“If we follow the general rule that a person can survive forty days without food, four days without water, but only four minutes without oxygen, then we might conclude that oxygen is the most important.” (Living What You Believe – Kenneth Boa and William Kruidenier) Likewise, air to our physical body is like prayer to our soul and spirit. “In Him we live and move and exist.”(Acts 17:28) As our Creator, God alone can give us physical life and as our Savior He alone can give and sustain our spiritual life. (John 3:3-6) From our first prayer of asking Jesus to save us to our last prayer of asking Him to receive us into His loving arms in heaven, prayer gives us more than existence; it gives us life to the full. (John 10:10). But prayer is more than speaking to God, sharing our needs, etc., it includes hearing from God through His living Word (Hebrews 4:12 – no other written words are “living” compared to Scripture) and sharing our thoughts, our emotions, our requests for friends and family, and our thanks and worship (no One but God is to receive our worship (Matthew 4:10). So as Paul exhorted the Thessalonians (and all believers) to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), James concludes his letter exhorting his readers to do the same. He reminded them of the “air” (the priority of prayer) they needed as desperate Jewish Christians who had been driven from their homes and scattered throughout Gentile territory and were struggling with all kinds of issues, sins and needs, just like we all do today.
13 “Is anyone among you suffering (or afflicted)? Then he must pray.” When suffering, some people turn away from God because they are either angry with Him for their circumstances or they think He is angry with them and therefore not sympathetic to their plea. It is true that God disciplines us for our sins but it’s because He loves us and knows that our needed correction is for our ultimate good both now and forever. (See Hebrews 12:5-11) Unconfessed sin and unwillingness to repent hinder our fellowship with God (“the airway is blocked”- see Psalm 66:18; 1 Peter 3:7). On the other hand being angry with God for our difficult circumstances and turning our back on Him is like leaving the Person Who can help us the most when we desperately need help. “Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” (See 1 Peter 5:7)
“Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.” Once when Kristen was shopping she overheard a mother say to her daughter, “you’re not going to get anything else today unless you’re more thankful for what I’ve already given you.” We know our Lord is not like that but it surely must grieve His heart when we take His bountiful gifts for granted. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits.” (Psalm 66:18) The homeless man may thank God for his daily bread but the truth is God does the same for us too but we can take it for granted. And even if we don’t have the gifts of family, friends and health (which we may also take for granted), we have the greatest Gift – salvation, and can pray like David, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” (Psalm 51:12) The worst that could ever happen to us has passed (hell) and the best that could happen is our certain hope (heaven) and all at the cost of His Son. (See Romans 8:38-39) Our blessings alone could keep us praying without ceasing.
14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” There is a lot to say about these verses but for brevity’s sake I must hit the high points. Here we have clear instructions from God’s Word to pray for the sick and anoint them with oil and yet many churches do not do this. Also the word is clear that God can and sometimes does provide “gifts of healing” and even supernatural healing “as He wills” (not on demand as some TV preachers say – See 1 Corinthians 12:9-10). As it regards confession of sin, sickness is not always because of sin although it could be one of God’s ways to discipline and correct us. The Greek word for healed (iaomai) can mean physical healing as well as spiritual healing including salvation and sanctification (“to make whole”). We are to confess all of our sins directly to God (not necessarily to a pastor, priest, or “the saints” ) and we are called to confess our sins to those we have specifically sinned against and ask for their forgiveness. (Matthew 5:23-24) If we have besetting sins which we struggle with repeatedly, we can share this with an individual or two and ask them to pray for us and be accountable to them. Satan works in the dark and God works in the light. By doing this we can make a private “hidden” sin public to a few and ask for their regular intercession and this can lead us to a breakthrough. Our prayers are only effective because of our righteousness in Christ but even as believers our prayers will not be efficacious if we have “hidden” and unconfessed sins.
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. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” James gives emphasis to the power of prayer by pointing us to the prayer life of Elijah. When Israel (the northern kingdom) was in sin and idolatry (Baal worship) God told Elijah to pray that it would not rain. Since this was an agricultural economy this meant economic doom. After Elijah had confronted the prophets of Baal and King Ahab and restored the people back to Yahweh he prayed again and it rained and God broke the drought. (See 1 Kings 17-18) This doesn’t mean we can pray for a sunny day for our picnic or vacation at the beach and always get it.
19 “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” These last two verses do not speak specifically about prayer although intercessory prayer is certainly needed for the conversion of the unsaved as well as restoration of backsliding believers. The phrase, “if any among you strays”, seems to imply that these people were at least professing Christians in the church if not true believers that had fallen and were not repentant. If they were only professing Christians then converting them would mean saving their soul from eternal death (hell). Yet if they were backslidden believers we see several places in Scripture where God uses physical death (not eternal death –hell) as a discipline (and warning to us) for unrepentant sin in a believer. (See 1 Corinthians 5:5, 11:30; Acts 5:1-11; 1 John 5:16-17.)
God calls us to collaborate with Him and bring His will on earth as it is in heaven beginning with prayer. Yes we are to work along with prayer but there is much Christian work without any prayer. Many Christians will admit that their prayer life is weak including many pastors. As James concludes his letter he is trying to show us the power of prayer as God reveals it in His Word and through His people. “Lord teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)
Wishing you a Christ-filled Christmas and a blessed New Year in Him!
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord,
Len and Kristen