“Prayer accomplishes nothing,” says the naysayer, “I prayed about _____, and nothing happened!” Part of the problem with such thinking has to do with the misperception of God. God is not anyone’s genie or a cosmic vending machine. God is our Creator and owes us nothing. We are to serve Him, not vice versa.
However, there is something else to consider. James tells us, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (5:16). Earlier, he writes,
You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. ~ James 4:2-3
According to James, prayer is neither powerless nor the problem. He says the prayers of the righteous person has great power, and we receive not because we ask according to our own will and desires rather than according to God’s will and wisdom.
According to Noah Webster, 1828 version, righteous means, “Just; accordant to the divine law … it denotes one who is holy in heart, and observant of the divine commands in practice.” Character, integrity, and virtue all matter to God. The prayers of those who are righteous are powerful, not the prayers of those who are haughty, shrewd, deceitful, immoral, or unbelieving. Understand, this doesn’t mean God will answer prayers according to a righteous person’s desires simply because he or she is righteous. Paul the apostle notes,
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Still, when persons want to dismiss prayer as a waste of time, we must consider the issue of character. When God denies our requests, do we have the right to be angry and to accuse prayer as being meaningless? Could it be that we are both the problem and the hindrance? Can we say with complete honesty, in accordance with the truth, that we are righteous, just, and holy in heart? If our answer is “No,” then we reveal that the problem is, indeed, us and not prayer.
Both as Christians and as churches, if our prayers seem to be ineffective and go no where, then we should examine ourselves. How might we be living unrighteously? How might we be asking according to our desires while dismissing God’s will and wisdom?
Prayer is not powerful and effective simply because it is uttered, or even because it is spoken in God’s name. Prayer is powerful when it is spoken from one who is righteous and when God’s glory is kept in view. If you see prayer as futile, know that prayer is not the problem. Rather, the real problem is the unrighteousness being harbored within your heart.