Effective  Prayer 

Every Christian wants to know how to pray and see results. Why do so many Christians pray and not see the answer to their prayers? What is the key to effective prayer? The answer lies in James 5:13-18 which reveals principles that are necessary to make our prayers work effectively:

13. Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing Psalms.

14. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

15. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

16. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

17. 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 land for three years and six months.

18. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing Psalms.” (Jas. 5:13)

Human suffering may be due to different causes.  It may be viewed as coming from God to bring out the best in us (Gen. 22:1-2, 15-18).  Satan can also use the same temptation and suffering to bring out the worst in us (Jas. 1:13-14).  When we suffer we should not complain against God but pray and ask Him to strengthen and help us overcome our weaknesses.

When people are cheerful and in a happy disposition they may have a tendency to enjoy themselves in a worldly fashion.  Here, Christians are taught to sing Psalms and praise God to express their joy in the Lord.

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (Jas. 5:14)

The sick person should take the initiative to request for prayers from the pastors, elders and deacons who are the ministers of the church.  Their qualifications characterize them as men of personal uprightness and spiritual maturity.  They hold positions of leadership and presumably are men of faith and prayer.  Anointing with oil represents God’s healing power through gifts of the Holy Spirit.  In the church that I was raised the elders and deacons anoint the sick with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We also have oil for anointing in our home.

“And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (Jas. 5:15)

The “prayer of faith” does not refer to the faith of the sick person, but to the faith of the people who are praying.  Faith in itself does not heal but God answers the prayers of people of faith.  God heals, faith does not, and all prayers are subject to God’s will.  But our prayers are part of God’s healing process.  That is why God often waits for our prayers of faith before intervening to heal a person.

Sickness may be due to sin but it is not always the case.  People can get sick due to carelessness or negligence to their health.  If a person gets soaked in the rain or catches cold during a winter snowstorm he may get real sick.  A person may also get stomachache by overindulgence in wrong types of food and drink.

“And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (Jas. 5:15-16)  

Our Lord Jesus Christ has made it possible for each believer to go directly to God for forgiveness and healing.  But confessing our sins to each other still has an important place in the life of the church.  [1] If we have sinned against an individual, we must ask him or her to forgive us.  [2] If our sin has affected the church, we must confess it publicly.  [3] If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess that sin to those who are able to provide that support.  [4] If, after confessing a private sin to God, we still do not feel His forgiveness, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer and hear him or her assure us of God’s pardon.  In the church we bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1-2)

The Ministry of Elijah teaches Effective Prayer

What is it that makes our prayer effective? The apostle James gives us Elijah as the example of effective prayer in action.  What gave Elijah the boldness and audacity to confront the king and the whole nation of false prophets, and also pray that the rain would stop, and then, at his word, start again? (see 1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-45).


Elijah's Effective Prayers were based on his faith in the word of God!

All of Israel had turned away from the LORD (Yahweh) to worship Baal, the idol-god of a cruel heathen religion. Here comes one solitary man, a total unknown, and boldly proclaims to the king that “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years except at my word!'' (1 Kng. 17:1) But his authority was based on God’s promise and warning found in Deuteronomy 11:13-17:

13. “And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,

14.      then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.

15.       And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.

16.      Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them,

17.      lest the Lord's anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you.”

In Israel there are two seasons of rain.  The former rain falls during the Autumn which is for planting.  The latter rain falls during Spring, shortly before the harvest time.

“Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God; For He has given you the former rain faithfully, and He will cause the rain to come down for you -- The former rain, And the latter rain in the first month.” (Joel 2:23)

“Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, Like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hos. 6:3)

The former and latter rain signifies two distinct periods of God’s mighty outpourings of His Spirit on the earth. The apostle Peter interpreted the former rain as God’s outpouring of His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21).  That was the time of planting the gospel seeds.  The mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit that began in Topeka, Kansas, U.S.A. on January 1, 1901 until the Lord’s Second Coming signifies the period of the Latter Rain.

“Ask the Lord for rain In the time of the latter rain.* The Lord will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, Grass in the field for everyone.” (Zec. 10:1)

With the understanding of rain as symbol of the Holy Spirit and now is the time of the Latter Rain, we should all pray for the Holy Spirit.  During the time of the Early Rain “many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” and “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:43, 47).  Thousands of converts were baptized and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in those days. (Acts 2:47; 4:4; 6:7) There should also be an abundance of spiritual activities in our congregations at this time.  If within our congregations a substantial reduction of spiritual activities is observed, it is possible that wrongful activities or aberrant teachings are present there.  We need greater discernment over these spiritual matters so that we can turn things around by either reverting to the former ways or modifying our practices so that we can have great revivals in our congregations.

The Prayers of Elijah were Effective because he was Righteous before God

“. . . The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (Jas. 5:16)

Elijah was a righteous man.  He had a single-minded commitment to God shocks and challenges us.  He was sent to confront, not comfort, and he spoke God’s words to a king who often rejected his message just because he brought it. Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, "Is that you, O troubler of Israel?"  And he answered, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.” (1 Kn. 18:17-18)

Elijah chose to carry out his ministry for God alone and paid for that decision by experiencing isolation from others.  He challenged eight hundred and fifty prophets of Israel to prove they worshiped false gods.  And Elijah came to all the people, and said, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." But the people answered him not a word.” (1 Kng. 18:21)  The prophet Malachi prophesied, “Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” (Mal. 4:5)  John the Baptist had the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk. 1:17).  Today, we can also have the spirit and power of Elijah if we are also righteous like him. 

Many Christian congregations have lost the spiritual power of the Early Apostolic Church.  When they pray for the sick folks, healing is more of an exception than the norm.  Miracles, signs and wonders seem to be non-existent.   Their explanation is that these supernatural signs have ceased because they are no longer needed anymore. In the revival meetings or Spiritual Convocations there are no longer any large numbers of truth-seekers and conversions are few in between. Baptisms are mostly administered to members' children and even fewer believers receive the Holy Spirit than in the past. 

Have we ever seriously considered why our congregations have lost the spiritual power that was once our treasured possession?  The answer may come from the fact that the ecclesiastical polity have changed from theocracy (government by God) to democracy (government by the people). Bureaucracy have stifled the operation of the Holy Spirit. It is sad that our congregations are depending more on human intelligence and technology than guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our church resolutions are now mostly determined by majority votes in conferences and meetings rather than based on “It is written” and “Thus says the LORD.”  Remember the old American Christian saying, “God and I make the majority.”  To have effective prayer we need to have the righteousness of Elijah who first "repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down." (1 Kng. 18:30-32) We have to return to the ways of the original Early Apostolic Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Our church teachings, practices and government must be based on the pattern as laid down in the New Testament "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone." (Eph. 2:20-22)

The Prayers of Elijah were Effective because he had prayed earnestly

“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 land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (Jas. 5:17-18)

It is helpful for us to know that Elijah “was a man with a nature like ours”.  There is nothing about Elijah that none of us cannot copy or emulate.  What Elijah did we can also do the same thing.  We had learned that he had great faith in the word of God.  We can certainly do that.  Next, we learned that he was righteous before God.  We can also be righteous before God if that is what we have decided to be.   Here, we are learning that Elijah prayed earnestly.   The reason we are attending the Spiritual Convocation is because we are earnestly seeking the Lord through prayer.  Just as Elijah earnestly prayed for the rain so do we also earnestly pray for the blessings of the Holy Spirit.  Let us see how Elijah prayed for the rain in 1 Kings 18:41- 46.

41.           Then Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain."

42.           So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, 

43.           and said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." So he went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing." And seven times he said, "Go again." 

44.           Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, "There is a cloud, as small as a man's hand, rising out of the sea!" So he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, 'Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.' "

45. Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel.

46.           Then the hand of the Lord came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Much can be learned about effective prayer from observing Elijah.  First, even though we have a promise for God’s provision, we are not to stop praying for its fulfillment (v. 41).  Second, we see the awkward postures of his prayer as we read that “he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees”. (v. 42) Third, we learn the importance of persistence of prayer as we read that Elijah prayed “seven times.”  And fourth, we understand the necessity of faith as we pray by realizing that Elijah believed his prayer was answered before the answer actually came (vs. 44-45)  James 5:17-18 explains that the prayer of a Christian can be as effective as the prayer of Elijah.

The coming of the rain was the final proof that Baal was impotent and that the Lord God of Israel was supreme.   Our belief in the One True God who manifested Himself in the flesh as the Lord Jesus Christ to become the only Savior of mankind has been proclaimed throughout the ages and also gave evidence that Christianity is the only true religion in the world. Baptism into the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and receiving the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance just like what the disciples of the Early Apostolic Church had experienced on the Day of Pentecost gives us the assurance that our God is faithful and true in keeping His Promises.  Elijah was empowered by “the hand of the Lord” to outrun Ahab’s chariot from Carmel to Jesreel, a distance of approximately 25 miles.  Here, Elijah was supernaturally strengthened by the Spirit of God to do miraculous feats.  Our Lord Jesus Christ had also promised His disciples, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

This Article is based on the Sermon preached by Paul Wong at the
 Spiritual Convocation in Houston, Texas on January 5, 2002
For comments please write first to: ark@pdq.net

This Web Site has been updated on November 5, 2003

May God bless you.

Paul Wong is a Christian minister and the President of ARK International.
His ministry also serves as an architectural service company in Houston.
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