That dog won’t hunt
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16
16 The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!
18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
President Lyndon B. Johnson used the phrase “that dog won’t hunt” in the 1960s. The exact origin of the phrase is unknown, but LBJ certainly popularized it. It has been in use since at least the 1930s. The phrase was made into a song by Waylon Jennings in 1986.
“That dog won’t hunt” is southern American slang. It refers to something that won’t fulfill its intended purpose, or a plan or scheme that will flop. A couple of near alternative sayings are: “it just ain’t going to happen,” or “it ain’t going to work out.”
Too often when it comes to prayer, “That dog won’t hunt.”
We may not like to admit it, but we all know what ineffective prayer is. It is all too common and happens so much of the time. What is ineffective prayer? Ineffective prayer is prayer that does not get answered. Ineffective prayer does not achieve the desired results and seemingly has no influence with the Father. It is inadequate and useless.
While there are certainly other considerations such as timing, the acid test couldn’t be simpler. Anyone can try it anytime or anywhere. If you pray and nothing happens, your prayer may well be ineffective. “That dog won’t hunt.”
To understand this better, simply review the meanings of two words: effective and ineffective.
Effective means producing a desired effect, an intended outcome or expected result. When something is effective, it gets the job done. It is capable of exerting force or influence on the final outcome.
Ineffective denotes not producing a desired effect or effects. When something is ineffective it is inadequate, incompetent, incapable, impotent or useless.
Why are prayers so often ineffective? If the Father’s children are sincere and desire the best possible outcome, there is no reason to examine the motives of their hearts. Perhaps it has to do with the assumptions that His children make.
Could it be that we assume that we know what is best in a given situation? Do we believe that we know what ought to happen? If so, do we pray and ask the Father to do what we think is right? Do we try to persuade the Father to execute our will?
If so, we need to change our way of thinking. The Scriptures are quite clear. Prayer is effective when the Father’s children seek to pray His will into existence, rather than their own.
Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Luke 11:2 When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.”
Think about one of your favorite athletes. Now visualize him or her performing to the degree of excellence you know they are capable of. What do you see? Now imagine that same athlete as a 5-year-old child. Some of the talent that makes them great as an adult may already be evident. But can the child perform up to the level that it will when it becomes an adult? Of course not!
What does it take to transform a 5-year-old child into an accomplished world-class athlete? The short answer is at minimum time and practice.
Our heartfelt desire may be pure. We may sincerely want only what we think is the best for others. But when it comes to prayer, perhaps too often we act just like 5-year-old children tugging on our parent’s clothes seeking that our wishes be fulfilled. What if our best, is not His best?
REFLECT & PRAY
It’s often said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth (Wiersbe).
Father, I wish my prayers could be more effective. Enable me to get to know You better and hear and recognize Your voice. Give me a willing heart to carry out Your wishes.
“Praying itself is not a shot in the dark, not a net cast into the sea with the hope of a good catch. Praying is working along with God in the fulfillment of His divine plan” (Thomas Haire).
“In prayer we need always to obtain the wisdom of the Spirit so that we may pray according to the will of God and not suffer discouragement from failure to see our prayers realized” (Thomas Haire).
When our goal is to pray the Father’s will into existence, effective prayer begins with first determining what His will is. In part this means getting to know the Father and developing the ability to hear His voice. The prophet Elijah shows the way.
16 The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
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 earth for three years and six months.
What is the difference between Elijah and us? There is a one-word answer. Nothing!
How was Elijah able to know how to pray? What enabled him to pray effectively? How did he pray the Father’s will into existence on earth?
1 Kings 17:1-2
1 Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives – the God I serve – there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”
2 Then the LORD said to Elijah,
1 Kings 18:1 Later on, in the third year of the drought, the LORD said to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain!”
So how did he know how to pray? He heard the Father’s voice and the Father told him what to pray and also what to say to others.
Verse 15 in James 5 could be translated, “the energized prayer of a righteous man is able to do much.” Such prayers are “a potent force in calling down the power of God” (MacArthur). The Greek word translated energized, effective is energeo. The English word “energy” comes from this term.
Where does the energy of effective prayer come from? It comes from the Father. When a righteous child of the Father prays effectively, they are energized by the Father. He communicates with them. He works through them.
Now that dog will hunt!