"(16) Therefore confess you sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (17) Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (18) Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."
Toward the end of James' epistle is a statement that should increase our confidence in God: "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (5:16). What a comfort to know that the Lord hears and responds to the petitions of the righteous.
The Greek word for "accomplish" is the one from which we derive our English word energy. The prayers of God's people don't merely drift into space but are avenues through which God does His amazing work on earth. However, He cannot be manipulated into unleashing His power - there are no prayer formulas or perfect words that cause Him to act.
What does James mean by "effective prayer"? 1 John 5:14 gives us a hint: "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." Therefore we can define effective prayer as that which is in accordance with God's will.
What is required for us to pray effectively? According to James, effective prayer requires a righteous life. If we are harboring sin, pride, and self-reliance, it's doubtful that our prayers will align with God's will. We can't hang onto our unrighteousness and expect to offer effective prayers, because sin hinders our relationship with God. Before coming to the Lord with our petitions, we must first confess our sins and turn from them.
Prayer is an amazing privilege by which God involves us as He accomplishes His will in our lives and in the world. During hardships and trouble, we come to Him in weakness and helplessness, asking for His aid, strength, and guidance. Then He answers according to His good and perfect will.