I don’t pray for our nation’s leadership like I should. Truthfully, I don’t really know what to pray for these days. I know a lot of people prayed for our nation’s leaders in church last Sunday. We need Congress to come to decisions that are best for the citizens and the government. I usually pray for the leaders who know the Lord, to seek his leadership rather than lead in their own strength. I pray for God to speak to them clearly, and then I ask God to strengthen the men and women to follow his will rather than the will of the people. But, I then realize I am praying for them not to do the job they were elected to do. Does that prayer really change anything? Does that prayer change me?
I spent a good bit of time trying to search the origin of the phrase “prayer changes things.” As best I can tell, those words began to grow in popularity sometime in the early 1900s. I found people like Oswald Chambers, E. M. Bounds, and Mother Teresa who commented on the phrase, but, after a long Google search, I am still not sure who they would have been quoting. My favorite quote about the verse is from Oswald Chambers who said, “To say that ‘prayer changes things’ is not as close to the truth as saying, ‘prayer changes me and then I change things.’”
Scripture clearly supports the concept of prayer changing things, although not quite as simply as the bumper-sticker phrase would suggest. I originally learned James 5:16 from the King James Version of the Bible. The verse says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” After my Sunday School teacher’s vocabulary lesson on the meanings of the words effectual, fervent, and righteous, I wasn’t real sure my prayers were going to “availeth” much at all. I think I have prayed most of my life without a great sense of certainty about the outcome of my supplications. I know God listens. I know God can do anything, at any time. I also know that God usually limits himself to our free will.
We don’t usually see leaders fall on their knees and admit they don’t know what to do. We rarely see leaders who promise to obey and follow the will of God regardless of personal consequence. We often see leaders who think they know what is necessary; therefore, it’s difficult to expect them to have asked God for his ideas. So how do we pray for God to lead people who lack an inclination to follow?
One answer is found with a second look at James 5:16 and the wisdom of Oswald Chambers. Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes people, starting with me. My prayer may not change the personality of my president or the character of my senator. On the other hand, my prayers might change the life of a Christian who will then impact one of them. My prayer might lead to a release of God’s power. He can bring about changes I couldn’t imagine or wouldn’t think to hope for. Prayer isn’t about changing things as much as it is about changing people. We know God changes people—we know God has changed us.
A “righteous” person is a person who is right with God. What do you have to do today to be made righteous in God’s sight? We need to pray for ourselves to be cleansed before we pray for others. That’s what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples to handle the log in their own eyes instead of the sawdust in someone else’s (Luke 6:41). A righteous person can pray fervently for our nation’s leaders. God knows what needs to be done, and he will lead us to pray for his will. When we have said “amen” to his will, our prayers have been “effectual.” Something will have changed because we took that time to be righteous and fervent with our prayers.
More than eleven thousand people will receive this blog today. What if eleven thousand righteous people pray effectual, fervent prayers for our nation? Will there be a story in the news this evening that makes us smile? Will we see God at work in Washington? Will our leaders be convicted of their sin because we were first convicted of our own? Will someone run for office because God called them to make that choice?
Mother Teresa said, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.” I think Mother Teresa’s life affirmed those words. How many lives were changed because of her prayers?
Let’s take the time to seek righteousness with God. Let’s pray when our words and thoughts are fervently aligned with God’s will. Those prayers will “availeth” much.
We may not see our leaders drop to their knees in front of the television cameras this week, but God may see some of them bow before him. God is ready to bless and guide every leader who is willing to follow. How will those righteous men and women change Washington? I will pray for them—as soon as I have finished praying for that righteousness in myself.