The Epistle of James: Prayerfulness
James 5:13-18; Romans 8:38-39; Psalm 118:24
“Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 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; 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. 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. 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. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.”
James 5:13-18 NASB1995
We are nearing the end of the challenging but compelling and uplifting Epistle of James. He is an unvarnished truth-teller; he is still telling these truths to anyone who can read his Epistle today, not just when the first intended audience received it over 2000 years ago. It is imperative for believers to bring the lessons of the Bible forward to the present day and apply them to their lives and not just think the stories are cute or tragic little historical anecdotes that belong to an earlier age or as illustrated stories in a children’s Bible. Skeptics (and I should know, having been one for a while) laugh at believers who read and re-read these tales about Abraham and Joseph and Moses and Joshua and David and the prophets like Daniel and Jesus and the Apostles, then ask us what in the world they have to do with this modern age of “reason” and “science” and “tolerance”. It has everything to do with our modern age! Empires and nations and politics come and go but The Word is evergreen, alive and unchanging and has been with us since the beginning! Your comfort and leisure in this modern age is even more reason to search out God and give Him your gratitude and faith. It could all come crashing down tomorrow and those without faith will be left behind in so many ways.
James calls on the followers of Jesus to examine themselves and test their faith in various precepts. He has exhorted believers to persevere in suffering, to acknowledge the sources of temptation, to respond to the Word, to demonstrate impartiality, to commit to righteous works, to tame their fiery tongues and words, to seek humble wisdom from God, to forego worldly indulgences, to fully depend on God, to avoid the fate of the rich, to endure the trials and seasons with patience, and to embrace truthfulness. In this passage, James tells us to “pray, pray, pray” and in the final James devotional, we will look at the test of true faith.
Prayer is so crucial to the life of believer. First, I’m going to explore what we do for prayer. I am still a complete novice at prayer but I am slowly learning, although Steve and I have been doing intercessory prayers for a couple of years now. We both retreat to our own prayer locations and we use scripts to help us remember what to pray for; someday, I will have all of this come to me spontaneously, but there are many things that I put in our list every week that are revised or new so it helps to have a format for prayer. One of the tools that I really like is to follow the ACTS format, which is an acronym that has the four elements listed below. ACTS is often used to help new believers learn how to pray, but my Engineering mind likes formats and data, so this tool is perfect for my left brain:
Adoration: Begin by praising God and worshipping Him. You can listen to worship music or call out the various names of God found in scripture. I like reading Romans 8:38-39 back to God:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39 NASB1995
Confession: Confess your sins (more on that later in this devotional). Don’t generically ask to be a “better Christian”, but really dig specifically into the things you have done. I include not only the typical sins that we have all committed (pride, envy, lust, gluttony, etc.) but also confess to times I have been impatient, anxious, distracted, hard-hearted, selfish, “double-minded”, and angry for unrighteous reasons.
Thanksgiving: Recently, I have spent some of my prayer times completely in Thanksgiving to God. A wonderful tool that we discovered recently is to take the words of Psalm 118:24 and substitute anything you can think of for the word “day”.
“This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Psalms 118:24 NASB1995
For example, “this is the salvation that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it”. Or, “this is the Word that the Lord has made..” You can even put more mundane things in the gratitude phrase: “This is the rain which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it”. My list has over 200 things on it that I can substitute for “day” and I am adding to it all the time.
Supplication: In this section of prayer, I update this regularly with many topics, both global and local. The global supplications are for various topics that are urgent. I summarize the Unreached people from the Joshua Project for the time period since our last intercessory prayer; these are groups around the world that have not heard or responded to the Gospel. I research the concerns on Persecution of Christians from Voice of the Martyrs. I have prayer bullets for victims of human trafficking, the homeless, prisoners, the unborn, caretakers, first responders, and for various crises and natural disasters that are seen around the world (we are currently praying for the people in China, for a humane resolution to the border crisis and for an end to the war on Ukraine, among others). I have supplications for us personally, to help us model the Beatitudes, the Fruits of the Spirit and to daily put on the Armor of God. I pray for this devotional site and its impact. The local supplications are for friends and family and include prayers for reconciliation and healing (both spiritual and physical).
Many times when we pray these things, God will speak to us and have us add other areas for supplication. He will remind us to reach out to more friends and to family. Getting back to James and his exhortations on prayer, effective prayer requires that we must be righteous. By no means does this mean that we are perfect, but it does mean that nothing unconfessed should stand between us and God and we should be obedient to His will. James fervently believed that the prayers of the faithful could heal. I was a complete skeptic about healing until we came to the church we currently attend and we have seen how people have been healed of ailments. So many churches in this day and age believe that healing and miracles were “long ago” artifacts of the early church, but I am seeing differently now, that God does indeed heal (he healed Steve’s neck injury and chronic stenosis for example) and miracles take place every single day in so many ways. We have also seen this in the way our new church has had the impossible happen to allow it to grow and thrive. God may not answer in the way we want in every case, but He does provide the strength and courage to face an illness or begin the treatments we need or to take on new challenges and missions for Him. We are tasked with going to Him and to prayer teams (elders) to bring our requests. Wishing for that healing or funding or relationship help won’t make it happen.
James also tells us to confess our sins to each other. Here is what David Guzik from Enduring Word has to say about this confession:
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed: James reminds us that mutual confession and prayer brings healing, both physically and spiritually. Confession can free us from the heavy burdens (physically and spiritually) of unresolved sin, and removes hindrances to the work of the Holy Spirit.
To one another: Confession to another in the body of Christ is essential because sin will demand to have us to itself, isolated from all others. Confession breaks the power of secret sin. Yet, confession need not be made to a “priest” or any imagined mediator; we simply confess to one another as appropriate. Confession is good, but must be made with discretion. An unwise confession of sin can be the cause of more sin.
Adam Clarke observes that if this passage actually refers to the Roman Catholic practice of the confessional, then the priest should likewise confess his sins to the people. He also adds: “There is no instance in auricular confession where the penitent and the priest pray together for pardon; but here the people are commanded to pray for each other that they may be healed.” (Clarke)
Noting from the context, sin should especially be confessed where physical healing is necessary. It is possible – though by no means always the case – that a person’s sickness is the direct result of some sin that has not been dealt with, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11:30.
James goes on to describe the public confession of sin. I’m not sure when I’ve ever seen this happen, but if you go to the link in the Enduring Word commentary, you will see some criteria for doing this properly and appropriately. Effective prayers are like those of the prophet Elijah, who prayed for rains to stop and for rains to begin and God granted those prayers. To truly pray is to pray earnestly. Rote recitation of liturgical prayers do not engage the penitent, in my opinion, and those are usually not earnest, because our brains tend to wander. So pray with fervor, audacity, preferably in secret or with a few trusted believers, and with righteousness!
My last devotional on the Epistle of James will examine the last two verses in Chapter 5 (James 5:19-20) - True Faith. After that devotional I will begin a series digging into the Christmas story in Luke (Luke 1: 5-80, Luke 2:1-20), including the prophecies to Mary and Elizabeth.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father: Please guide my prayers to be righteous, audacious and with the physical and spiritual healing of our world, our friends, our families, and ourselves in mind. Help me to be worshipful, confessional, thankful, and truly bring forth earnest and heartfelt supplications for your supernatural and boundless powers, grace and provision. In Jesus name - Amen.
“Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org”
Commentary on Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.