The book of James says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16b ESV). Other translations say, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV) or “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (KJV). This verse motivates us to cry out to God because He uses our prayers to change the world.
But what exactly does this phrase from James mean? Does it mean that we will receive everything we pray for, or that holiness strengthens our prayers? Before answering these questions and pointing out the characteristics of effective prayer, let’s look at the verse in its context.
The book of James ends with a call to prayer:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray… Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him… And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:13–16a)
In other words, if prayer can help a brother who is sick, battling sin, or suffering for any other reason, pray! God listens to the cries of His children. Then in verse 16b, James reiterates the power of prayer: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Characteristics of Effective Prayer
Elsewhere in Scripture we see characteristics of effective prayer…