Prevailing Prayer

I have been in ministry in some form or another for more than 40 years. I have degrees and am ordained. What I’ve found is that seminaries, books, and study alone won’t make a preacher or minister. What makes you that is a life bathed in prayer.

To prevail in spiritual power requires a lifetime of intimacy with God.

Prayer shouldn’t be an aside to our busy schedules, it should be the foundation of our life in God. Not a few minutes here or there, but blocks of time set aside sitting at the Master’s feet.

To live and move in Jesus is to live and move with Him in prayer. Prayer is divine communion with the one we love, the one we adore. Prayer is the heartbeat of a life ravished by His love and saving grace. To neglect prayer is to stifle God’s Spirit and presence in our lives. To know His heart, His direction, His longing, and His vision for our lives and ministries, can only be understood through consistent prayer.

Scripture tells us that Jesus often “withdrew Himself into the wilderness to pray.” If the Son of God needed to pray and pray often, how much more do we need to pray? Jesus promised in several passages God’s willingness to answer prayer. For example:

“At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name.” John 16:23 NLT

Prayer is communion and petition, but prayer is also a weapon. All of us pray. But how effective are your prayers? There is prayer, and then there is prayer that prevails. A type of prayer that is rooted in firm conviction God will answer our request. Prevailing, effective prayer is realized through daily, consistent habits of prayer and understanding God’s promises regarding prayer.

Like each of you, I’m growing in this important Christian discipline. I certainly haven’t arrived, but when a loved one becomes ill or there is an urgent need in the church or nation, I don’t want to pray routine prayers with little power. I don’t want to pray wondering “will God answer this prayer?” No, I want to pray with confidence, knowing that I am praying according to God’s will.

Not only do I want to pray that way, but I want to solicit prayer from people who are living rightly with God, are full of faith, and know how to persist and prevail in prayer.

The Bible and Church history reveal that people who petition God in sincerity of heart, righteousness, faith, and fervency realize answers to prayer.

Great theologians and church leaders also highlight the importance of prayer. Martin Luther said If I should neglect prayer but a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.” John Wesley, who, beginning at 4am, spent two hours a day in prayer, said, “prayer is the grand means of drawing near to God.” George Whitfield said of prayer, “Whole days and weeks have I spent prostrate on the ground in silent and vocal prayer.” EM Bounds quoted, “Our praying needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistency which will not be denied, and a courage which never fails.”

I am also convinced God has more for the Church in this hour. But prevailing prayer is needed for a breakthrough! I believe we stand on the verge of another mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit globally. Perhaps another awakening.

Since the beginning of 2023, there has been a stirring. God is moving in churches, ministries, and colleges around our nation. In fact, what took place at Asbury College in February of this year is a glimpse of what is coming. It was an invitation to draw near to God; to believe God for His Spirit to burn in our hearts, churches, ministries, and colleges and seminaries across our land.

Because this stirring is happening, I want share principles from the book of James and from the lives of others, to encourage and challenge us to pursue God in prayer until we see heaven break into our situations and world.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how hungry, how desperate are we for God to move in our lives and in society?

How willing are we to sacrifice our time, energy, and affections to have God move upon humanity with a great ingathering of souls? How resolute are we to see the oppressed freed, the outcast gathered, and the sick in soul and body healed?

Every aspect of God’s kingdom manifested here on earth—in people, churches, and life—is first conceived and birthed by prayer as we partner with God for His purposes.

Prevailing Prayer Principles from James

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. (Jam 5:13-18 NLT)

Before we examine prayer principles from this passage in James, let’s look at who Elijah was and the context of his life and ministry.

Elijah was revered in Scripture and in Jewish tradition as a great prophet. God sent Elijah to turn Israel’s heart back to the true worship of Yahweh. Yet, we know little about him other than he was from Tishbe in Gilead.

Elijah appears suddenly in 1 Kings 17, bursting on the scene in dramatic fashion:

“Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, ‘As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!’”

God backs Elijah’s prophetic declaration, and a severe drought affects Israel. During that time, God’s covenant with Israel was violated by their apostacy. Under the ungodly leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, Baal was worshipedthroughout the northern kingdom as the god of rain and fertility. They believed Baal controlled the seasons, the crops, and the land.

The writer of Kings declared the severity of the situation due to Ahab’s leadership:

 …Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. 1 Kings 16:33

Elijah confronted Ahab, the false prophets, and an apostate nation. God sent fire and rain to confirm that He alone is God, and that Elijah was His spokesperson. The heavens opened, and a national revival began. Almost overnight, Elijah went from obscurity to notoriety as a great prophet in Israel.

Elijah continued to pray until God’s promise was fulfilled, and rain covered the drought-stricken land of Israel.

Effective prayer acts upon God’s revealed will and intercedes until the promise manifests on earth.

James uses Elijah as a model for righteous living and how to prevail in prayer.

 “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Jam. 5:16b NKJV

 “The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” Jam 5:16b AMPC

The words ‘earnest’ or ‘effective’ come from the Greek ‘Energeo.’ The basic idea in the Greek means prayer “having energy.” Effective prayer is characterized by earnestness, fervency, and energy. This text suggests that our praying, when energized by the power of the Holy Spirit, causes things to happen.

The earnest, sincere prayer by the righteous, based upon the revealed will of God, when prayed with faith and expectation God will answer, is effective and powerful. It is prayer that prevails. I call this the Elijah Principle.[1]

Nineteenth century American evangelist Charles Finney used Jam. 5:16b as the basis for prevailing prayer, specifically for prayer that births revivals. He should know. Through persistent, earnest prayer, Finney saw town after town explode into revival in the early nineteenth century.

For example, in 1831 in Rochester, NY revival broke out. Before that, there was division among the churches and a callousness in society against the things of God. But Finney, Abel Clarey, “Father” Nash, and others began to pray. Within a few months, 100,000 people came to Christ! A prosecuting attorney said that after the revival, the city tripled in size, but the crime rate decreased by two thirds! Some estimate that 200,000 came to Christ between 1831-35. [2]

Principles of Prevailing Prayer

In our passage in James, we read of the necessity of 1) righteous living, 2) faith and persistence, and 3) being burdened and earnest in prayer. Let’s discuss some of these principles of prevailing prayer.

Prayer that Prevails Originates through Righteous Living

Notice James does not say, “The prayer of a great prophet avails much.” No, James says Elijah had a “nature” like us. In other words, he was prone to weakness, failure, and sin just like you and I. But James connects the results of Elijah’s prayer with his righteous living.

James declares that a component to effective prayer is being righteous. Not just positional righteousness imputed by Christ through new birth, but living in God’s holiness as scripture admonishes, “be holy as I am holy.”

We can expect results in prayer if we are living totally committed and obedient to God, like Elijah.

If we are not wavering between two positions and are living righteously in our generation, God will answer our prayers. Remember, Elijah wasn’t perfect, but he lived righteously!

There is no room for compromise. Unrighteous living hinders prayer.

If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Psalm 66:18-19 NLT

Prayer, foundationally, is communion and intimacy with the Lord. Genuine prayer is not merely intercession, but sitting at the Master’s feet to know His heart, His character, His ways, and His promises.

The joy of communion with God is the delight of the believer.

It is in prayer that we know experientially the depth of God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy, toward us and all of humanity.

But God is not only loving and forgiving, but He is also holy, and calls us to righteous and holy living. This is something more than positional righteousness and holiness afforded through new birth.

Like Elijah, we are called to live as righteous men and women of God amid a confused and perverse generation. We are peculiar people called to live uncompromisingly among people who ignore Christ, God’s word, and holy living.

Elijah didn’t compromise with the deception and apostacy of the culture and nation. No, he boldly confronted the evil in his day. He confronted religious compromise, government corruption, and national passivity. And so did Jesus.

The Bible and church history reveal how easy it is for believers to lose our passion and devotion to Christ. As ministers, we are no exception.

Jesus had some things to say to the seven churches in Revelation. Five of the seven churches He rebuked for their backslidden condition. Consider what He said to the Church at Ephesus, “…I have this against you, that you have left you’re your first love… repent and do the first works…” Rev. 2:4-5 NKJV

Consider what the Psalmist wrote, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted his soul to an idol.” Psalm 24

We need to heed Paul’s admonishment to Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God within you…” 2 Tim. 1:6. We have a responsibility to remain in His fiery love and holiness. To turn from all appearance of evil.

Prayer that prevails comes from believers who have allowed the flame of God’s presence and word to purify them.

Prayer that Prevails is Faith Filled and Persistent

What if Elijah had quit praying after the sixth try? There would have been no miracle or rain. Think about how different history would have been.

Of course, Elijah kept praying and God came through. It’s easy to give up on promises, miracles, or revival. Like a slow leak, our faith can slowly ebb from us.

Faith and persistence in prayer is vital if our prayers are to prevail. Elijah believed his prayer was answered before the answer came (1 Kings 18:44-45).

Elijah heard God (1 Kings 18:1) and then obeyed God by going to meet Ahab—that’s faith. Faith is an assurance of the heart that God has answered our prayer … faith is anchored in God’s promise and character.

God looked for a person to stand on the wall to intercede.

There is a place of standing in the gap for situations and for others that requires faith and persistence that grows through our communion with God in prayer. Faith is not feelings, sight, or reason, but taking God at His word and being “bulldog determined” to not let go!

Jesus tells us that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can expect mountains or impossible situations to change. A small amount of faith in God’s word, character, and nature is our assurance of answered prayer.

Faith grows when we understand the revealed will of God.

Paul tells us in Rom. 10:17 that faith comes by hearing the (a) word (rhema) of God. Prayer positions us to receive God’s promises and directives that are God inspired and breathed upon. When this happens, faith enlarges within us. We pray with energy, expecting the answer.

Faith springs from a revelation to the heart of the revealed will of God. Whether it’s a promise from God’s word, or an inspired word from the Spirit, faith builds as a result of the word illuminated to us.

Well-developed faith is connected to well-developed prayers!

Elijah could pray confidently, pray with energy, and persist in prayer because he had faith for the miracle.

We pray with persistence, knowing that like the widow before the unjust judge in Luke 18, our God will answer the prayer of the righteous who persist in prayer. To pray effectively, we need to take to heart the words of Jesus that “…men always ought to pray and not lose heart,” Luke 18:1-8.

We know that the continual asking, seeking, and knocking on the door of God’s promise is required to see the answer and achieve breakthrough. Persistence in prayer is fueled by faith and a firm conviction of what God has revealed. It is determined to see the promise fulfilled.

Read what William Booth wrote in an article in 1870:

“You must pray with your might… that does not mean saying your prayers, or sitting gazing about in church or chapel, with eyes wide open, while someone else says them for you. It means fervent, effectual, untiring wrestling with God. It means that grappling with Omnipotence, that clinging to Him, following Him about, so to speak, day and night, as the widow did to the unjust judge, with agonizing pleadings and arguments and entreaties, until the answer comes, and the end is gained. This kind of prayer be sure the devil and the world and your own indolent, unbelieving nature will oppose. They will pour water on this flame. They will ply you with suggestions and difficulties. They will ask you how you can expect that the plans and purposes and feelings of God can be altered by your prayers. They will talk about the impossibilities and predict failures; but, if you mean to succeed, you must shut your ears and eyes to all but what God has said, and hold Him to His own word: and you cannot do this in any sleepy mood; you cannot be a prevailing Israel unless you wrestle as Jacob wrestled, regardless of time aught else, save obtaining the blessing sought—that is, you must pray with your might.” [3]

I’m convinced that you and I are only a prayer away from a dream becoming reality, a promise being fulfilled, or a miracle performed. To prevail in prayer, remain steadfast in faith and persist in prayer until the answer manifests.

Prayer that Prevails is Burdened and Earnest

The perverse worship Ahab and Jezebel embraced accelerated the moral decline in society. Elijah was deeply burdened by God’s Spirit to pray earnestly about the situation in the nation.

In fact, I believe he became burdened and anguished in the wilderness as he prayed and waited on the Lord for His direction in the matter.

All true prophetic voices hear God’s burden for the condition of humanity.

Like the Lord, they become burdened by the circumstances of their time. This leads them to pray and intercede with earnestness at a deep level with God that prevails in prayer.

Elijah heard God’s directive because in the wilderness he prevailed with God in prayer. He went into the wilderness to hear God’s perspective on what seemed like a hopeless situation. Once Elijah heard the word of the Lord, he boldly declared God’s decree. This boldness came from a place of anguish and desperation born out of prayer in the quiet place with God. The hour demanded desperate prayer and action from a righteous person.

Desperation leads you to pray with earnestness.

If one of you has a daughter or son, or grandson or granddaughter, who has suddenly become ill or near the point of death, like Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5, won’t you do everything in your power to reach Jesus?

You would gather the prayer warriors, the intercessors, those who know how to prevail in prayer. You wouldn’t call the Christmas and Easter only believers to pray. No, you would call those who know how to pray through until an answer comes from above.

My grandson David, who is 3.5 years old, developed an eye problem a year ago. It caused his right eye to turn inward where he couldn’t see clearly any longer. We began to pray. My daughter and son-in-law began to pray. They went to an ophthalmologist to get medical help. The doctor determined it was a genetic condition. The doctor felt that with prescription eyeglasses and nightly treatments they could possibly correct the eye, but if not, he would eventually need surgery. The treatments didn’t work. My grandson was losing his balance. We kept praying. It took some time, but all of a sudden, his eye began to turn back into place! To look at him now, there is no trace of the problem. God healed His eye! Son of David, have mercy on me!

But what about the families and children in our cities? How clearly are they seeing? They have been entrusted to our spiritual care. Are we burdened for their souls? Their suffering? Do we hear their cries? It may seem dark and hopeless, but we serve El Shaddai, God Almighty!

Faith that prevails begins with prayer that believes God will answer and is burdened for the lost, hurting, and broken.  

In their day, the Wesley’s, George Whitfield, and others became burdened for the state of London and their nation. From a place of righteous living, Bible reading, study, and consistent prayer that led to a baptism of power on Jan. 1, 1739, they became earnest, desperate for God to move.

The conditions of their day seemed hopeless before revival. Deism had a devasting effect on the church and culture. The authority of God’s word was questioned. Spiritual indifference and skepticism abounded, and the church and society degenerated into immorality. Many clergy became figureheads, and many spoke against the doctrine of salvation by faith. Many were known for their drinking habits, and some even led riots against the revivalists. Corruption in government and high society abounded. Most statesmen drank to excess and lived grossly immoral lives. Some even taught their sons how to seduce women. Common people in pre-revival England were often brutal, violent, and given to drunkenness. Every third house in London sold liquor, and gin shops invited the public to “get drunk for a penny, or dead drunk for two pence and straw to lie on until the drunken stupor was gone.” But God! By early 1739 revival came!

We can also look to the story of Esther. Sheltered by the palace and the position, at first, she didn’t hear the cry. When challenged by the prophetic voice of Mordecai, something began to shift in her.

The voice of the Lord thunders. It shifts our hearts from ease, from comfort, to burden and desperation which lead us to act. It brings us to a place of decision. How much of a cost are we willing to pay? Are willing are we to leave security and comfort for God’s purposes?

We can look at history and see the 1857-59 Layman’s Prayer Revival. Desperation caused a nation to respond to another hopeless situation. A businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, who came to Christ in 1832 through the ministry of Charles Finney in NY, began to have a burden for NYC.

On September 23, 1857, he had his first noontime prayer meeting. No one was there at first; six men came at the end. The next meeting, 20 people came.

Then the stock market crashed in the fall of 1857! Businesses began to lay people off. Some lost everything. It is estimated that 30,000 men roamed the streets of NYC demanding bread. 3,000 children and youth were on the streets; many were young girls prostituting themselves to survive. Gangs were already a problem; mob violence reached a tipping point.

Suddenly, Jeremiah’s prayer meeting was packed. They ran out of room at the Fulton Street mission, more prayer meetings started around town. Thousands began to gather for noon prayer in New York city and other cities around the nation. Desperation caused people to cry out to God! Revival broke out across the nation!

There were 30 million people in America at the time. Within two years, roughly 6.7% of the population came to Christ, or 2 million people! Revival historian J. Edwin Orr called the Layman’s prayer revival the most significant and far-reaching movement to ever occur in the church!

Today, with a population of 325 million, that would be almost 22 million people!

Can God do it again? Absolutely! IF we become burdened for our cities and nation and pursue the Lord with all our hearts.

What Shall We Do?

 We know what God has promised:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chr. 7:14

Is it possible, that what the Wesley’s & Whitfield experienced, what Charles Finney experienced, what our nation experienced in the Laymen’s prayer revival of 1857-59, and other moves of God could happen again in America and around the globe? Of course! If we determine to mean business with God, to go to the wilderness like Elijah, and get God’s heart for our situation and pray with earnestness.

Father, we come to you and repent Lord for any unrighteous behavior in our lives that is contrary to your word and nature. Jesus, forgive us. We return to you in humility and ask for your forgiveness and restoration.
Forgive us for complacency. Strip away any indifference we have to the plight of the people in our cities. Let us have your heart and burden for the lost and broken in our world. Ignite a passion in us Lord that cannot be quenched.
We ask for a fresh baptism of your Spirit with power to pray, preach, and disciple the nations! Come Holy Spirit, fall on us a fresh… In Jesus’ name!

[1] Bob Sawvelle, Our Eyes are On You: Principles to Prevail in Faith and Prayer (Create Space, Tucson, AZ 2020), xxx.

[2] Wesley Duewel, Revival Fire (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1995), 109-110.

[3] William Booth

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