What does it mean the “prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16)?  

Author: BibleAsk Team

James 5:16 – “Prayer of a Righteous Man Avails Much”

The apostle James wrote, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). There is incredible power in prayer. It is a great blessing that God allows His children the privilege to communicate directly with Him through prayer at anytime. Prayer depends, not on qualifications, education, position, or riches, but on the character of the person who prays.   

In order for a prayer to be acceptable to God, it must be coupled with a purpose to forsake all known sin (Proverbs 28:9; Psalms 34:15; Isaiah 1:15; 58:3–5). The person who raises his supplications to God may not be perfect but he must be “righteous” in that he does not harbor a known sin. The Psalmist wrote, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalms 66:18).  

When it is in the heart to obey God, when efforts are made for that, Christ accepts this as man’s best offer, and He makes up for the lack with His own divine merit. “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. Righteous men will say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions” they will “live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11,12). 

The Prayer of Elijah   

The apostle James gave an illustration of the life of the prophet Elijah as a person that his prayer availed much. He wrote that “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” (James 5:17; 1 Kings 18:1; Luke 4:25). The prophet Elijah said to Ahab, “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 Kings 17:1 also 18:42). 

Elijah’s prayer did not spring from any hate towards King Ahab, but was founded upon God’s judgment against the nation of Israel because of their Baal worship and apostasy from God.  The prophet’s prayers were motivated by a longing desire to restore his nation from idolatry. When his goal was reached and they acknowledged Jehovah to be the true God, Elijah prayed in their behalf (1 Kings 18:42–44) and the Lord answered his prayer and took away the judgement and sent rain. 

Power From Daily Relationship With God

The prophet Elijah was not a perfect man. Though he was exempted from death by the mercy of God, he faced life as every man must face it. He was not protected from the trials of life that all men face and at times was even affected by man’s weaknesses (1 Kings 19:4).  But he was righteous in that he was in active fellowship and communion with God. He was “faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

The success of Elijah’s prayer was not the result of any superhuman qualities, but of the grace of God. Paul declared this same truth, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“ (Philippians 4:13 also Ephesians 2:8). Thus, in Christ, there is power to fulfill duty, stamina to resist temptation, and patience to endure hardships.  Prayer as a way of working together with the will of God (Luke 11:9) produces Christian endurance and character development when it rises from a clean and faithful heart.

The Lord promised, “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). And He added, “you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:12). But the believer has to ask with faith (Matthew 21:22) and wait expectantly (Psalm 42:8). Therefore, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). 

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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