A cowboy was driving down a dirt road late one night in his pickup truck. His horse was riding in the trailer behind the pickup. The cowboy failed to make a curve and his truck tipped over and landed in a ditch. The cowboy was knocked unconscious.
Several minutes later he awoke to the flashing lights of a police car. The officer walked up to the horse, saw that his leg was broken, and did what only he could do. He pulled out his service revolver and put the horse out of its misery.
The cowboy heard everything and felt terrible about losing his horse. But more painful was what he felt from is own leg, which was surely broken. The officer walked up to the cowboy and asked, “Are you okay?”
The cowboy looked at the smoking revolver in the officer’s hands and replied, “Never felt better!”
This story is a picture of a stark reality for many Christians. They walk around broken, but when they are asked by fellow believers how they are, they put on their best smile and say, “I’m fine.” The Christian life is meant to be lived among believers who are open and honest about what’s really going on, especially when they suffer. We don’t have to put on happy faces when we are suffering. We can trust fellow believers and share what’s really going on. We can be sure that they will pray for us.
James 5:13-20 begins by referring to two ends on the spectrum of life-suffering and cheerfulness. Suffering refers to affliction of any kind-physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. It includes anything that causes trouble or affliction. James’ remedy is to tell us to pray. This passage focuses on the life-transforming power of prayer. Every state of mind or mood is a call to prayer.
It’s easy for us to turn to God when our lives are unraveling or when we feel overwhelmed. It’s also easy for us to see prayer as the last option or treat it like a time-waster that keeps us from solving our problems on our own. James argues that the best solution to our problems is prayer. Prayer doesn’t mean that God will end our pain, but it does mean that He will give us patience and perseverance. In James 5:7-12, the word patience is used seven times. In verses 13-20, the word prayer appears seven times. Prayer is the key for dealing with situations that require patience. Take the apostle Paul, for example. Several times he asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh but God said that “my grace is sufficient for you.”
When anyone faces hardship and stress, the answer is to pray. Failure to pray cuts the believer off from God’s power, leading to greater distress. Praising God, especially in song, is also a form of prayer. Praising God is just as important as praying to God. In verses 17 and 18, James, for the fourth time, uses Old Testament characters to illustrate his point. He mentioned Abraham in James 2:21-24, Rahab in James 2:25 and Job in James 5:11. Now he cites Elijah, whose prayers God used to do a miraculous thing in Israel in 1 Kings 17-19. James’ message to the scattered believers is that God still answers prayers, even on a national scale.
The next area James talks about is one that most Christians know well. Who hasn’t called out to God for healing from sickness, either for themselves or for others? In fact, this is what James tells us to do. He tells us to follow these steps when someone is sick:
- Call for the spiritual leaders of the church. Sometimes ministers are the last to know when someone is sick. James argues that we are to give the body of Christ the opportunity to minister to us. After all, ministers can give us spiritual pain relief.
- The elders/ministers are to provide prayer and anointing. Oil had two uses in the Bible: consecration (as in the anointing of David as king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16:13) and medicinal or hygienic purposes. For example, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan poured oil on the victim’s wounds. The medicinal use of oil provided physical comfort and promoted the healing process. Similarly, prayer provides spiritual comfort.
- Leave the results to God. The sick are healed not by the elders’ power, not their faith, nor by the anointing oil but by the Lord’s intervention-either through indirect means such as medical treatment or by His supernatural healing. We have to accept the fact that He might not heal the sick person. We have to accept His plan and purpose.
The work of healing takes many forms. Sometimes there is physical healing. Sometimes there is spiritual healing where God comes into our lives and our sins are forgiven and we are made whole. Sometimes there is relational healing-healing withing families, among friends, within a church. I saw this happen when my brother was on his deathbed. He had a strained relationship with his younger son, but when he arrived at my brother’s bedside, my nephew regretted the strained relationship and was able to forgive his father.
James 5:15 sets forth three specific results of prayer and anointing offered in faith: restoration, raising up, and forgiveness. James might have had in mind someone who is sick as the result of sin. Physical illness can be the result of sin such as smoking, drinking to excess, overeating, or lying. If that is the case, God’s restoration can include both physical and spiritual recovery. The reality that sin can lead to sickness and death is behind James’ instructions to confess our sins to one another. That means making amends to those whom we have wronged and forgiving those who have wronged us. If our soul is plagued by guilt, it will consume us until it is cleared through confession and prayer. When our sins are released, the garbage in our inner lives will be cleared and we will be able to pray more effectively.
Prayers of faithful people or prayers prayed in faith have an effect. God responds. Prayer is appropriate for any situation in life, not just in times of sickness and affliction. We tend to pray in terms of “why.” We often cry out to God and ask Him why we are sick or in trouble. A better prayer in times of suffering is that of “what.” We should ask, “Lord, what are you saying to me through these difficulties?” or “Father, what do you want me to learn, or what do you want me to do?”
So how can we pray effectively? First, we must know the Scriptures and pray in keeping with God’s Word. Second, we must be specific. We have to deal directly with the specific issue and ask for specific results. Finally, we must have faith in God’s ability, timing, and wisdom. We must trust that He will provide the right answer to our prayers. We are helpless when it comes to others’ problems. The only thing we can do is pray to God and seek His wisdom.
What must we do so our prayers will be effective?
- Our prayers must flow from a heart filled with love, compassion, and forgiveness.
- We must recognize that our prayers are the link between another person’s need and God’s inexhaustible resources.
- We must identify with the needs of the people we are praying for.
- We must want the highest good in the lives of the people we pray for.
- We must be willing to be part of God’s answer.
- We must be willing to persevere. We must not give up when God does not answer our prayers right away. God will answer our prayers in His own time and in His own way.
Our prayers must be ones of faith. They must not waver. They must be followed by corresponding actions. They must be prayed from right motives.
Prayer must be continuous. We have to talk to God throughout the day, responding in prayer and praise to whatever occurs. Prayer is desired for every part of our lives. It has to be applied in both good times and bad times. Prayer is not a substitute for responsibility. Prayer and actions go hand in hand. Prayer is for the imperfect, not the perfect. Since we are not perfect, we need prayer.
Genuine prayer is not the same as passive permissiveness. Real faith calls for intervention. This does not mean that we are to hypocritically judge, slander or speak against another person. Jesus warns us in Matthew 7:3-5 about removing the speck in another person’s eye when there is a plank in our own eye. Only those with clear vision along with patience, wisdom, and humility should criticize another person, but it must be done in love.
James makes the church body responsible for wandering believers. Christians do not live to themselves. When one part of the body falls away, the entire body suffers. Therefore they must do what they can to help fellow Christians remain true to the faith. When we turn a sinning Christian from sin we will save his or her soul from spiritual death. We will also cover a multitude of sins.
How can we pray for other people? When I was doing the research for this message, I came across what is known as the “Five Finger Prayer.”
- When we fold our hands, the thumb is nearest us. We are to begin by praying for those closest to us-our loved ones.
- The index finger is the pointer. Pray for those who teach-Bible teachers, ministers and those who teach children.
- The next finger is the tallest. It reminds us to pray for those in authority-national, provincial, and local leaders, even our bosses at work.
- The fourth finger is usually the weakest. Pray for those who are in trouble or who are suffering.
- Then comes the little finger. It reminds us of our smallness in relation to God’s greatness. We are to ask Him to supply our needs.
How can we connect with God when we pray? There are three guidelines:
- Pray with expectancy. We can come to God as a little child and cry out “Father, I’ve got a need, a problem. I need your help.” We can do this because we are His children.
- Pray with faith. We can trust God. We can believe what He tells us.
- Pray with fervency.
James 5:16 tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” What are the characteristics of a righteous person? A righteous person has a personal relationship with Jesus as his or her personal Saviour. A righteous person seeks to obey God and yield to the direction of the Holy Spirit. Righteousness is manifested in a person who wants what is right according to God’s Word. He or she wants to see God’s Truth and will established on earth.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1778-1779)
- Swindoll, Chares R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights: James, 1&2 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010; pp. 117-119)
- Cedar, P.A. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 34: James/1&2 Peter/Jude (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1984; pp. 97-102)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Bayless Conley, “The Prayer of Faith.” Retrieved from Bayless@AnswersBC.org
- Daniel Darling, “The Best Thing You Can Do For a Friend.” retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Jim Burns, “Accountability and Support.” Retrieved from www.HomeWord.com
- Anne Cetas, “Five-Finger Prayers.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Harold Sala, “3 Guidelines to Connecting With God When You Pray.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Effective Prayers.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- “How to Build an Authentic Faith Community.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary: Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Sept. 26, 2021.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2021/09/adveturouos-lectionary-eighteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-september-26-2021
- Bishop Kenneth Carter, “To Make the Wounded Whole.” Retrieved from www.day1.org