James the Just was a man of prayer. A first-century historian reported that James spent so much time in prayer, his knees became hard and calloused like a camel. Church history remembers the author of this letter as “Camel Knees.” I am not sure if James would have been offended by this nickname. James would have been offended if he was accused of having soft, smooth needs that spent little or no time in prayer.
- To be prayerless is to be non-Christian.
- Prayer is to faith what oxygen is to the lungs.
- Show me a person who does not pray, I’ll show you a person who is spiritual dead.
James’ letter gives a series of tests of genuine faith. The relationship between prayer and faith in affirmed in James 1:5-8: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
James affirms the relationship between prayer and faith again in James 5:13-18. This passage is a lightning rod of biblical confusion and theological controversy. When you come to this text without a hidden agenda and let it speak for itself, it is clear this passage is about one thing: Prayer.
The words “pray” and “prayer” are used seven times in this passage, at least once in each of these six verses. The point of this emphasis is that prayer and faith are inextricably tied together. Your profession of faith is suspect if your knees are soft and smooth. Genuine faith is demonstration by a prayerful dependence upon God in every situation.
What does it mean to handle everything with prayer?
The Practice of Believing Prayer
Why pray? Prayer because the word of God commands it. James 5:13-15 is a divine call to personal, interpersonal, and corporate prayer.
A Call to Personal Prayer. Verse 13 says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” These two rhetorical questions establish the text’s point upfront: Genuine faith is demonstrated by a prayer dependence upon God in every situation.
Trust God when things are bad. James asks, “Is anyone among you suffering?” To suffer is to experience pain, endure affliction, or undergo difficulty. It is the internal turmoil of one facing difficult circumstances. James 5:10 says, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
- Micaiah suffer imprisonment.
- Isaiah suffered rejection.
- Jeremiah suffer opposition.
- Ezekiel suffered bereavement.
- Hosea suffered marital problems.
The suffering prophets remind us that godly people are not exempt from suffering. Suffering does not assume sin. The question, “Is anyone among you suffering?” assumes there are suffering Christians. It may be physical, emotional, financial, relational, or spiritual trial they suffer. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Now James gives further counsel to Christians suffering trials: “Let him pray.”
- Do not become anxious, bitter, or discouraged.
- Do not complain, become negative, or give up.
- Do not seek temporary solutions to ongoing problems.
Pray! It is a divine command. And it is in a grammatical emphasis that denotes continual action. The benefits of prayer are not mentioned. We should not view prayer as a means to an end. The act of prayer is as vital as the answer to prayer. Prayer may not yield the answer you want. It will also yield the answer you need. Prayer will bring you out or through your sufferings. Paul had a thorn in the flesh. He repeatedly asked the Lord to remove it. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Prayer can take away your pain. Moreover, prayer can transform your pain.
Thank God when things are good. Verse 13 says, “Is anyone cheerful?” “Cheerful” is not a happy-go-lucky attitude toward life. It is more than a care-free response to favorable circumstances. It is to be of good cheer, good spirits, or good courage. During a shipwreck, the angel of the Lord assured Paul the Lord was with him. In Acts 27:22, Paul said to his shipmates, “Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.”
While some Christians are suffering, others are cheerful. James commands the cheerful: “Let him sing praise.” This verse does not shift subjects from prayer to singing. Singing is prayer. A healthy Christian is a singing Christian. A healthy church is a singing church. We sing prayers to God. Christian singing is adoration to God, not entertainment for man. Ephesians 5:19 characterizes Spirit-filled Christians as “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”
We are tempted to forget God when things are bad. We are more tempted to forget God when things are good. Do not forget God when life gets good! Advertise your dependence upon God in every situation you face. The life of faith is a life of consecration. Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge him.” When things are bad, trust God in prayer. When things are good, thank God in praise. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
A Call to Intercessory Prayer. There is much confusion and controversy surrounding verses 14-15. But do not miss the forest for the trees. These verses are a call to prayer. James raises another dilemma Christians face. Then he prescribes a response. Prayer is again the solution to the problem. The focus moves from personal prayer to intercessory prayer. Verse 13 teaches us to respond to the vicissitudes of life with believing prayer. Verses 14-15 teach that believing prayer is still the solution when things are so bad that you cannot pray for yourself. James makes this point by calling for intercessory prayer for the sick.
The process of intercession for the sick. Verse 14 asks, “Is anyone among you sick?” “Sick” means “to be without strength.” It can refer to weakness of any kind. It is used here to refer the physically weak. This third rhetorical question again assumes what is addresses. Christians are not exempt from the normal and natural realities of life. Christians get sick. James describes a person who is so ill that he or she is incapacitated. Verse 14 commands: “Let him call for the elders of the church to pray over them, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
The elders of the church are not faith healers. 1 Timothy says elders should be able to teach. Here James says elders should also be able to pray. In Roman Catholicism, priests are called to give the last rites. They call it “Extreme Unction.” the Bible says to call the elders to pray for healing. As the elders pray, the should be “anointing them with oil.”
Anointing with oil could be symbolic or medicinal. I believe this reference is medical. Mark 6:13 says of the disciples: “And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:34 says, “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”
Anointing with oil was ancient medication. Faith does not refuse to go to the doctor. Faith trusts that God has the last word, not the doctor. James says going the sick “in the name of the Lord.” In a real sense, taking medicine is an expression of faith. But it is not the doctor, treatment, or procedure that heals. Only God heals!
The promise of intercession for the sick. Verse 15 says, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. “This is the only place “the prayer of faith” is mentioned in scripture. It does not refer to the sick person. It is heinous to blame the sick for not having faith. Intercessors pray on his behalf in faith.
The prayer of saves the sick, not the anointing with oil. “The prayer of faith” is not a special category of prayer. It is a reminder that prayer and faith must work together. James 1:6-8 says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
The prayer of faith will “sake the one who is sick.” the Bible does not guarantee every sick person will be healed. But this passage challenges us to believe God to heal the sick when we pray. It is not the prayer of faith that heals. James says, “The Lord will raise him up.” Healing happens by the sovereign power and authority of God. The prayer of faith is no magical formula for supernatural healing. But we should pray with confidence that “incurable diseases” is not in God’s vocabulary. God heals today!
A Call to Corporate Prayer. The circle of prayer expands at the text progresses. Verse 13 exhorts saints to pray. Verses 14-15 call for intercessory prayer for the sick. Verse 16 calls the entire congregation to mutual prayer: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” There are two “one another” commands in this verse.
Confess your sins to one another. The priesthood of all believers means every Christian has direct access to God in Christ. You do not need to go into a booth and confess your sins to a priest to receive absolution. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The priesthood of all believers does not mean you are not accountable to anyone. Scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another. This is not a license to air our dirty laundry indiscriminately. Ephesians 5:12 says, “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” Confession should only be as public as the sin. Confess private sins privately. Confess public sings publicly.
Pray for one another. When we confess to one another, we should not condemn one another. We should pray for one another. A healthy prayer life consists of supplication and intercession. Even when we cannot pray with one another, we should pray for one another. By name and need, cover one another in prayer.
Confession and prayer work together to bring healing. James is not saying that very sickness is caused by sin. But there is a real connection between sin and sickness. God has so created us that spiritual problems manifest themselves in physical problems. We should prioritize the spiritual over the physical. Pray for one another and confess. your sins to one another that you may be healed. This spiritual language emphasizes that all healing is from God. If aspirin works, God did it! If surgery works, God did it!
The Power of Believing Prayer
Why pray? Pray because God commands it. Prayer is an act of obedience to God. If prayer produced no practical, positive, or powerful results, pray because God commands it. Likewise, pray because it works! It is impossible to overstate the power of prayer. Prayer can do whatever God can do.
The Power of Prayer Affirmed. Verse 16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” This sentence is difficult to translate. It is not difficult to understand. James affirms there is power in prayer. The power is not in prayer itself. The power is tied to the character of the one who prays. Verse 16 calls him “a righteous person.”
God is infinitely holy; we are desperately depraved. We can not be accepted into God’s presence by our merit. When you run to the cross, confess your sins to God, and receive the forgiveness of God through faith in the atoning blood of Jesus, you are declared righteous before God. It is through christ that we can approach God in prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Justification by faith in Christ does not automatically mean you can pray with power. Righteousness has forensic and ethical implications. It is not just about your positive in Christ. It is about how you practice your faith. This is what Jesus refers to when he speaks of the “righteous person.”
As you pray, God is not just listening to what you say, God is watching how you live. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Sin shortcuts the power of prayer.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. “Great power’ is inherent strength. It is power waiting to be unleashed. It is untapped resources. “Working” is effective power. It is the enablement to accomplish a thing. It is power to get things done. Great power works when the righteous pray. God is not paying attention to what is prayed as he is who is praying.
The Power of Prayer Illustrated. In verses 17-18, James uses Elijah to illustrate the power of prayer. This is the fourth Old Testament personality James mentions in this letter. James mentions the faith-works of Abraham, the saving faith of Rahab, and the steadfast endurance of Job. Now James mentions the prayers of Elijah.
The prophet Elijah performed many miracles. Elijah is one of two men in the Bible who did not die. 2 Kings 2:3 says, “And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.’ Malachi 2:5 says, “Behold, I will sent you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” With Moses, Elijah met with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet James 5:17 says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.”
An ordinary man stopped the rain. There’s an old axiom: “Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” Verse 17 says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.”
In 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah said to King Ahab, “As the Lord lives, the God of Israel, lives, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ James gives a peek behind the scenes. Before Elijah confronted Ahab, he prayed to God. Then Elijah declared that it would not rain. Elijah had power in public because he prayed in private. James does not credit the fact that Elijah was an anointed prophet. He was a man with a nature like ours who prayed. Does something in your life need to stop? Pray! God can do extraordinary things though ordinary people who pray in faith.
An ordinary man sent the rain. Verse 18 says, “Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” Wicked King Ahab ignored God. Elijah prayed that it would not rain, and God answered. It got Ahab’s attention. The drought shut down the economy of Israel. There was desperate need, as the ground produced no produce for food. No stimulus package could fix the problem. But Elijah prayed again. God answered. Heaven gave rain. The earth bore fruit.
Needs would not have been met by supporting or protesting against Ahab. One God sends the rain from heaven. God refused to send a drop of rain without the righteous man praying for it. The power was not in the prophet. The power was in the prayer.
Do not stand in awe of great believers, super saints, or prayer warriors. The power of prayer is available to every Christian. Do you have an unmet need in your life? Prayer can open heaven, send rain, and bear fruit.