This is an honest question, what does “effectual fervent prayer” mean? As someone read James 5:16 recently I wrote down in my ever-present notebook, “what means effectual?”

I know what I think it means, but I finally got around to looking it up today. According to several dictionaries I read, the essence of ‘effectual’ is, “sufficient to produce a desired result.”

The verse in full reads:

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

—James 5:16

The context is praying for one another, especially those who are struggling physically and spiritually. The follow-up verse says that Elijah was a man like we are (i.e., he had problems too), but he was able to pray and accomplish God’s purposes.

It seems to me that verse 16 is not talking about a way to pray (as I always thought), but about answered prayers. When you pray and it produces the desired result then it is effectual. That seems to say to me that not all prayer is effectual. Not all prayers are “sufficient to produce the desired result.”

Availeth: While the word “avail” is used today to mean “take advantage of” or “to be of benefit” it used to mean “to have value or worth.”

Does this mean that we don’t pray in an effectual way which avails much; rather, that when we pray and it is of worth or value it is therefore an effectual prayer?

Does that question even make sense to anyone besides me?

In other words, the result of “effectual prayer” is not what “availeth much,” but prayer that “availeth much” is “effectual.”

Then there is the word “fervent” in there. Literally the etymology of that word is “boiling, hot, glowing.” Figuratively it means “violent, impetuous, furious.” One of the early uses of the word (according to Etym Online) is “empassioned.” While our prayers probably should not be “violent, impetuous and furious” they certainly should be passionate.

Taking the whole phrase “effectual, fervant prayer” we can draw some thoughts to apply to our prayer life.

  • Prayer may not always be effectual
  • To be effectual, prayer should be passionate
  • You can’t have prayers that have value or worth without it being something you are passionately concerned about

What are your thoughts on these words? I have not done a Greek word study on them yet to see what their original language meanings are. Maybe I will do that and let you know the results. In the mean time, do you have any comments on what this verse seems to be saying? Write them below.

Filed under: Bible Thought

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