Did you know that George Mueller, the great 19th Century prayer warrior, beseeched God for the souls of two men for over fifty years? Both eventually trusted in Jesus as their Savior, one after Mueller had died. The point? Prayer works.
But not all prayer is equally effective. The Bible makes it clear in Psalm 66:18, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened...."
1 Peter 3:7 gives this warning to husbands, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."
James makes a powerful point about prayer that works in chapter 5 and verse 16 of his practical how-to manual for life, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
Now, you may be thinking "Well, we as believers are righteous through Christ so I guess all of our prayers are effective, right?" Wrong! This is not the kind of righteousness that James is talking about in this verse. James is referring, not to our positional righteousness that is received by faith as a free gift (as Paul refers to again and again throughout the book of Romans.) No, James is referring to a righteousness of a more practical kind.
The half brother of Jesus writes in James 2:21-24, "Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,' and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."
This justification is a different kind of declaration of righteousness than Moses writes about in Genesis 15:6 and Paul refers to in Romans chapter four. This justification was when the angel of the Lord (aka "Jesus") declares Abraham as righteous, not just in the heavenly books but in the earthly realm. Why? Because Abraham was willing to offer his own son on the altar at God's command. He had believed in God's promise more than two decades before this incident on Mt. Moriah and was "saved." But now he was combining his faith with works and, as a result, he was declared a righteous man of God on earth practically and not just in the heavenlies legally.
What does all of this mean for you and me? A lot, especially when it comes to our prayer lives! When we combine faith and our works we become more righteous on earth in a very real way. When we become more righteous on earth we have more leverage in heaven. In other words our prayers are more powerful and effective.
If you don't believe me ask Daniel. Here's what the angel Gabriel told him in Daniel 9:23, "As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed."
Can you imagine being such a godly person on earth that you had the respect of all of heaven? Can you imagine being so godly that as soon as you begin to prayer heaven dispatches the answer? That was Daniel.
Prayer that is powerful and effective is a result of lives that are powerful and effective. Ask Daniel, Abraham or George Mueller for that matter. And that, according to James 5:16, can be our lot as well if we combine our faith with works and offer our most cherished things on the altar of sacrifce to God.
Let us serve him with all of our hearts...then let us pray!