This week two verses on prayer have captured my attention: Colossians 4:2 and James 5:16. Actually two words within those two verses kept coming to mind: earnestly and fervently. I have wanted to explore those two words a little deeper, so I took the time this morning to do a little exploration.
Colossians 4:2 says, "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving." Continue earnestly is one word in the Greek text. Strong's Concordance defines it in this way: to be earnest toward, to persevere, be constantly diligent, to attend assiduously all the exercises, to adhere closely to, to give oneself continually to, to continue in, to wait on continually.
I don't often run across the word assiduous. I first learned that word when my oldest three children were in grade school. I was making a set of character keys out of construction paper to hang on our schoolroom wall. One of the character traits I came across was assiduous. It means diligent perseverance or persevering diligence. We can be diligent at something for a while but if it doesn't seem to be working or gets too hard, it's very tempting and quite easy to set it aside. Or we can persist/persevere in doing something because we know we ought to without putting much heart or effort into it. But the combination of these two important character qualities is quite powerful and, as James 5:16 says, effective and "avails much."
James 5:16 says, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." As the two words continue earnestly in Colossians 4:2 are only one Greek word, so also the two English words effective, fervent are the translation of only one Greek word. Strong's gives these definitions: to be active and efficient, to be at work, put forth power, to be effectual or fervent, to display activity and be operative in, to work effectually. From this we get the idea of sustained effort, of putting forth all our strength behind the effort.
Prayer is active work. We pray to the point, to the need at hand, because we believe in the power and effectiveness of appealing to the God of heaven. Through prayer we are joining with God in His Kingdom work upon the earth. It is not for the faint of heart or for the lackadaisical. Peter puts it well: "Be serious and watchful in your prayers."
James goes on to say in 5:17: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months." The word translated earnestly in this verse is the same word translated prayer in Colossians 4:2. This Greek word is a compound word made up of the two words to or near + to wish or to pray. It is a noun that can also mean a place set apart for and suited to prayer.
Perhaps I'm getting too technical here, but I want you to follow my train of thought. I think what James is trying to tell us is this: Elijah is just like us. He had no special power in and of himself. He was just a man. But he set aside the time and place to pray. He knew that the nation needed God. So he made time in his schedule for prayer; and he drew near to God, lifting up the longings of his heart. According to verse 16, he put every effort behind it; he worked in prayer, diligently, fervently, perseveringly. He was assiduous in the work of prayer.
The word prayer in James 5:16 is a different Greek word. It means need, privation, penury (extreme poverty and destitution), a seeking, asking, or entreating of God or man. When we come to God in the extremity of our need with the recognition of how destitute we are apart from Him and His grace working through us, our prayers avail much. To use the definitions of Strong's, those prayers are forceful, and have great power, strength, and ability to prevail.
Would you pray with me that we would learn to be assiduous in our prayers this year? That we would rearrange our schedules and set aside specific times and places for prayer? Oh, that our prayers would become effectual and avail much. We need it, our families need it, our churches need it, our nation needs it, our world needs it.