"Effectual fervent prayer"
"Faith in the power of one's spiritual understanding is essential to effective, prayer"
The immediate followers of Christ Jesus were thoroughly convinced of the power of prayer to heal both the sick and the sinning and even to raise the dead. They had seen the Master heal all types of disease, awaken the sinner from sin, and raise the dead through spiritual means alone. They had also on numerous occasions proved for themselves the healing power of the prayer of spiritual understanding. Consequently, James was speaking from the standpoint of conviction gained through personal experience when he said (5:15, 16 ): "The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. 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."
This description of prayer merits thoughtful consideration. The element first mentioned as essential to the prayer that "availeth much" is faith. But this is not a blind faith, a mere belief in the power of God. The prayer of faith referred to by James is intrinsically the prayer of spiritual understanding—the understanding of God as divine Love, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient Mind. This understanding includes both the assurance of the Father's ability to create man good and perfect, and complete confidence in God's willingness to hold man eternally intact in His likeness, the perfect manifestation of Spirit, Life, and Truth.
Spiritual understanding is not something that one either has or does not have. Absolutely speaking, man reflects it without limit, but humanly we seem to have to attain it, and the wonder of it is that all may do so. In fact, each one must gain spiritual understanding sooner or later, for it is essential to the working out of his salvation. The way to achieve it was marked out by Christ Jesus and has been clearly illumined in this age by the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, in the textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," and in her other writings.
The reason that everyone can attain spiritual understanding is that each one individually possesses spiritual sense in some measure, even if many are presently unaware of this precious gift bestowed on all by the Father. It is through spiritual sense that one is able to grasp spiritual truth. As Mrs. Eddy writes (Science and Health, p. 209 ), "Spiritual sense is a conscious, constant capacity to understand God."
When we daily study, ponder, and endeavor to use the spiritual truths contained in the Bible and Science and Health, we gain an ever-deepening understanding of the true nature of God and of man in His likeness. Inseparable from this unfolding understanding is a constantly increasing faith in the power of this understanding to destroy the contrary evidence of mortal belief, which portrays man as corporeal, sick, sinning, and dying. And faith in the power of one's spiritual understanding is essential to effective prayer.
This salient point is emphasized by these words of Christ Jesus (Mark 11:23 ): "Verily I say unto you. That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith."
A dictionary defines "effectual" as "producing, or powerful enough to produce, the intended effect; adequate." The prayer of spiritual understanding is effectual because it is the realization of the spiritual fact or law of God for the case, which reflects the divine omnipotence and is therefore self-enforcing. Such prayer does not originate with the individual, but is his reflection of God's knowing. It is the activity of the Christ, the very power of God. It is irresistible and unresisted.
Knowing this, one has complete faith that scientific prayer or treatment is powerful enough to produce the intended effect, powerful enough to remove the erroneous evidence of mortal belief and to reduce to human apprehension the present fact of man's spiritual perfection. Our beloved Leader assures us (Science and Health, p. 412 ): "The power of Christian Science and divine Love is omnipotent. It is indeed adequate to unclasp the hold and to destroy disease, sin, and death."
When the Christian Scientist undertakes to heal sin, disease, or any other phase of error with the prayer of spiritual understanding, he knows that he is using the one truly effective remedy. Because he is assured of its effectiveness, he does not watch the material sense evidence to find out whether or not the treatment is effective. Rather, he maintains its immediate and permanent efficacy and is alert to reject as false any contrary suggestion of mortal mind.
James also states that prayer should be fervent. Earnestness and warmth of feeling usually indicate the depth of our conviction. When we are thoroughly convinced, we are positive and vigorous in maintaining our convictions. No negative quality or attitude finds expression in our thought or action.
In her writings, Mrs. Eddy stresses the importance of fervency in prayer. In fact, she indicates there are times when it is necessary to be even more forceful in our expression of the truth. In describing the way to meet a crisis, she writes (ibid., p. 421 ): "Insist vehemently on the great fact which covers the whole ground, that God, Spirit, is all, and that there is none beside Him. There is no disease."
The final qualification James gives for "effectual fervent prayer" is that it be the prayer "of a righteous man." This clearly indicates that the healing result of our prayer is determined not merely by our right thinking or spiritual-mindedness while we are praying, but by our spiritual thinking at all times and under all circumstances We cannot go along with mortal mind most of the time, accepting material sense evidence and consenting to erroneous suggestions, and then expect with a few moments of prayer effectively to destroy some particular phase of the evidence we have been admitting to be true.
The more we strive to think from Principle in the ordinary course of daily affairs, the more we bring our thought into accord with Mind's knowing in regard to whatever claims presence, in daily experience, the more effective will be our prayers for the sick and the sinning. Paul was well aware of the importance of making an effort to hold thought constantly at one with Principle. He counseled (I Thess. 5:17 ), "Pray without ceasing."
It is not only essential to understand that scientific prayer is always effectual and why it is so; it is equally important to put this into practice. We do this by insisting on the effectiveness of every treatment given a case. Sometimes when a healing seems slow and there appears to be little or no change in the material sense evidence, one is tempted to admit that the treatment has not been effective. This is the time for him to be even more positive and vigorous in standing for the effectiveness of every treatment. If one admits that past treatment has been ineffective, by this very act he admits that error can prevent the effectiveness of the present treatment. But error cannot annul and never has nullified the efficacy of scientific prayer.
The fact that there is no immediate change in the physical evidence does not mean that the healing is not taking place. In some cases there is gradual improvement as the thought of the patient is corrected and spiritualized. In others, there is no visible improvement until the healing is manifested in its completeness. For example, in my teens, I became deaf and sought the aid of a Christian Science practitioner. There was not the slightest improvement until one day, less than two weeks later, the ears suddenly opened, and I heard perfectly. It would appear that the last treatment was effectual while the others had not been, but this was not the case. When a rock is being broken, the last blow seems to do the work, but we know that every blow has its effect.
When we are convinced of the truth we are knowing, it is not difficult to insist on its efficacy in the face of the opposing evidence of material sense, for we know that the false evidence must vanish as darkness disappears before the light. In the words of a well-loved hymn from the Christian Science Hymnal, No. 149 ,
In Love divine all earth-born fear and sorrow
Fade as the dark when dawn pours forth her light;
And understanding prayer is fully answered,
When trustingly we turn to God aright.