The practice of prayer is vital to effective Christian living. Church historians reported that the knees of James were full of calluses like a camel’s knees, because of his constant kneeling in prayer. Hence, it would come as no surprise that he should spend the closing moments of his letter encouraging the believers to pray. Broadly, James 5:12-20 can be categorized into four aspects of prayers.
In verse 13, James first called attention to two kinds of prayer for two kinds of circumstances. Regardless of what kind of prayers one is offering, they should be addressed to God appropriately. When one is hurting, it is alright to petition God. And when one is happy, he should not forget to praise God. In verses 14-15, James turned to deal with the issue of faith in prayer, especially for those who are sick. He first established that it is the responsibility of the believer who is sick to request prayer from the elders of the church. And it is the responsibility of the elders to pray for the sick. James advocates that oil should be used to anoint the sick person.
In a sublime way, James also offered two factors to effective prayers. He said it should be offered in the name of the Lord and in faith. In other words, the praying elder must pray to the Lord, and he must pray believingly. Why? Because verse 15 tells us that it is the Lord Himself Who would heal the sick. He explicitly shows us that the one who heals is not the elder. Hence, a responsible elder would direct the sick to look to God and not to himself. Notice James used the phrase, “raise him up”, in verse 15. It could be that the condition he was referring to be a long-standing, persistent illness. It could also be caused by a willful sin. Hence, James ended this verse by saying, if he has committed sins, they would be forgiven him.”
In the next three verses, James offered a few more factors that would ensure prayer effectiveness. Perhaps he saw the unity of the believers as a critical element in answered prayers. Hence, he reminded them to confess their sins one to another and pray for one another. Remember that James was conscious that they were facing hardship, where the relationship could be frayed due to misunderstanding. He wanted the fellowship to respond rightly toward each other. He was aware that prayers offered by disgruntled and disunited people would render the prayers ineffective. Hence, the necessity to confess one to another so that healing could first take place in their relationship. From the earlier verses of chapter 5, we also saw hints that they were judging each other. Confession and forgiveness were needed to bring reconciliation. Instead of being judgmental and critical, James’ purpose was to bring about reconciliation.
In verse 16, James also showed the need for a person to be in right relationship with God for prayer to be effective. The word “righteous” is not about a person who has no wrong or flaws but who is in a right standing with God. James turned to illustrate this with the life of Elijah. This prophet of God was far from being flawless. He was a person subjected to like passion as any believer. The one thing that stood out in his life was the fact that he was in a right standing with God. Hence, when he prayed, God heard his prayers and answered them specifically. Notice that James also said that he prayed earnestly, it denotes the fact that Elijah offered his prayers with deep conviction. He believed that God would hear, and God heard and answered them specifically.
James urged his readers to trust God and hold on to the truth. They were told to pray through their difficult times. And as they kept at it, they should also keep helping others to do the same. The phrase, “strays from the truth”, in verse 20, implies that the truth James was talking about is not just a concept, it is a lifestyle. This lifestyle is one that is patterned after the Word of Truth. James saw faith in Christ as a journey based on the truth of God. And as in all journeys, one could stray away especially during difficult and oppressive times. Hence, he urged that effort should be made to bring the errant believers back to the fold. He was concerned because the path of the errant ones would lead to the death of their souls. James hoped this danger would motivate their concern to seek ways to rescue those who had strayed, back to the way of truth. Restoring the errant brethren would cause their sins to be covered and removed. They, then, could once again move toward maturity. What do we do with a passage like this? The answer is as clear as daylight – be engaged in prayer because prayer matters!
Monday – Psalm 5:3
In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.
Tuesday – Matthew 7:7
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Wednesday – Isaiah 40:31
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
Thursday – 1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
Friday – Jeremiah 29:12
Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
Saturday – 1 Peter 3:12
For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
Sunday – Jude 20
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
All Scriptures are quoted from the New American Standard Bible 1995.
By Pastor Clarence Goh