What Makes Prayer Effective?

In James 5:16, at the end of the verse, there is a statement made that we talk about quite a bit when it comes to prayer: The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

If you look at these words in the Greek, you will find that effective means “to be active or to be efficient,” and fervent has implications of heat or zeal. So you could say that an active, efficient, hot, zealous prayer avails much, or accomplishes much in the Spirit.

Now think about that for a minute. If there are prayers that will accomplish much, then wouldn’t the opposite also be true—that there are other prayers that may not be effective, may not be fervent, and may not accomplish much? I don’t know about you, but when I pray, I want to be effective. We need to be aware of things that can cause our prayers not to accomplish as much as we would like them to.

Hindered Prayers

1 Peter 3:7 says, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect . . . so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Now, I realize this is being addressed specifically to husbands, but I believe there is a principle here that can apply to all of us.

In the Greek, this word hindered refers to being torn apart, broken down or hewn down, like chopping a tree. In other words, it is not just weak, but rather completely ineffective because it is cut off. From a broad understanding, we recognize that there are principles in God’s word—in this particular place, a way husbands should treat their wives—and if they are violated, then you are just not going to be as effective as you might desire to be.

The Importance of Alignment

In the next verse of 1 Peter 3, we are given an important key for having effective prayers. It says, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” Another translation phrases it, “Be of one mind.”

This principle of “one mind” is stated over and over again in the word of God, and it is a very important principle. It can also be referred to as alignment—one of the most important things you can do in nearly every aspect of your life.

Isn’t God’s ultimate desire for every person to become aligned with Him? Hasn’t He made provision for that already through the blood of Jesus Christ? Well, sure He has.  And when you are aligned with Him, you develop power; God gives you power as you abide in Him.

This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. We are born again, and we want to be strong in our relationship to God. So we open ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who will always instruct us according to the word of God. As we pour the Word into our hearts, and we begin to live by the Word, we are aligning ourselves to God.

How can you know this process is happening in you? Many times, as you begin to pray, your prayers themselves reveal how you are aligned with God. Someone who is aligned with God will speak forth the word of God in the things they say, in the concepts and ideas they have. Have you ever noticed, the people who speak forth the word of God seem to have more power and more influence in their lives? They have become more effective. And if you will begin to speak prayers in alignment with God’s word, you will be more effective too.

Jesus desires to be involved in our prayers, and through our prayers, He wants to bring His kingdom to earth. But often when we come to pray, we can have our own ideas and agendas, and there we are—bouncing in all directions, but not really accomplishing much.

Let me give you an example from science. There are lights we put overhead in buildings or in our homes that sort of diffuse light over an area. Then you have a flashlight, which is a little more focused on a specific area. But then—think of a laser. Think of what you can do with a laser! And it is all the result of sharply focused light.

You can have lightbulb prayers or flashlight prayers, but you cannot have laser prayers unless you are in complete alignment with what God wants to accomplish at a particular time and are praying not only His word, but the word. The word is the specific thing on God’s heart for particular time or circumstance. As you align yourself, staying sensitive to His voice and being unified in prayer, God will reveal the word for you to pray and be effective.

Understand, it is not just fervency God wants. We can pray fervently, but not be in alignment. He wants both for His people—fervent and effective prayer.

Dealing with Weariness

There is another hindrance to having effective prayer—weariness. We see one example of that in scripture when the disciples are with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and they are just too weary to watch and pray with the Lord. And we know that can happen to us too.

You know, God is a very practical God. We need to take care of ourselves, not only spiritually, but physically and emotionally too. We are in a spiritual battle; we don’t want to be in a position where God is ready to accomplish something, but we’re too tired to see it through.

One of the things that can cause great weariness for believers is when we do not understand the specific realm of influence, authority and accountability God has called us to in a particular season.

There is a snare the enemy likes to set for believers. He knows when your heart is tender toward God, you are not likely to be lured with the “usual” sins. But what he can do is lay out all the needs—the very real, very great needs of the world—and convince you that you have the ability to fulfill them and you are accountable to God for what’s going on in the earth realm and look at those orphans or look at that nation or look at this hurting person. And slowly but surely, the enemy sucks you into something that is draining all your energy, efforts and resources.

It is one of the biggest traps for Christians today, and I have seen ministries and individuals alike end up snared in it. Why? Because they have soft hearts who want to be compassionate like Jesus, so they act with great zeal, but not always with wisdom and knowledge. Just because you have an ability does not mean God is asking you to carry a particular burden.

You have to know what God is holding you accountable for and what He has supernaturally equipped you for in this season. Go for it with everything you have, but don’t put yourself and your physical body in a position where you are so wearied, you can’t fully birth what God has put in you.

Reflection

You may need to spend some time refocusing and re-aligning. Perhaps take some time to pray and fast, seeking the Lord to show you what the word is for your life, ministry, community or city right now. Repent if you have taken things on that were not burdens He meant for you to carry, and lay them down.

Remember, He does want us to be fervent—passionate and zealous for Him and what He has called us to, but He also wants us to be effective. This requires aligning ourselves with His wisdom. And as we come into alignment, I believe there are tremendous things He will grant His church the ability to influence and accomplish.

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