We’re finishing today this series in the Book of James. James has been writing as a man changed by Jesus and he’s writing to changed people calling on them to live changed lives.
And here, James talks about prayer, a vital aspect of a Christian life in his last session. Prayer is the most profound test of your spiritual health, it’s a mark of deep, authentic and real faith. Today, let us go through three things about prayer in this passage ― the priority of prayer, the community of prayer and the power of prayer.
B. The priority of prayer ( verse 13)
In Verse 13, ‘Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.’ Remember that James’ readers have been going through various sufferings and trials, like poverty, experiencing persecution, favouritism, unkind speech, fights and quarrels with each other. And James is saying, ‘Are you experiencing trouble? What should you do? Pray.’
James says it’s not just in bad times that you should pray, but also in good times: ‘Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise’. He’s talking about two extremes of the human experience to mean the whole. In every situation of life, no matter in good or bad times, or the margin, you should pray to God. Prayer to God is the priority in every situation of life.
Consider the immense privilege of being able to pray to God. It’s not about the obligation of having to pray, it’s that we actually get to pray. We are granted an audience with the God of the universe and we can pray to him as our father. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the original word Jesus that uses for father is the Aramaic word ‘Abba’. It was a term of respectful intimacy used in Jewish families. Jesus tells us to begin our prayers by addressing the transcendent Creator, the omnipotent ruler and terrifying Judge of the universe as ‘Dad’. Of all the different relationships you can have, the father-child relationship is the most unconditional. Jesus teaches us about the uniqueness of Christian prayer. He invites us into a relationship with his Father, as our Father.
Think for a moment what God has done to make it possible for you to pray to him. He has intervened in history and sent his Son, causing him to be born like one of us. His Son experienced all that we do, becoming familiar with all our frustrations and trials, being accustomed to our physical needs, the constraints of our own mortality. When we express our burdens, we can be comforted in knowing that Jesus is not unmoved. Because he’s walked that road before we did, but even more, Jesus opened up the access to the Father for us. On the cross, he bore upon himself the full weight of our sin and shame,
enabling us to receive pardon, and be forgiven, and welcomed into God’s family.
Jesus doesn’t leave us on our own, by his Spirit, he moves into our heart, helping us to pray. Even now, the risen Lord Jesus is standing at the right-hand side of his Father in Heaven, clothed in power and glory, praying and interceding for you with God.
C. The community of prayer ( verses 14, 15, 16a, 19, 20)
James talks about this community of prayer in three ways.
1. A community of caring ( verses 14 & 15 )
The first is there in verses 14 and 15; a community that cares for one another, ‘Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.’
Over the centuries, these verses have been differently and badly abused. James is speaking about how prayer can be used by ordinary Christians. In an ordinary Christian community,
caring for one another and minister to specific needs. The word that James uses for sick, literally means ‘suffering badly’. Here is a person who is so unwell, they might not even be able to get out of bed.
And James says, ‘Call the elders to pray for this person’. In the New Testament, that’s not normative. The elders of the church aren’t mentioned as a necessity to pray for the sick
nor is the anointing with oil spoken of as a necessity to heal the sick. It’s important that we understand what James is saying in verse 15 about the ‘prayer of faith’.
Some people say, ‘A prayer of faith means no doubts. When you ask for healing, you have to believe it will happen. You must have confidence that the sick person will be healed now. You must not doubt.’
The prayer of faith is not a prayer offered in confidence that healing will certainly happen.
It’s a prayer offered in confidence about the character of God.
Look at what James says again, he says ‘The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’ - that word is literally ‘saved’, ‘The Lord will raise them up – the word is literally ‘resurrect’, ‘If they have sinned, they will be forgiven’.
I think the prayer of faith is the prayer that says to God, ‘You know what’s best’, ‘You know what we want. We would love this person to be well’. We pray that often for people here at church. The prayer of faith says, ‘We would be delighted if you heal and raise this person from the sickbed’, ‘But what’s of eternal value, is that you’ve saved and will raise this person to eternal life, ‘God, you can do anything, we trust in you for everything’.
What an incredible statement of faith, James is not saying God can’t heal but he’s trusting God will do the very best.
2. A community of confession (verse 16a)
Christians are a community with people who confess to one another. In verse 16, ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’. The bible doesn’t make an immediate link between sin and physical sickness. When the disciples asked in John 9, about a blind man’s condition. Jesus said, the man wasn’t blind because of his sin, or the sin of his parents.
James says a mature community is a confessing community. If you’ve offended someone, you must go to that person privately and confess what you’ve done, ask to be forgiven so that there may be healing.
3. A community of accountability (verses 19-20)
The Christian community is also a community that people are accountable to one another. All the way through his letter, James has been very concerned about the spiritual health of Christians. Christians shouldn’t just confess their sins to each other. When you see someone is in incredible danger of falling away from the faith. James says you try to turn them from the error of their ways.
Remember, James is speaking to people whom he’s often called double-minded; those people are spiritually adulterous, following earthly wisdom rather than the heavenly wisdom. Some of them were lethargic, lukewarm and complacent Christians. That was the case back then but it’s still the case today. We often see people who wandering from the truth, yet we do nothing to them. The promise here is that God uses his people when they act for his purposes. He works through us as we act lovingly, intentionally, and persistently to bring his wandering sheep back to the fold.
D. Power of prayer (verse 16b to 18b)
Lastly, we see the power of prayer. In verse 16, ‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.’ James wants us to know that prayer can change things. If we are righteous, walking in the grace of God, we can make an incredible difference in the lives of people, especially God’s people.
James uses the example of Elijah. Elijah was a prophet, he’s famous because God did incredible things through him. Elijah is also a man, a man who had his dark days, who despaired and got depressed, who was fearful of his life. James doesn’t focus on the miracles of Elijah. He focuses on the prayers of Elijah. But Elijah knew God’s Word. He could pray ‘big’ prayers because he believed in a ‘big’ God. He prayed ‘big’ prayers because he had a single-minded passion for God’s glory.
Shouldn’t we do the same? James says the prayer of righteous people is powerful and effective. It’s powerful when we pray to God according to his purposes, in calling double-minded people back to him, in seeking the lost sheep to be found.
Are you a praying person? In anything and for everything, pray. We can pray to a ‘big’ God when we pray according to his purposes and for his glory.
May I ask you once again, Are you a praying person? Resolve to make prayer a regular and constant feature of your day. Don’t be spiritually impoverished because you’ve prioritised a busy schedule and haven’t found time to pray. If you have enough time for Netflix, YouTube, and social media, you should have enough time to pray. You are encouraged to build the habit to pray individually and build the habit to pray with others; James reminds us to confess to each other.
Do you have people you can do that with personally? Do you take the time to let people get involved in your life? You know people in a small group at church, or you nurture deep Christian friendships. Where you can share about the challenges you’re facing at home or work. Don’t succumb to the pride or sinful self-sufficiency that thinks you don’t need other people’ prayer.
Think of the people that you pray for; think of the people who have prayed for you to come to know God; think of the people who have made it safely to their heavenly home through prayers.
So, pray ‘big’ prayers to our ‘big’ God; pray for your church, for the holiness and faithful godly witness of its people; pray for this city, that it might come to know Jesus and be transformed; pray to God, because He is always faithful and He is always good.
God has been telling us through James’ letter, do not settle for complacent and compromised faith, a tepid, weak, and wandering faith. For people changed by Jesus should be living changed lives. Ask God for help and pray to our big God because he does extraordinary things.
Are you living in a changed and transformed life? Are you seeking to put away your sin? Are you seeking to heal relationships? Are you under a transformation in character? Are you finding yourself more joyful and contended person in Jesus? Are you looking to Him rather than in your circumstances? A changing person is a praying person, ask God for help and ask God that you may follow Him and love Him more dearly. All for the glory of His name.
Lord, thank you that you are our loving Heavenly Father, you know us intimately, nothing is hidden from your side, you know our wandering heart, you know our imperfect faith, you know all our flaws and weaknesses. Thank you that you love us unconditionally, and in your grace and mercy, you gave us Jesus as our saviour. Thank you for Jesus who bore our sin in conquering death and is risen, even now He’s standing at the right hand side of his Father in heaven and praying for us. Lord, fill us with the vision of goodness and glory of your son Jesus. So that we would not live a compromised and comfortable life, instead, we give everything, risk everything, seek everything for Jesus.
Lord, without you, we couldn’t do any of these things, so guide us by your Holy Spirit, and help us to become people you want us to be, help us to become the church you want us to be. All for the Glory of you. In the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.