Have you listened to children praying recently? We can learn a lot. Here are a few heard recently:
“Lord, Is Pastor Dan a friend of yours or do you just know him through the business?”
“Dear God, is it true my father won’t get in Heaven if he uses his golf words in the house?”
“Dear God, my Grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy. How far back do you go?
“Dear God, in Bible times, did they really talk that fancy?”
“God, maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they each had their own rooms. It works out OK with me and my brother.”
“God, I went to this wedding and they were kissing right there in the church. Is that OK?”
“Dear God, please send me a pony. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up.”
“Dear God, are you really invisible or is that just a trick?”
“God, I want to be just like my daddy when I grow up but not so hairy.”
“Dear Lord, do you draw the lines around the countries? If you don’t , who does?”
“Dear Lord, I don’t think anybody could be a better God, and I am not just saying that because You are God already.”
As God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His eternal throne and share with Him whatever is on our hearts, our hopes, our fears, needs and our questions. Seven times in this chapter James mentions prayer. He encourages us to:
Prayer for the Suffering (James 5:13)
Prayer for the Sick (James 5:14)
Prayer for the Straying (James 5:19-20)
1. Prayer for the Suffering
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13)
The word trouble means “suffering in difficult circumstances.” As we go through life, at times we endure difficulties that are not the result of sin or the discipline of God. What should we do when trouble comes our way? We must not take it out on others (James 5:9); nor should we blame the Lord. Instead we should turn it into a prayer. We must ask God for the wisdom we need to persevere and for God to be glorified (James 1:5). Then God will give us the grace we need to endure and God can use us to accomplish his perfect will. The apostle Paul prayed that God might change his circumstances, but instead, God
“… said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane that the cup of suffering might be removed, but it was not; yet the Father gave Him the strength He needed to go to the cross and die for our sins. Clearly we don’t all go through troubles at the same time: So James also says “Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13).
When you think about it God may give us a few hours of suffering but also days to rejoice if we would but recognise his blessings. The mature Christian knows how to sing even when they are suffering. When Paul and Silas were languishing in the Philippian jail. “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God” (Acts 16:25). Our praise is an expression of our inner spiritual life.
Our praise should be intelligent, come from the heart (Eph. 5:19) be motivated by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and be based on Scriptures (Col. 3:16). Prayer for the suffering.
2. Prayer for the Sick
“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. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:14–16)
James is not giving us a blanket formula for healing the sick. In the churches I have pastored, I have often prayed for the sick, and sometimes God has given healing.
But most times, healing if it has occurred, has been slow, partial or gradual.
In some cases God has called them home. Is James giving general instruction on prayer here? In this example, he associates sickness with sin (5:15-16). In most cases sickness is not because of sin. But here the Greek text says, “If they have been constantly sinning.” This parallels 1 Corinthians 11:30, “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (have died). James is describing a believer who is sick because they are being disciplined by God. This explains why the elders or leaders are called.
Most occasions when someone asks for prayer we don’t need the Church Council present, we simply pray with them there and then. We offer prayer every Sunday after the services in the Tower. And if a person is in hospital, or unwell at home, one or two of the pastoral team will gladly visit if requested and pray with them. The church leaders are only needed in cases of discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul instructs the believers to dismiss the sinning member from the assembly until they repents of their sins and make things right. So James also says “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16).
It is not the anointing with oil that heals, nor even the prayers, but God who heals. The Greek word translated “anointing” is a medicinal term. Kiwoko Hospital which we use as our base for Christianity Explored in Uganda has its mission statement painted on the wall at the entrance of the hospital “We treat, Jesus heals” God can heal with or without prayer or medication; in each case, it is God who does the healing. As I visit the sick, I do not always know how to pray for them. Will God heal? Will God give them courage to withstand the pain? Or will God call His child home? I do not know; therefore, I must pray, “If it is Your will, please heal Your child.” There are some practical lessons here that we must not overlook. For one thing, disobedience can lead to sickness. Second, sin affects the whole church. We can never sin alone, for sin has a way of growing and infecting others. Third, there is healing (physical and spiritual) when sin is dealt with. James writes, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other”. So, do not hide sin or delay confession.
James is not suggesting confessing our sins to a pastor or priest. We confess our sins first of all to the Lord. But we must also confess them to those who have been affected.
We must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession. Prayer for the suffering. Prayer for the sick.
3. Prayer for the Straying
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19–20)
While James did not specifically name prayer in these verses, the implication is clear. If we pray for the sick, surely we must pray for the sister or brother who strays from the truth. The verb “to wander” suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God. Usually sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline. Backsliding is also dangerous to the church unless it is corrected. One person going astray can lead others astray. This is why we have a mutual responsibility to care for one another. Notice the person had “wandered from the truth” (James 5:19). The truth means, of course, the Word of God.
Unless we stay close to the truth of the Bible, we will begin to drift. Hebrews 2 says, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1). Jesus warned Peter that Satan wanted to tempt him, and Peter refused to believe Jesus. He even argued with the Lord! When Peter should have been praying, he was sleeping. No wonder he denied three Jesus times. What are we to do when we see a fellow believer wandering from the truth? We should pray for him, to be sure; but we must also seek to help him. If we are going to help an erring brother, we must do so in love, for “love shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). This does not mean that love “sweeps the dirt under the carpet.” Where there is love, there must also be truth (“speaking the truth in love” says Paul in Eph. 4:15); and where there is truth, there is honest confession of sin and cleansing from God. Love not only helps the offender to face their sins and deal with them, but love also assures the offender that those sins, once forgiven, are remembered no more.
James teaches us to pray for the suffering. Pray for the sick. Pray for the straying. We entitled James’ letter ‘The Path to Spiritual Maturity’.
Here are a few questions that summarise all the lessons we have learned from James to assist you:
1. Am I becoming more patient in the trials of life?
2. Do I play with temptation or do I resist it?
3. Are there any prejudices that still shackle me?
4. Am I learning to control my tongue?
5. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?
6. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
7. Do I make plans with or without consulting God?
8. Am I greedy or generous with money?
9. Do I pray for wisdom when I find myself in trouble?
10. Am I ready to pray with those who need forgiveness and healing?
Yesterday I celebrated my 60th birthday. The Lord reminded me he does not want us to grow old but to grow up, while retaining a child-like trust in Him! “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” ― Hunter S. Thompson. Lets pray.
With grateful thanks for Warren Weirsbe for content and inspiration.