Fervent and Effectual Prayer
“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
As we continue to track COVID-19 and the events of the last several weeks, it has been quite something to observe the progressing impact of a global pandemic. The scale and reach is unprecedented in my lifetime. As a husband and father, my energies have been centered around my family and their needs. And like many we’ve been dealing with the logistics of a non-routine schedule. As a pastor, I keenly observe the church’s response amidst crisis, concern, and in some regards, widespread fear. How do we best respond, not in fear, but in power, love, and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)?
What Is God’s Will?
Over the course of this year, New Beginning as a church has focused on the will of God. And anytime that calamity strikes familiar questions regarding God’s will come to the surface. How can God allow such things? When will He respond? As governments act quickly to mitigate and further prevent impact of the virus, to many, God seems silent. Businesses and individuals are responding in-kind. Human effort and ability is powerful when orchestrated. The church certainly aids in those same efforts, but ultimately our help extends far beyond human effort. Our primary resource is not measured in people or provision, but in prayer.
But what do we pray for? How do we pray? Do we pray for a swift end to the pandemic? Do we pray for God to protect the believer, punish the wicked? There is no better time than now to call to attention two critical aspects of God’s will – His sovereign will and His will of command.
His Sovereign Will and His Commanded Will
More relevant to my thoughts here is the sovereign will of God. Those things that God ordains that no man can change or persuade. It is set in motion and unaltered until completion. It need not be understood fully nor agreed with to occur. God does as He pleases. The earth is the Lord’s (1 Corinthians 10:26), He acts without counsel (Ephesians 1:11) according to his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Two examples from different ends of the spectrum in the Bible:
- Non-believers versus God. In the book of Numbers a heathen king urges his prophet to curse his sworn enemy, God’s chosen people. His prophet could not act according to the king’s request as God already pronounced His people blessed and he had no power to proclaim otherwise (Numbers 23:20).
- Believers versus God. Conversely, in the New Testament, Martha and her sister urged Jesus to save a dying brother. Without question Jesus loved them (John 11:3,5). They sent for Jesus to heal Lazarus. Jesus delays His arrival knowing that His presence, while saving Lazarus from death, would have actively worked against the will of God (John 11:4). More than that, He is glad He had not been there (John 11:15)! Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and God is glorified in the revelation that Jesus not only is able to heal and restore natural life and has power over death, but God’s will through Him is that to those that believe in Him, He is life itself (John 11:25,26).
Secondly, consider God’s will of command, which can be disobeyed. Romans 12:1,2 guides the believer in how we ought to live by the transforming of our mind. God has commanded the things we should do – pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18), holiness (Leviticus 20:17, 1 Peter 1:16), sexual morality (1 Thessalonians 4:3), to name a few. These are only possible to a people committed to His Spirit (Romans 8:5), kill self (Colossians 3:5), and allowing Christ to take residence in them (Galatians 2:20).
Prayer, Fervent and Effectual
I, in no way, wish for a prolonged period of suffering but I do think blindly praying for God to “stop the Coronavirus in its tracks” is a misguided prayer. It is a prayer with many potential motivations at the expense of the only one that truly matters, the will of a sovereign God. The Bible is clear – the fervent and effectual prayer of a righteous man has great power (James 5:16). To want something intensely and seek God fervently for it, however honorable or beneficial, is only part of the equation. We are only powerful in prayer when it is in accordance to the will of God.
I do not pretend to expressly know the will of God in the face of a global pandemic. I do pray that God would bring about global revival and renewed reliance on Him, as life itself, not the systems that man constructs that have proven so fragile and unreliable. But I do know, most importantly, that His will is to heal the sickness that sin inflicts on the soul and His prescribed cure is repentance.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” — 2 Chronicles 7:14