“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”—James 5:16
By Francis Earl
The purpose of this study is to review some of the promises made by God to his people, to draw to the reader’s attention the necessity for a continuing prayer life, and to point out that one must maintain a personal relationship with our heavenly Father if desired results are to be achieved. Promise and prayer are so deeply intertwined in the Christian’s walk that attention must always be directed toward a closer walk with God, being devoted to his plans and purposes.
Prayers of Old Testament Servants
First there was Adam; he had a close relationship with his Creator until it was severed by his disobedience (Gen. 3:8). Noah did all that God instructed him to do and was saved from the deluge (Gen. 8:20). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had fellowship with God, in spite of their weaknesses and short-comings. The faithfulness of Joseph and Moses was retold through the centuries (Heb. 11). Even after David’s grievous actions, when he repented, he was forgiven.
When Hezekiah was being threatened by the invasion of the Assyrian army at first he paid the tribute demanded by Sennacherib’s messengers; but after Sennacherib sent a message to the people telling them not to listen to Hezekiah when he told them that the “Lord will deliver us,” he went to the LORD in prayer. “O Lord God of Israel . . . thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. Lord, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, Lord, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God. . . .Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only” (2 Kings 19).
Hezekiah is acknowledging God as being the only one to whom he can turn in his time of need.He remembered that God was the source of power in all the earth, not Sennacherib. God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and sent him an answer: “That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. . . . He shall not come into this city . . . . By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, . . . For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake” (2 Kings 20:20, 32, 33, 34).
How did all of those who served God’s purposes communicate with him; their contact was through prayer. And so it has been with all those to whom God has spoken. Those who would serve God learned the necessity for keeping a close relationship with God. They learned through their failures that having the ability to accomplish the tasks given them was completely dependent upon their strength and guidance through prayer. We have the notable prayers of Jacob, Moses, Job, David, Solomon, Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah recorded as examples.
The Pattern of Prayer
A careful study of the scriptures shows that Jesus set the example for his disciples; he was always in communication with his Father immediately before events of major importance occurred. Possibly the disciple who requested our Lord to teach him to pray in Luke 11:1 had made such an observation. But there are requirements; before prayers may be heard and answered the proper relationship must exist with the Father: “a righteous” relationship. And only God may make that determination.
Ingredients of Effectual Prayer
Scriptures teach us that in addition to having a right relationship with the heavenly Father the one offering prayer must believe and have faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please him [God]; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. By faith Noah, . . . . prepared an ark to the saving of his house; . . . and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11:6,7). By faith Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses all prayed to God and received strength necessary for their tasks.
Faith may be evidenced in tasks, but it may also be expressed in “waiting on the Lord” (Ps. 27:14). If we believe, then we have faith that our prayer will be answered and that gives us the patience to wait; we will be positive that an answer will come according to God’s will—”Wait, I say, on the Lord.”
Unanswered prayer is often because of unbelief. A doubt is evidence of unbelief —a “what if” may be indicative of unbelief. “And all things, whatsoever ye may ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matt. 21:22). “According to your faith be it unto you” (Matt. 9:29). The cardinal rules for prayers of request are believing that one will receive an answer and knowing why one believes he will receive an answer.
Texts of Promise
In Proverbs 10 we are told that the “desire of the righteous shall be granted” (v. 24). Even before Jesus came the righteous people of God were given promises that would help them expect answers to their petitions. God wants us to receive all that he has in store for us. Only our lack of belief hinders this. “Ask, and it shall be given you; Seek, and ye shall find; Knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7,8). Remember, the answer is there for the asking, but you must first ask believing that whatsoever you ask of the heavenly Father will be granted unto you according to his will. “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him: he will also hear their cry . . . .” (Ps. 145:18, 19).
We have these texts of promise, but do we claim them? Do we believe that these promises were for us as well? Do we think of ourselves as being unworthy and so they must be for someone else who has made a better covenant of sacrifice? “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11,12). That could not possibly mean me, one might say to himself. How easily one might believe the subterfuge of the Adversary. But consider these words: “Delight thyself also in the LORD. He shall give the desires of thine heart” (Ps. 37:4).
“Ye lust, and have not; ye kill, . . . and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:2,3). Praying amiss is the result of not knowing how to ask and what to ask for. To know how to pray and for what to ask one must study the Word of God. Solomon prayed that he might have wisdom and the Lord granted his plea and said: “Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart;. . . . And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honor: And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, … then I will lengthen thy days” (I Kings 3:11, 12, 13, 14). “Seek ye first the kingdom of God . . . and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt.6:33) is another scripture that gives a similar lesson.
Here we find instruction that will help us to avoid praying amiss. What God is saying is that he will give us every single thing we can find in the Bible. If we can find it and ask for it, he will give it to us. There are so many gifts we could receive if we only knew how to ask. So the relationship between study and prayer is this: If you find one verse dear to you because it is something you want, start praying about it. As we find (seek and ye shall find), ask (ask and it shall be given unto you), and receive (knock and it shall be opened unto you), we become much more intense and careful: careful because we realize the power of our prayer and intense because we see the relationship between study and prayer.
Remembering Hezekiah; let us do the same. Take the Book, find the promise; show it to the Lord. Hezekiah showed God the letter from Sennacherib. God knew what was in the letter—before it was written he knew—but this act of Hezekiah demonstrated real faith, a real honesty, a real humility before the Lord. He was acknowledging that what God had promised to do, he would do; he was claiming that promise.
Study and prayer enhance each other so much that one would suggest that it be one subject—study prayer. Prayer brings the soul into the presence of the Lord and prepares the way for divine blessings and superlative joy. May we continue to pray for “thy kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven” with the full assurance that “thy will [will] be done.”