Effectual Prayer

Tom Burke

October 2020
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Contrary to much of what is taught today, the Scriptures do not define the Christian life as one which is full of ease and comfort. There is a war going on!

Ephesians 6:10–12
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

You’ll note that Paul does not write, “we can wrestle if we want to” or “we will wrestle when we’re ready,” but simply, “we wrestle.” If you have believed on Jesus Christ, you are in the ring, right now, and your opponent is both powerful and merciless.

We need to be ready to face him.

Ephesians 6:13–17
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Many books and articles have been written about the specific attributes of each of the implements listed here. The overall picture being painted, however, is that of a believer who is fully knowledgeable and confident regarding every aspect of what has been accomplished for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. In short, if I am going to stand, I must know my identity!

Although many stop reading here, the list does not end here. There remains one other element that is essential if we are going to not simply survive, but prevail in this contest.

Ephesians 6:18–191(Holman Christian Standard Bible, 2009 Edition)
Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.

Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.

At one time in my life, I thought that I was doing a pretty good job of fulfilling this charge. As my knowledge of God’s Word—and thereby God’s standard—grew, however, I learned that I still had a long way to go! Consider the following:

Luke 6:12
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.

Jesus went out to pray… and then he prayed! How many times had I gone to pray, and ended up daydreaming, or thinking about the many other things I needed to do. For that matter, how often had I so immersed myself in prayer that I prayed all night!

Romans 12:12
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant [persistently] in prayer.2

Our church recently participated in a weekend in which we studied Ezra and Nehemiah. From those teachings, we learned that, upon hearing of the conditions in Jerusalem, Nehemiah prayed for four months before doing anything else. That is persistent! And, by the way, the actions that followed his four months of prayer were directed by God, helped by God, and would result in the restoration of the city.

Romans 15:30
Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.

In this verse, the words “strive together with me” are translated for one Greek word, sunagonizomai. This word is a combination of the prefix sun, meaning together, and the word agonizomai, meaning to strive or struggle.3 (Can you guess the English word that is derived from agonizomai?) Prayer requires effort!

Colossians 4:2
Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.

This verse exhorts us to continue in our prayer, which is similar to the message of Romans 12:12.  However, here we are also told to be watchful or vigilant in our prayer. What are we to be watchful for? This verse doesn’t explicitly tell us, but certainly we must be watchful that our intended prayer is not hijacked by lassitude or distraction.

In addition, I would suggest that we also need to be watching for answers to our prayer. Far too often, prayer is a one-way conversation because the Christian does not allow God room enough to reply!

These few verses certainly suggest that there is a much higher and more powerful level of prayer than most of us have experienced. You might also be surprised at the wide range of requests4 that the Scriptures instruct us to include in our prayers. For example:

Philippians 4:6–7 (New International Version, 2011 Edition)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Perhaps like some of you, I have been told that it is somehow noble for me to keep my problems to myself. To “man up” and stoically trudge through life, never asking for help. But from these verses alone, it is clear that God does not desire the Christian to carry any anxiety about anything. Yes, the challenges that we face may be daunting, but we can face them with peace, knowing that God hears us and is both able and willing to provide answers.5

But in addition to praying for ourselves and our needs, we are to pray for others, and for other situations.

1 Timothy 2:1–3
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.

We are to pray for all men and particularly for governmental leaders (whatever your political affiliation!).

Luke 10:2
Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.

We are to pray for the outreach of God’s Word, and for more men and women who are willing to obey their Lord and preach the gospel.

Matthew 5:43–44
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

Yep, them too.

In the Christian church, prayer is continually preached about and written about. It is the subject of innumerable classes and seminars. But it’s not really that complicated. We just need to start doing it.

And as we do so, we’ll have the joy of seeing that which was once abstract become concrete. We will be exercising our God-given right to turn Him loose in the world.

James 5:16b-18
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Matthew 18:18–20
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


[1] The reader might be interested to note that the Greek words translated “praying” and “prayer” are, as in the English, forms of the same word. This figure of speech adds emphasis and urgency to the command.

[2] In 1611, when the King James version was translated, the word “instant” meant insistent or persistent. In the intervening years, its meaning has shifted to our modern usage, which emphasizes speed rather than effort. (For other examples of this “meaning shift,” see Words We THINK We Understand, compiled by Tom Burke and David Pimental. Scriptural Study Groups, 2006. ii, 22.)

[3] The noun form, agonia, is used of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane (see Luke 22:44).

[4] This article is devoted solely to prayers of supplication (asking for things). Several more articles could be written regarding other aspects of prayer. For example, prayer which is simply and beautifully a conversation with my Heavenly Father.

[5] See also 1 Peter 5:7.