26 Jul 2014
Reuben Archer Torrey, the first superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute wrote a classic book on prayer. It is titled “The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power.” The first sentence of the introduction written by Torrey reads: “The great need of the church, today, and of human society as a whole is a genuine, God-sent revival.” He goes on a little later in the introduction to say: “Such revivals as far as man’s agency is concerned always come in one way - by prayer.”
It seems in the eyes of many in our churches today prayer is considered outdated or unimportant. Of course, there are individuals in nearly every church who recognize it is the amazing privilege of prayer which provides the very power that we need in our lives and in our churches.
Could it be in our “modern” ministry model that we have in the main only given a perfunctory salute to prayer in order to avoid outright disobedience while not really engaging in the “effectual fervent prayers of a righteous man that avail much” ( James 5:16b) One litmus test concerning this question could be to vigilantly ask ourselves …. upon what are we relying? Upon what are we depending to expand the impact of God’s kingdom and to magnify His Name?
Perhaps a closer examination of the words of James that describes prayer that avails much would be helpful? In the original James uses only five words. He starts this short sentence with the word much. It is as if he wants us to know what is to follow is very significant. Next is the main verb which could be translated as has power or is strong. When James gets to the subject he uses a specific word for prayer that indicates a specific petition or entreaty. A reasonable transliteration might be: “much is strong a petition of a righteous man being made effective. “
It seems that when this truth is expressed in this slightly different way, the critical nature of the righteousness of the one praying takes on more significance. Without righteousness we have no promise of power or effectiveness. This is of course not the only place we find a promise regarding prayer that is associated with the behavior of the one praying. Another example is:
1 John 3:21-22 (NASB95)
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
In this passage in a similar manner to the words of James, John says that there are two things that result in God answering our prayers. The first is that we keep His commandments and then beyond the specific commandments, we do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
Whereas the commands of God provide a limited range of instruction in contrast the commitment to do the things that are pleasing in His sight is completely comprehensive. Perhaps one definition of righteousness is to do everything we do with the specific purpose of pleasing God. This is not doing what we want to do and assuming that it will please God. No, the pleasing that fosters righteousness is considering God and His desires, His wishes, His purposes first and foremost.
This way of pleasing God might be compared to the first violin in a large orchestra. Every note played for only one purpose, to please the conductor. Is our purpose to impress the audience or is it played for the conductor alone? Of course the audience will hear, but the significance of the act is the motive of the heart. Is not a life of righteousness one that is always playing only for an audience of One?
James goes on to illustrate this powerful praying using the life and testimony of Elijah.
James 5:17-18 (NASB95)
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 earth for three years and six months.
18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
Notice that James does not place righteousness on a top shelf out of our reach, but as soon as he mentions the name of Elijah he quickly affirms that he had a nature like ours. Elijah was not supernatural; he was simply completely committed and submitted; a sold out servant desiring and determined to please the Lord.
The original words used by James to describe Elijah’s praying are interesting. James literally says that Elijah prayed with prayer, using the verb and noun rendition of the same root word. In other words it is as if James is saying that Elijah did not pray with words by he prayed with prayer. Thus we have the idea from our translators of fervent prayer.
But how can we pray with such power that miracles are wrought by the hand of God? The first step in praying with prayer must be submission. We must recognize who we are and to Whom we are about to attempt to communicate. We do not pray to an equal; the very idea of prayer implies that the one praying is to a great extent beneath the One to Whom our prayers are addressed.
Righteousness, exemplified by faith and submission bring us to what R. A. Torrey calls “praying ground.” Dr. Torrey explains that the promises in scripture for answered prayer are not given to every believer.
God’s promises are given to those who are submitted to the will and ways of God and desire above all to by faith bring glory to God.
Hebrews 11:6 (NASB95)
6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Romans 4:5 (NASB77)
5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,
And finally we recognize the power for righteousness is our present possession when we by faith, trust and rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit to guide, direct, and empower our prayers and our lives. Relying completely on the Holy Spirit will always result in righteousness.
Spirit guided and empowered praying by the humble thankful faith-filled believer will bring the listening ear and the outstretched arm of the King of kings to our aid. Corporately we may strongly encourage revival when we join together with many other likeminded believers to pray and worship God alone through faith alone for His glory alone.
“Oh, men and women, pray through; pray through! Do not just begin to pray and pray a little while and throw up your hands and quit; but pray and pray and pray until God bends the heavens and comes down.” – R A Torrey