasting. We witness without tears. We pray without earnest. Is it any wonder we sow without results?
The Importance of Prayer
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of prayer. What this world needs, what our cities need, what our homes need, what our churches need, is what God alone can do. You don’t have a failure in your life unless it’s a prayer failure. You don’t have a need in your life that earnest, persistent, believing prayer cannot supply. There’s not a sin in your life that prayer could not have prevented. In the verse at the beginning of this article, James offers us four wonderful insights into praying.
“Confess your faults one to another…” That’s something most of us are not very good at: confessing our faults! But if you study the history of revival, you find that great revivals are not necessarily marked with great singing or great preaching. They’re marked with great confession of sin, not only to God, but also to one another. Where God’s people are broken, God is undoubtedly moving.
“. . . and pray one for another. . .” God commands us to pray for one another. Prayer is not just getting ready for Christian service—prayer is Christian service. And you’re serving God when you pray. I serve God more when I pray than when I preach. You serve God more when you pray than when you win souls. You can do more than pray after you pray, but you can do no more than pray until you pray.
“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Not all prayer gets to God. James tells us about the various conditions for prayer.
Do you want your prayers answered? Then you must be righteous. “If I regard [cherish] iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Psalm 66:18
James continues in verses 17 and 18 by alluding to an Old Testament story and biblical character, Elijah (I Kings 18:41-46). Elijah was God’s man; he had integrity. These verses tell us “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah.” James is saying we can be like him. We can manifest the same character Elijah had because he was a man of passions similar to ours.
The Outcome of Prayer
In Hebrews 5:7, our Savior’s prayers are described: “…He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears.” When was the last time you shed a tear over some soul that was mortgaged to the devil? When was the last time you labored with God in prayer, as the Bible says?
I want your home to be blessed by prayer. I want your estranged children brought back by prayer. I want your weak will made strong by prayer. I want your needs met by prayer. I want you to have victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil by prayer. James says we have not because we ask not (James 4:2).
Oh, God, forgive our cold, lukewarm, indifferent prayers. Oh, God, may we learn how to pray effectually, may we learn how to pray fervently, may we learn to pray as James taught us to pray. Then let us look forward to something that has the unmistakable stamp on God upon it. And that comes through prayer.
To listen to this message in its entirety, it will air in two parts on radio August 28 and 29. Or call 1-800-274-5683 and order CD #0525 by the same title. After the air date, you can hear it anytime at www.lwf.org in our broadcast archives.