How To Have An Effective Prayer Life

Bible Book: James  5 : 16-18
Subject: Prayer

How effective is your prayer life? If you were doing a spiritual inventory, how would you grade your prayer life? Would you give yourself an "A" or a "B" or a "C," or would you give yourself an "F?" I heard Stephen Olford preach recently. And he said that a survey was taken some time ago, which indicated that the average pastor in the United States prays three minutes a day. I would say that if a preacher prayed only that much, he would have to give himself an "F" in the area of prayer. He would flunk out in his prayer life, and he would not have an effective prayer ministry. Let me ask it another way. What if suddenly prayer was no longer a reality? If the reality of prayer just disappeared from the world, would your lifestyle be much different, or would you basically carry on about the same way that you've been carrying on? What is your prayer life worth?

Listen to what Andrew Murray said about prayer. He said, "In relationship to His people, God works only in answer to their prayers. It is in prayer that we exchange our natural strength for the supernatural strength of God." Dr. R. A. Torrey, who was the successor to Dr. Moody, wrote these words: "Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer except that which lies beyond the will of God." Dr. A.C. Dickson wrote this about prayer: "When we depend upon organization, we get what organization can do, and that is something. When we depend upon education, we get what education can do, and that is something. When we depend upon money, we get what money can do, and that is something. When we depend upon singing and preaching, we get what singing and preaching can do, and that is something." But then he said, "When we depend upon prayer, we get what God can do, and that is everything."

What the world needs today is not what man can do, but what God can do. What our nation needs is what God can do, and not what man can do. What our homes need is what God can do. What our churches need is what God can do. In our text for tonight, the Bible gives us insight as to how each one of us can have a meaningful prayer life. And I want us to notice three important things about prayer.

I. The Confession to Make

Only once in the Bible are we commanded to confess our sins to each other. Sometimes people overlook this, or sometimes people overemphasize this. There is a whole group of Christians who practice confessing their sins to a human priest for forgiveness of sins. And this is not at all what I believe this means. Some people overemphasize it. Others overlook this. There are some people who think that they should never confess their sins to another human being. But the Bible here commands us to confess our thoughts, our sins, to each other. Now, I don't want you to misunderstand this. The Bible places a premium upon confessing faults to each other. Let me tell you what happens when we begin to confess our faults, our trespasses, our shortcomings, our mistakes to each other. Usually three things take place.

A. .Restoration Takes Place.

When we start confessing our shortcomings to each other, restoration takes place. Look in verse 16. It says, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed." Now that word can mean physical healing, but in the Greek it is a word that could also refer to emotional healing, relational healing, or spiritual healing. Have you ever noticed that sometimes when there is a problem, a grudge, between two people and one of them comes and confesses that sin, that there is restoration; there is healing of that relationship?

B. Reconciliation Takes Place

The second thing that usually happens when there is confession of sin is not only restoration, but also number two, reconciliation. Jesus said, "If you come to church and bring your offering envelope in your hand, and then you remember that you have something in your heart against another Christian brother, leave your offering envelope at the altar and go to your brother and be reconciled to          him. Confess it. Get it right." Folks, can you imagine what would happen in our church if we stopped criticizing each other and started confessing our faults to each other. Can you imagine what would happen if we stopped condemning other people and started using compassion and saying, "I haven't loved you the way I should have. Would you forgive me? I want to confess to you this shortcoming in my heart." There is always reconciliation that takes place, and healing.

C. Revival Takes Place

Restoration, reconciliation, and then so many times do you know what the end result of confessing faults is? It is revival -- real revival. I don't use that word "revival" to describe a week or a season of revival services. I'm talking about a genuine spiritual awakening that takes place among a group of God's people. I challenge you to study the history of great spiritual awakenings, and you will find that they are not marked by great preaching. They are not marked by great singing. Every great spiritual awakening is characterized by God's people being broken and starting to confess their faults and their sins to each other.

Back during the first weekend of March when we had our Disciple Now Weekend with our young people, we had a young couple from Anderson, South Carolina, that came to give leadership to our youth. And the dear pastor's wife was Stephanie Jernigan. I was visiting with her at lunch on the Friday that they were here. And she was telling me about the evangelism conference that they had in Anderson, South Carolina, several weeks prior to their coming to Marietta. And she was telling me about a man by the name of John Avant who is a pastor out in Brownwood, Texas. And he had given a report about how a revival had broken out in his church and in the Baptist College there in Brownwood, and how people had begun to confess their sins, and how God had used that to ignite a spark of revival there. And so Pastor Avant had shared this at the evangelism conference. And then Joe Brown, who is the pastor of the Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was to preach after this report on revival. But rather than preaching, he felt led to just invite the pastors to come forward and confess their sins. And there was a great time of confession. One pastor after another came forward to confess his sins: sins of jealousy, sins of lust, sins of pride. And Stephanie Jernigan was telling about how God had just broken through in that meeting to bring a spirit of revival.

Some of you may remember Miss Bertha Smith. She was a great Southern Baptist missionary to China for so many years. She was in the Shantung revival. She said before the revival the missionaries were self-centered and they were petty and they were jealous and they were always arguing among themselves. But then one evening after a prayer meeting, one of the missionaries dared to stand up before the other missionaries and confess hatred and jealousy in her heart. Miss Bertha said one after another the missionaries began to stand up and confess sins in their life. And the great Shantung revival that spread throughout China was born.

I could take you back to Wilmore, Kentucky, in 1971. There was a little college by the name of Asbury College. And in an ordinary chapel service on a Tuesday morning, one of the students stood up before the student body in the chapel service -- this was not planned -- and he said, "I must say something." And he shared before the group that he was a fake; that he was putting up a front. He was appearing to be Mr. Goody Two-shoes. But he said in essence, "There is sin in my heart." He confessed that he had been cheating in some of his classes. Folks, that was the catalyst that started a revival on that campus. Perhaps you have heard about the Asbury revival. Professors began to stand up and confess their faults. Students began to stand up and confess their faults. That service did not end; it continued. And did you know that there were people in that chapel for two solid weeks.

They didn't turn out the lights for 24 hours a day. The chapel was open and people were coming and leaving. And that revival sparked revivals in other parts of the nation in 1971. But it all started when people began to confess their faults to each other. You see, folks, it always produces restoration, reconciliation, and revival.

Now, let's stop here for a moment. When is the last time you confessed something in your life to some other person? Have you ever done that? Not for forgiveness. Why should we confess our faults to some other person -- not for forgiveness? Why should we confess our faults? This is what verse 16 says. Not to condemn, not to criticize, but to "pray for one another." Do you know why I would confess a shortcoming in my life to my wife or some trusted friend? It would be for them to pray for me to have strength to overcome that problem. Or it would be for you to pray for me over a problem that I may have with you. That's the reason you confess it, so that person can pray for you. Now, I must caution you. There is a danger in confessing sins to other people. And here is the danger.

Have you ever seen the devil take advantage of that? Have you ever seen somebody stand up in a group, and they start confessing a sin. And they start airing their dirty laundry, and they go into the sordid details. And it seems like they're giving more honor to their sin than to the One who has forgiven them their sin. Now, here is a principle that you need to remember. It is this: The circle of confession must be only as large as the circle of sin. The circle of confession should only be as large as the circle of the sin. Now, private sin in your life, you don't have to confess to other people publicly. Do you remember when David committed sin? He said, "Against thee and thee only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight." So, if there is a private sin in your life, you confess it to God, and perhaps you confess it to someone very close to you -- a spouse, a trusted prayer warrior -- so that they can pray for you to overcome this stronghold, this shortcoming in your life. Private sin, private confession. If there is a private sin in your life, you have no business standing up in a church service and saying, "This is what I have done in my life." That is inappropriate. And you have seen that happen. And the devil gets the glory. I'm not talking about that, and neither is James.

Secondly, personal sin, personal confession. That means if you have sinned against another person, then yes, you confess that sin to that person. Jesus talks about if you have anything in your heart toward another believer, you go to that person and you confess it to them and you make it right with them. Personal sin against another person, personal confession. Go to that person. Confess it to them. The circle of confession is only as large as the circle of sin. But if there is public sin, there needs to be a public confession. If someone has dishonored God publicly, then they need to publicly confess that sin. And there are times when it is appropriate. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bible teaches that we ought to confess our faults one to another. There is a confession that must be made. When was the last time that you confessed your faults to another person? Not for forgiveness through a priest, but you confess it to make that relationship right, or you confess it so that they can pray for you.

Folks, have you ever noticed that Christians are so harsh and critical toward other Christians who have stumbled? Someone has said that the Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded. And I will remind you that the Bible says, "If a brother be overtaken in a fault, you that are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering your own self, lest you also be tempted." I am praying to God that our church will be known as a praying church where we will pray for one another. If you want to talk about me, fine. But talk about me when you are on your knees. If you want to talk about somebody else, that's fine. But make sure that you talk about them when you're on your knees. Pray for them. Let's not criticize, and let's begin to pray. Let's not condemn, and let's start praying for each other. Amen! But not only is there a confession that should be made, but let us notice,

II. The Conditions to Meet

There are some conditions to prayer which you must meet before your prayer can be answered. There are some of you who pray and say, "Brother Gerald, I have tried praying, and praying just doesn't work." Well, friend, if you walked over to a light switch in your home and you flipped the switch and nothing happened, you would not say that Ben Franklin is a fraud and that General Electric is trying to deceive you. You wouldn't say, "I'll never have anything to do with electricity again." No. If you flip a light switch and nothing happens, you say, "Something is wrong. I'm going to find out what's wrong. Either the power is off or the light is burned out. Something is wrong." Ladies and gentlemen, answered prayer is the rule. It is not the exception. When you pray and your prayers seemingly are not answered, don't give up on prayer. Try to find out the cause.

The Bible teaches that there are several conditions to prayer. Now, they are not right here in James, although James does give several. James, chapter one, says that "you must pray in faith, believing, nothing wavering." He says if you are double-minded and you pray, you will not receive anything from the Lord. So you've got to pray in faith. That's one condition that he gives in James. Also, in James 4 he says, "If you are praying and you're not getting anything, the reason is because you are praying with the wrong motive. You are praying for yourself. You are praying, but you are asking amiss." But here James gives us some more conditions to effective praying. Look in verse 16. Here's a tremendous promise on prayer. He says, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." There are two conditions that you must meet in order to have an effective prayer life.

A. The Intensity of your Prayer

Number one, you must consider the intensity of the prayer. There is something to be said about praying with intensity -- praying passionately. Now, that phrase "effectual fervent" is really just one word in the Greek. But it literally means to stretch out toward a goal. That word "effectual fervent" is a picture of a mighty stallion leaping over a wall, and that horse is stretched out and every muscle is taunt. It is a picture of Carl Lewis running for the tape at the finish line. And just as he gets to the finish line, he stretches out and every muscle is taunt. The Bible says, "…with the same intensity you ought   to pray." Folks, as I have studied this passage again, God has convicted my own heart and I have had to pray, "God, forgive me for my cold, lukewarm indifferent, good devil, mamby-pamby, milk-toast praying." So many times my praying is so impassionate. And the Bible says that a fervent prayer, a stretched-out prayer (and he's not talking about being stretched out on your bed asleep), is what is needed. It's talking about an intensity. Let me just ask you. Is there intensity to your praying? Or when you pray, do you say, "God, just bless my family, us four, and no more. God, thank you for this food. Give me a good day. Give me a good night's rest. Amen." Is that the way we pray? The Bible talks about intensive praying.

When we were on the east coast of North Carolina, I remember being called to the home of Mose Simmons one time. Mose had a wife who was a godly woman, and she was a great prayer warrior. But Mose was an alcoholic. She'd call me to the home to come and pray for Mose. I remember the first time that I went into that home to pray for Mose. He was highly inebriated. He would almost asphyxiate you with his breath. I knelt beside him, and I said, "O, dear God, I'm here to pray for Mose today. Mose's got a problem, and it's a bad problem, it's a serious problem. I don't really know how much he understands about what is going on here today, but Lord I pray for him because he's drunk." Mose interrupted me, and he said, "Preacher, don't tell God I'm drunk. Just tell Him I'm sick." I went back to the Simmons home to pray for Mose on several occasions, and Mose didn't change very much. But I observed the faith and the commitment and the sweetness and the generosity of his wife. She was a great one for taking meals to people if somebody was sick. Or if somebody moved to town, she was the first one there with a meal, just a gracious, godly woman. Then one day she called me and she said, "Preacher, come over here. I believe Mose is ready to get saved." I went to their home and Mose had his head in his hands. He was seated at the kitchen table, and she said, "Preacher, pray for Mose. He said he wants to get saved." So I said, "Dear God, I just pray for the salvation of Mose Simmons." And his wife interrupted me and said, "Preacher, you ain't praying. Pray!" So I turned it up a little bit. I got down on my knees and I prayed, and this time I prayed louder. After a few sentences, she interrupted me again and she said, "Preacher, you ain't praying." This  time I put my hand on the arm of Mose and I prayed even louder. And I really tried to pour out my heart to God. And when I finished my prayer for Mose, I noticed that his wife was not in the room. I was interested in knowing where she was, and so I looked around the corner. She was in the living room and she was stretched out on the floor with her face buried in the carpet. And she was weeping and just crying out to God for her husband's salvation. She was saying, "Dear God, deliver Mose from his addiction and save him from hell and write down his name in the Lamb's book of life." I was reminded of what the Bible says in Hebrews 5:7 about our Lord Jesus. It says that He prayed "with loud crying and tears." And I watched as this godly woman ascended the staircase to heaven and walked down the streets of gold, and she was literally bombarding the very throne of God with her prayers. And I knew what she meant when she said I wasn't praying. Have some of you been praying for some things, and maybe there hasn't been any intensity in your prayers?

Folks, I want to tell you that praying is hard work. Did you know the devil had rather me do anything than pray? It's easier to preach than it is to pray. It's easier to study than it is to pray. It's easier for me to go around and shake everybody's hand than it is to pray. But we must pray, and we must pray with intensity.

B. The Integrity of your Prayer

Not only must we pray with intensity, but number two, we must pray with integrity. Now, by that I'm talking about the integrity of the one who is praying, because our text speaks of "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man." Let me tell you something real quick about righteousness. When you come to Jesus Christ and you're born into His kingdom, you become righteous. You are righteous. You may want to write down this word, "positional righteousness." Because of your position in Christ you are righteous. You are positionally righteous. You have swapped your unrighteousness for the righteousness, which is Christ. That is positional righteousness. But there is also practicing righteousness. Not only positional righteousness, but practicing righteousness. That means every day you are trying to obey the commands of Jesus Christ. That's what he's referring to here. James speaks of a righteous man who is trying to do that which is pleasing in God's sight. That man will have his prayers answered.

Do you know the first thing that I do when my prayers are unanswered? I look for sin in my life, because sin will quench the answer to your prayers. The Bible says in Proverbs 19:25 that "God is   far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous." The Bible says in Isaiah 59:2 that "your sins have separated between you and your god, and your iniquities have hid his face so that he will not hear you." The Bible says in Psalms 66:18, "If you regard iniquity in your heart, the Lord will not hear you." What that means is that if you are hanging on to sin in your life, God won't hear your prayer.

Folks, you must understand that you do not have to be perfect to pray, but your heart has to be perfect toward God. You've got to want to be clean. You cannot hold onto sin with one hand and then grab God's hand with the other hand and say, "God, this is what I want you to do to bless me." He won't bless you until you are willing at least to give up some habitual sin or attitude in your life.

Kids, do you know how they catch monkeys down in the South Sea Islands? I read this and I was fascinated. The natives down there will take a coconut and they will bore it out and they will put a little hole in it about that big and inside that little coconut they will put some rice and they'll tie that coconut to the tree. Along comes a little monkey. That hole is just large enough for the monkey to stick his little hand in there and he'll grab hold of that rice. The hole is too small for him to get his fist out. And did you know that monkey is so selfish, so greedy, that he will not let go of that rice. His captors will come up there and they will catch him. And he will be caught all because he won't let go and escape. You say, "What a stupid monkey! My, my, my!" Well, folks, I know some people like that. They're hanging onto sin. They're hanging onto some trespass. But I want you to know that if I hang onto my sin in my life, the captor, the devil, will come along and he will make my prayer life ineffective. So there is the intensity of the prayer, but there is also the integrity of the prayer. But there is one final thing. Not only is there a confession that should be made, and the conditions that should be met, but there is also,

III. The Character to Manifest

Here in verse 17 James, being a good preacher, gives us an illustration. Verse 17 is about Elijah. He says, "Think about old Elijah how he prayed. He prayed that it wouldn't rain, and for three and one- half years it didn't rain. Then he prayed again and it started to rain." Now, you know, as a pastor, a lot of times people will ask me to pray about it raining or not raining, asking God to do something about the weather. And my standard reply when somebody asks me to pray for the weather is this, "I'm not in management; I'm in sales." That's what I'm trying to do, sell the gospel. But that's what Elijah did. He prayed that it wouldn't rain, and it didn't. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. Now, some of you say, "I can't pray like Elijah." Elijah was a super saint. Elijah had something I don't have.

Sometimes we think of those Old Testament saints and we believe that they must have breathed a different atmosphere from the atmosphere that is around us. But notice what the Bible says in verse 17 again. It says that Elijah was a person just like you. Elijah was a man of like passions. There is no difference in Elijah than there is in you or me. The same power that Elijah found in prayer, you and I can find in prayer. That is what James is trying to stress. If you turn to I Kings chapter 18 sometimes, you can read about this incident. Elijah goes up to a solitary place on Mount Carmel, and after three and one-half years of draught, he begins to pray. And the Bible says very carefully that Elijah throws himself down on the ground, he places his face between his knees, and in that intensive posture of prayer, he says, "O, God, let it rain."

Now, folks, I want to say again prayer is hard work. Those of you who are Sunday School teachers, let me say this. If you're not praying over your Sunday School lessons, you are being ineffective. The ineffectiveness of your Sunday School class will be directly in proportion to the amount and the kind of prayer that you pour into it. I know that's true about my preaching. I know without a doubt that it is not an outline, it is not delivery, and it is not illustration that makes the effectiveness of a sermon hit home. It is in direct proportion to the amount of time that I spend in prayer over that message. Sometime early in my ministry, a very wise old minister said to me, "For every hour of time you spend in preparation for your message, you should spend two hours in prayer." Old Elijah got alone and he prayed. He prayed persistently. In fact, if you know the story, seven times he sent his servant up to the top of the mountain to see if there were any clouds on the horizon. The servant said, "No." But seven times the servant was sent up there and Elijah kept on praying and kept on praying. Folks, some of you need to keep on praying about something.


Did you know that George Mueller of Bristol prayed all of his life for a friend to be saved? And that friend was not saved until the day of George Mueller's funeral. Some of you are praying for a wayward child. Some of you are praying for a lost husband. Some of you are praying, and I just want to say, "Don't give up. You keep on hounding heaven with your prayers." Persistence! Then there was a great outpouring of rain. That's what I'm praying for here at Eastside. That "there will be showers of blessing" upon our fellowship. "There are some mercy drops round us that are falling, but for the showers we plead."

Folks, we need to pray that something will happen around here that will have the unmistakable imprint of God upon it. I'm not talking about something sensational or something noisy. When I watch the sun rise, there is nothing sensational or noisy about a sunrise. But I want you to know that it has God's signature upon it. And I'm praying that God will do something like that in this church. May I say to you that it will only happen when God's people get serious about prayer? You know, a happy church is not a church that is frozen together by formalism, not rusted together by tradition; not wired together by organization. But a happy church is a church that is melted together by prayer. Amen.