Robert Murray McCheyne, a preacher known for his honorable prayer life, said that “a man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more.” If this is true, what does it say about you and me?
In preparation for a sermon on prayer, I considered James 5:16 and why we fail to have an honorable prayer life like McCheyne. And I had my children help me with it.
“What is prayer?” I asked them. “Talking to God,” my oldest said. As a simple definition, he was spot on. Robert Murray McCheyne called it a “link that connects earth with heaven.”
I think prayer is often trivialized in the Christian life. Although there are a myriad of reasons, we can sum them up in two: we fail to realize our desperation or we have doubts in the effect of prayer.
James conquers both of these reasons in his brief epistle. He sandwiches at least 10 tests of faith by the admonition to pray (Jas. 1:5; 5:13-18). He assumes after the Christian has been tried by these tests, prayer is needed. So, he closes his letter with an urge to pray.
For those of us who view prayer as a near wasted time alone uttering words that may never reach heaven, he reminds us of how powerful prayer really is.
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
This may not be convincing at the moment, but when we consider the statement in the original language, power leaps off the page. In Greek it reads, “Much powering prayer of a righteous energizing.”
I admit it sounds like Tonto speaking the divine language. The Greek language doesn’t require sequence to govern meaning. Words can be arranged in just about any order. This can sometimes make it difficult to translate.
To make matters worse, there are three words used as adjectives when translated that are not adjectives in the original text. These three words give strength to the power of prayer: much, powering, and effecting.
- Much. This is the word “great” or “large” or, as my little girl says, “whole bunches.” It means prayer has an abundance.
- Powering. It means to have sufficient ability. It is able to prevail. It is a verb in the present active tense, so it is powering and prevailing, here and now.
- Effecting. This is another verb with the same tense. This is where we derive our word “energy,” and it speaks to the effectiveness of the power. Prayer is effectual. It accomplishes.
Put it all together and you find prayer to be big, powerful, and effective. But to my children, I speak more plainly. All of this tells us about how powerful prayer is. It is compounded power, and then compounded again. It is powerfully powering power. That is why we can be confident, and to my children, it makes total sense. God is on the other side of the link.