Go to almost any church that still has a Wednesday evening service and one might find most still call it “Prayer Meeting.” But go to almost any church that still has a Wednesday evening prayer meeting and one may be surprised to find that prayer is not the focus of the service. Could it be there is a connection between a prayer meeting that spends fifty minute talking about prayer and ten minutes actually talking to God and the high annual rate of church closings or the plateau and decline of many churches in the our land?
At the same time, it is not unusual to hear a prayer request in every service. People tend to call out to God for help when things get tough. It may be the only time they talk to Him. Now this is not necessarily a bad or wrong thing; however, it is not the picture of a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.
As James nears the end of his letter to Christians scattered across the Roman Empire, and subsequently around the world in this day, he is addresses the topic of prayer, faith, and responsibility. Take a moment and read James 5:13-19. As you do, you will discover James’ touching on many facets of prayer in the life of a Christian. Before you read, it would be good to pray, asking the Holy Spirit to lead you into the truth of the passage.
James begins his teaching on prayer describing a common practice: “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.” (v.13) This is the proverbial no-brainer. When a person in under the load James suggests that the only sensible thing to do is pray. The Greek verb tense translated “he must pray” is an imperative. It is some thing that the person has to do. The command is not heavy-handed, but rather an urgent plea. James knows there is only one lasting source of comfort and help in hard times and that help is God. So, as mentioned above, it is not wrong to call out to God when your days a heavy. He welcomes it.
Is prayer limited to times of suffering? James answer: “Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.” (v.13) Since prayer is the act of talking to God, would not singing also be a form of prayer? Of course; when the song is to God and not just about Him it is a prayer…with rhythm and pitch. Here James notes that when times are good we need to pray songs of praise. What kind of people would we be if we only ask God for things but never take the time to thank Him for the answers or praise Him when all is well?
Next, James addresses the responsibility of the person who is sick - the suffering one. This may be an instruction that many need to listen closely to: “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,” (v.14). Why the challenge to heed James at this point? Many people want folks to pray but never take the time to ask. Sadly, some even get offended when no one comes around to pray for them. Let’s talk straight. It is your health and wellbeing that is on the line. Be proactive, you’re the one who will benefit. You call and ask. If you don’t, James just might say you have no one to blame but yourself.
Why call on leaders of the church? James presupposes that these folks are walking in close relationship with Christ to which he states, “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.” (v.15) James does not stop there, in the next verse he writes, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (v.16) Sounds more than worth the effort to pick up the phone, send out a text, or shoot out an email. Of course we are reminded who it is that does the work of healing. James writes, “and the Lord will raise him up.”
This may be a good point to interject this. If you want to as effectively pray for others as you would like them to do so for you, you have to keep you walk with Jesus right.
James also touches on a need that is more desperate than a health issue. In verse sixteen he exhorts people to confess spiritual needs and seek the prayers of others in the area of their struggle with sin. Physical health is important but it pales in comparison to one’s spiritual health. Christians need to pray for and with one another in this area. All are guilty of sin and supporting one another in prayer opens a door of deliverance as we cry out to God for forgiveness and help.
This teaching closes with an example of a person who did great things because he was a man who knew the value of consistent and faith-filled prayer. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed…” He prayed and things happened. Not by magic but by the well of God. The prophet was in tune with the heart of God. This directed his prayers and his prayers made a difference in the life of others.
The Letter of James closes with the call for God’s people to care about people. In doing this God’s people are acting like God. So take the time to talk to God about the needs of others and to others about their need for God. Share with them what the Bible says about Jesus, what Jesus has said in His Word and what He has done in your life.