We will focus first on James' statement that "the prayer of a righteous man avails much."
The word "righteous" in the original means "approved of." As Scripture is clear that "none is rghteous" (Rom. 3:10-11), it follows that it is the prayer of those who have been MADE righteous THROUGH Christ that is at point here. The prayer of the redeemed is that which is powerful and effective. Such prayer is possible because of Christ's finished work at the cross. Through Christ, believers can freely enter into God's throne. Whether one is new in the faith or has been a saint for decades, the privilege of calling God, "Abba," our Father, is the same. All believers have the same Mediator, the same Intercessor-- that is, Christ who died, was buried, and risen again! In Him we have forgiveness of sins; and, God's wrath is no longer upon us. He reconciles us to the Father, unto whom we make our prayer, our requests, our heart's cry.
Of course, there are hindrances to prayer. Unconfessed sin or doubting, for example, hinders a believer's prayer. When we pray, we must do so "in faith" (James 1:6-8, 5:15).
Interestingly, James brings to our attention the great prophet Elijah. He makes the important point that Elijah is actually "a man just like us." Even the apostle Paul communicates this truth, as made clear in Acts 14 when a crippled man was healed and Paul and Barnabas were heralded as gods by the crowd. They told the people, "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you." The point is apparent: whether you are a Paul, an Elijah, or a babe in Christ, your prayer is reckoned as powerful and effective. Why? Because Christ is your Mediator and Intercessor!
Next, notice HOW Elijah's prayer is described. He prayed "earnestly" or "fervently." The expression is "he prayed with all prayer" (parallel expressions are found in Gen. 2:17- "you will die the death" or "dying you will die;" Luke 22:15- "eagerly desired" or "with desire I have desired"). The emphasis is on the INTENSITY of the action described. Elijah prayed with intensity because he had a clear understanding of who GOD is and what GOD is able to do.
As we know, prayer is not a matter of using "magic" words or a matter of praying "long enough." It must be a prayer offered in faith! Apparently, we need to be taught and reminded of this fact. Indeed, there is no biblical account of Jesus ever teaching his disciples how to preach. However, he taught them how to pray.
Before wrapping up, let us not neglect how that prayer is tied to praise. We find in Scripture a number of instances when believers are joyful, not because of the absence of suffering but as a result of it. We find this complementary act of prayer and praise on the part of believers while they were undergoing suffering. See Acts 27:25 when Paul calls for the men to "be of good courage" during a fierce storm. This call is the similar call to "count it as joy," which is often expressed in song! See also Acts 16:25 when Paul and Silas, bound in prison, were "praying and singing hymns to God." These accounts are reflected in James 5:1 when James calls for the brethren to "sing songs of praise."
For further thought, consider your own sufferings, past or present, and view them in light of the truths presented in the epistle of James:
"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing" (James 1:2-4).
Pray in faith.