The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. - James 5:16b
Our adversary, Satan, knows Scriptures well and is one who works to twist meanings to his own ends. For many Christians, when they read this passage, they surrender, thinking, "I know my sins and my sinful triggers. I'm not righteous as God is righteous. Therefore, God doesn't hear or answer my prayers because they're neither powerful or effective. What's the point of praying?"
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down. - Revelation 12:10
In Revelation, God gives us a historical glimpse into heaven and reminds us of the power, kingdom, and salvation He made available to us through the Messiah's birth, life, and resurrection from the dead. He also reports of Satan's wickedness, then expulsion from heaven (being hurled down to earth in the blink of an eye). Satan's chief goals are also revealed; to accuse brothers and sisters in Christ before God- a futile effort, but one he persists in doing. In addition to accusing Christ followers before God, he also works to accuse, guilt, and shame Christians into withdrawing from prayer; connecting with the heart of God by communicating with Him regularly, frequently, or without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.” - Revelation 12:11-12
We're also reminded that Satan is filled with fury because he knows his days are numbered (and are growing shorter by the moment). He was cast to earth where he currently works to disturb and disrupt Christians' prayers, as well as to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10) Christians' personal relationships with God. He's also working to keep non-Christians from hearing, learning about, believing, and knowing of their hope of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But our adversary doesn't have the last word... not even close!
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. - Romans 3:9-20
Here, Paul writes that nobody is righteous by their thoughts, words, or deeds. There's no natural righteousness in self. To think one's self to be righteous, apart from God, is to be deceived. But then he continues...
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. - Romans 3:21-26
Here, Paul completes the rest of the story and answers our question. While nobody is righteous on their own, Jesus gives us His righteousness through faith in His shed blood on the cross.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Cor 5:21 (ESV)
Guilt and condemnation are powerful tools in the enemy's hands, and they often are used in ways to mimic authentic conviction. Believing that we are "not righteous enough" for our prayers to be effective may sound like humility, but in actuality, it is a grotesque lie that the enemy uses rampantly in our churches to cripple and paralyze the confident praying of many believers.
So who does James 5:16b apply to? Who has the audacious privilege of powerful and effective prayers? The answer: ALL who have been made righteous by the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross!
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. - Heb 4:14-16 (ESV)
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. - Titus 3:3-8 (emphasis added)
Let's Resume Our Relationship with God
If you've been wrestling in any way with concerns that your life isn't good enough for your prayers to be heard and effective, the matter is settled. Christ settled it on the cross and with His resurrection from the dead. If you believe that Jesus did this, your responsibilities are to confess your sins (all sin is sin against God- whether done privately, to somebody else, or a group of people), and grow in deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. Prayer is the means in which we do both. Resume praying now and continue growing in love, faith, trust, and depth with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Your prayers are powerful and effective; made so by the righteousness of Jesus Christ- given to all who believe in Him!
*Portions of this devotional were written by OnSite prayer partner, Ruth Jackson.