Most of us are familiar with the scripture from James 5:16, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” It is a wonderful truth to apply when we really need to see our prayers answered. But all too often, it seems our prayers are adrift in the wind and never reach the ears of God.
That is when I start analyzing what went wrong. Were my motives loving and unselfish? Was I coming from a position of trusting God – exercising faith? Had I seen God answer this kind of prayer before? With respect to James 5:16, did I comply with effectiveness, fervency, and righteousness? (I could probably give myself a check on fervency because I am asking with all my heart. But the other two… ?)
The question of my righteousness is addressed in Romans 3:10: “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Uh-oh. If my righteousness is in Christ alone, that means I need to either be covered in His righteousness, or actually have Him interceding for me. Scripture teaches us both are true. So, which is more effective?
Isaiah recorded the answer straight from the mouth of God (Is 55:11): “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Jesus as God speaks His word, and I, covered in His righteousness, need to line up with His desires. The answer is BOTH.
But, did my request line up with the heart of God? I totally believed it did. Interestingly, Isaiah addressed this question in verses 8-9 that preceded 11. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
As the ultimately perfect parent, God is always going to do what is best for His children, even when we can’t understand why or what He is up to. The disconnect between His mind and our minds is much greater than between us and any two-year old child we are trying to parent. All parents identify with the frustration of making decisions that result in tantrums because the child wanted what it wanted and didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity to understand differently. Could this reality mean the effectiveness of our prayers is negatively impacted because what we believe is good or right in the situation does not line up with God’s purposes?
This is likely the hardest “faith” position for us. God is asking us to trust Him, and not what we see, when what we see is so glaringly obvious. The irony and reward is that our faith grows stronger when we see answered prayer. Could the most powerful position be to agree with whatever God is doing, rather than building the case for what we want to see happen?