Prayer wins the war
Prayer is one of the most important events in the life of any Christian and every church. Strong spiritual discernment and a healthy spiritual condition both depend on consistent rhythms of prayer. Many churches fall short in their practice of prayer leaving church services to be nothing more than a religious practice that has little or no spiritual engagement with our Holy God.
Prayer is taught again and again in the Bible. I found 45 references where prayer is used in the New Testament alone. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6. We read in the gospels that Jesus often went alone to spend time in prayer. Jesus spent an extended time alone praying for the future of his church in John 17.
Prayer is how we “walk with the Lord in the cool of the day”. It’s our avenue to confess our sins. It’s how we take God the concerns that we care about and burden us. Prayer gives hope when we can’t find hope in other people. Prayer is how we continue the journey through hard seasons of life. Prayer is how we fight for our children’s spiritual growth when it seems they won’t listen to us or anybody else. Prayer is the foundation for strong spiritual discernment.
Ephesians 6 teaches us that prayer is an important part of the Christian’s armor and the effective ministry of the Word of God. Philippians 4 teaches that prayer releases a person from anxiety. 1 Peter 5 encourages us to cast everything at the feet of Jesus.
The Bible Exposition Commentary has this quote from Robert Law. He said, “Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth.” Jesus modeled this principle while he walked the earth. Luke 22:40-44 reads, “And when he came to the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Jesus prayed because he wanted God’s will to be done on earth.
James continues to teach topics that Jesus was passionate about. As we begin to finish the book of James, he takes an opportunity to instruct on prayer.
Scripture Text: James 5:13-18 (ESV) – 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 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. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 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. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
James takes these five verses and reaches out to three groups in the church and briefly talks about prayer with them. In verse 13, James talks to the individual. In verse 14-15, James talks to the elders of the church. In verse 16, James talks to the congregation. In the last four verses, James gives an example of the power of prayer as displayed in Elijah’s life.
Prayers from the individual
Scripture Text: James 5:13 (ESV) – 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
I remember one of the many times in fourth grade when I was in trouble and needed prayer. This time, it was bad enough to land me in the principal’s office. He wrote a letter to my parents that needed to be signed and brought back to school the next morning. On the way home, I ripped up the letter and threw it in a neighbor’s trash can. The next morning, I faced the principal and I lied about the letter. He picked up the phone to call home and I quickly changed my story. He called home anyway. The rest of the day was filled with suffering and prayer was needed. I suffered more when I got home; cheer and singing praises was not anywhere in my mind.
Verse 13 teaches we should pray whenever we’re suffering. When you face a difficult situation, you should pray. When the doctor gives you bad news, you should pray. When you’re having a miserable day, you should pray. When life throws a curve ball that you never saw coming, you should pray. When you question your parenting skills, you should pray. When the stock market tanks, you should pray. When a situation attempts to steal your joy, you should pray. When a situation requires wisdom, you should pray. James 1:5 reminds us that God generously gives wisdom to those who ask. Psalm 44:26 says, “Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.” In Matthew 11:28, Jesus nudges us, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In First Peter 5:7, we’re taught to cast all our anxieties on Jesus because he cares for every one of them.
I want to encourage you not to minimize your situation. Jesus wants you to bring your situation and your circumstances to him regardless of size. Nothing is too small. He cares for all of it.
There is another question is verse 13, “Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.” The cheerful person decides that suffering will not steal joy. The cheerful person is the one whose hope rests in Jesus Christ. The cheerful person attempts to broadcast the fruit of the Spirit more than the fruit of the situation. We can take the context of the suffering and remain thankful through it. James 1:12 reminds us that “blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.” How many of you know that God is in the transformation business? How many of you know that God will keep allowing the same trials and tests to enter our lives until we learn to remain steadfast? The key to passing the test might be the decision that suffering will not steal your joy.
Prayers from the elders
Scripture Text: James 5:14-15 (ESV) – 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 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.
James opens verse 14 with a third question, “is there anyone sick among you?” This word sick bears a dual meaning. Throughout the New Testament, the Greek word for sick is used eighteen times in reference to a physical illness and fourteen times in reference to an emotional or spiritual weakness. Allow me to unpack this dual meaning for you. First, emotional or spiritual weakness. Verse 13 points to the person who is suffering and should pray. Many people face circumstances when emotional or spiritual weakness gets the best of them. They do their best to pray through a situation, but God doesn’t seem to answer. According to verse 14, this person is to call the group of elders to be prayed over. The elders seek the mind of God regarding this situation and pray accordingly. Second, physical illness. In the definition of the Greek language, the person whose illness has made him physically weak should call the group of elders to be prayed over.
James’ teaching in verse 14 is very specific. The sick person – one who is physical, emotional, or spiritual ill – is to call the elders. Scripture is very clear; the elders are the spiritual men of God who lead the church. These men are to go at the earliest possible time and gather where the person is residing for the sole purpose of praying over the individual. Not the pastor only. Not one or two elders. The entire group has to go together. There is one more step in verse 14; oil is to be used. Verse 15 says the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick. The elders gather around the individual, somebody opens a bottle of olive oil and puts some on the person in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The elders, who have already sought the mind of God, begin to pray over the situation and the Spirit of God reigns freely. The text tells us people are delivered in these sacred moments. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a number of occasions where God has moved in such power there was no doubt He had visited us.
In my own experience, anointing a person with oil does two things. First, the oil recognizes the divine calling of God upon that person’s life. Second, the oil declares the moment to be sacred. I use olive oil to declare a need for the Spirit of God to show up in the middle of a circumstance and to engage in battle.
Prayers from the congregation
Scripture Text: James 5:16 (ESV) – 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
The last phrase in verse 15 says that if the individual being prayed over has committed sins, he will be forgiven. When the Spirit of God enters a circumstance, conviction of our own sin is the direct result. How many of you know we are sinful people? How many of you know God desires for us to be holy? How many of us fall short?
Verse 16 teaches us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. This healing describes the restoration of our spiritual condition. There is no promise that every prayer for physical healing will be answered how we ask. In addition, not all illness is attached to sin. John 9:1-3 gives us an example, “As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Any time the works of God have an opportunity to be displayed in our lives, it always has consideration for our spiritual condition. How many of you give the works of God an opportunity to be displayed in your life?
As verse 16 teaches, it is important that we have regular times of confession and that we keep short lists of sins committed against us. Confession of sin and praying for one another flows together nicely. It is very difficult to pray for another person and remain agitated with that person. The restoration of our souls and our ability to commune with God requires us to confess and forgive. Warren Wiersbe said this about the confession of sin. “We must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession.” How many of you have time carved into your day to confess your sins?
The last line of verse 16 is dependent on the confession of sin. The NASB translates verse 16 this way, “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” The Greek word for effective is the English word energy. The phrase ‘can accomplish much’ translates ‘is very strong’. A righteous person is one who is doing the will of God and cultivating a right relationship with God.
The verse could be re-written like this, “The energy pouring from the prayers of a righteous person has such strength that the Spirit of God will visibly change lives.”
Are you this person? Do you want to be this person? Next week, we’ll look at Elijah and how this church can develop into a church that prays with such strength.