The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.James 5:16
One of the aspects of discipleship that always has been a struggle for me is prayer. Both in terms of frequency and intensity, my prayer practice always has felt lacking. The type of prayer that James describes, effectual and fervent, has been too rare of an experience for me.
Like most people, my prayers get more intense when outside circumstances demand it. Personal tragedy can drive us to our knees, sometimes reduced to wordless groanings of the spirit. But even though such prayers may be intense, they don’t always reflect our actual intent. In such circumstances we sometimes try to strike a deal with God, promising that if this cup is removed from us, we will never do “x” again, or we will fast every week, or we’ll start doing our ministering visits. I suspect that such dialogue sounds to our Father in Heaven like someone negotiating with a “collector” when they cannot pay their bookie.
Fortunately, such circumstances aren’t a daily affair, but that leaves us with the challenge of praying fervently–what Moroni called praying with “real intent”–when we aren’t in the midst of a crisis. We might think of these as “obligatory” prayers, offered by way of commandment rather than because we are facing an imminent need for the intervention of God.
You might think of these two types of prayers like calling home to a parent. Sometimes you call out of a sense of duty, or to avoid the guilt of not having called. You start the conversation without much interest and almost immediately begin looking for how you are going to end it. Other times, such as when you need to borrow money or your babysitter fell through, you become much more focused and perhaps more friendly.
There is, however, a third category of calls to home. These are the calls we make because we love our parents, value their opinions, and feel good spending time with them. Their presence in our lives brings us joy. We talk with them because we like to talk to them.
The same can be true of our prayers. Effectual, fervent prayer may be as simple as prayer motivated by a love for communing with our Heavenly Father. But “simple” isn’t always “simple.” I suspect that if we wait until we have knelt at the end of the day to prepare to commune with God we likely have waited too long. In order to long for a discussion with God, He has to have been on our minds during the day. We need to be aware of when His hand has reached out to protect or instruct us. We have to be sensitive to the moments when the Lord’s tender mercies have been extended to us.
When we have noticed the presence and grace of God throughout the day, we will be more inclined to reach out to him in humility and thanks and be willing to ask for forgiveness and guidance. We then realize that the Lord has been reaching out to us all day, and we decide to return His call.
Our hearts can only be drawn out to God when they are filled with love for Him and trust in His goodness.Henry B. Eyring