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When Prayer Doesn’t Work

One of the questions we often ask during a counseling session is “what have you done about your problem?”, and one of the most frequent answers is “pray.” Often we hear that they have prayed for months, years, even decades about their situation (marriage, addictions, anger, fear, worry, etc.) but to no avail as though God had failed. What a perfect setup for the Devil’s lies that God doesn’t care, or that He isn’t good, or that He is insufficient to meet their needs. But could it be that the problem doesn’t lie with God but with them?

James 5:13-18 provides a wealth of information on prayer, and as with most Scripture punctuation is important. Never put a period where God put a comma! Verses 13-14 tell us that when we are afflicted to pray, and when we are sick to call for the elders to pray with verse 15 promising that “the prayers of faith shall save the sick.” (This does not necessarily mean that He will always answer when and how we wish as His ways are not our ways.) What this does mean is that He hears and answers prayers of faith. Faith is something that is built and developed over time, hence calling for the elders. Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Far from wishful or positive thinking, true faith is based on the Truth of God’s Word, and prayers of faith are Biblical prayers! God told Moses to tell Pharaoh that “I am” had sent him, and it was as the Israelites trusted and followed Him that He proved Himself to be all that they needed Him to be. It is through their experiences that we were given the Names of God as He revealed more and more of His nature to them. Our Lord Jesus’ words in John 8:31-32 are of enormous importance: “to those who believed on Him Jesus said “If you continue in My Word then are you truly My disciples, and you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” He was addressing people who had already recognized Him as the Messiah with the promise that their personal relationship with Him would grow stronger as they continued in His Word. The result of that relationship was they they would know the Truth (the One who is the Truth) who would set them free, free from the hurt and heartache of the past (2 Corinthians 5:17) and free to have the abundant life that He came to give (John 10:10.) If the Son sets us free we are free indeed! He further promised the disciples that whatever they asked in His name that He would do, not by merely adding those words to their prayers, but by asking based on their knowledge of His nature and character that developed through their relationship with Him. James 5:16b continues that the “effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Effectual simply put means praying in accordance with His revealed will. How can we know His will apart from His Word? Fervent means to continue praying in faith (Hebrews 11:1,6; Romans 10:17.) Righteous means that as best we know we are living in obedience, addressing our problems Biblically, with no unconfessed sin to hinder our fellowship with Him. How can we know these things apart from His Word empowered by His Holy Spirit? Truly God never intended prayer to stand alone. In giving us everything that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) His intent is that we would come to Him in effectual, fervent prayers built and based on the Truth of His Word. Prayer without Scripture is but wishful thinking. Scripture without prayer is powerless. But prayers of faith based upon Scripture can affect even the power of nature (James 5:17-18).

Sadly, many Christians will turn to many things when it seems that their prayers are either unheard or unanswered. Once deceived that God has not given us all that we need for life and godliness they will often look to the secular for answers. Even some ministries will deem it necessary to “integrate” secular psychology into their theology supposing that “all truth is God’s truth” (which if that statement is true it must follow that all lies are the Devil’s lies.) What was once sin may be relabeled as illness. Secular humanists, even atheists, will speak to the human condition and not Pastors who message is built solely on the inerrant Truth of God’s Word. And instead of the church providing escape from the world, God’s people are now being told to look to the world for hope and help rather than to His Word. How very sad that professing themselves wise…….

The good news is that God’s Word was, is, and will always be Truth. He remains the same yesterday, today, and forever, and those who seek Him will still find Him, when they seek Him with all of their heart.