Jamesby Douglas Estes
As James brings his letter to a close, he turns to two positive actions that believers should exhibit in their lives. The first of these is to pray-to speak to God-to bring about praise, confession, and healing.
James opens with three possibilities (James 5:13-14). If either of these things should happen-being in trouble, being happy, or being sick-prayer is the answer. If we are in trouble, we should go to God with our troubles. If we are happy, we should go to God with thanks. If we are sick, we should call the church together and pray for healing.
Some of us today may find it hard to include prayers for healing with prayers of need or thanksgiving. But James' words suggest that praying for healing is as basic to the faith as praying for help during times of trouble. If we ask God to save us when we are in danger, we should expect Him to do the same when we are sick (v. 15). Similarly, James goes on to say, when we ask God to work in our lives through prayer, part of that should be asking to be forgiven our sins (v. 15). If we ask, God will forgive.
From our modern viewpoint, it might seem strange for James to link physical healing to the forgiveness of sins. Today, these strike us as two very different issues. Modern medicine is built on the idea of discovering physical cures for physical illness, and does not try to address the role of prayer or forgiveness when it comes to healing. In James' time, however, people assumed they were interrelated. Many believed that sin affected physical health, even to the point of causing sickness (John 9:2).
As believers, we know there is a tighter connection between our soul, our spirit, and our body than modern medicine-as wonderful as it is-can explain. Therefore, when we get sick, we go to the doctor for physical relief, but we also go to God in prayer for both healing and the forgiveness of sins. We also go to each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to confess our sins so that we may be forgiven, and join in prayer for healing (James 5:16). When we are sick, our expectancy for physical healing is in medicine, but our hope is in the Lord.
James explains this with an example from the life of Elijah (vv. 17-18). Nevertheless, he does not want his readers to idolise or romanticise the prophet; Elijah, he says, was human just like us (v. 17). Elijah prayed earnestly, in faith, and God answered his prayer. Later, Elijah prayed earnestly, in faith, for the opposite, and God answered his prayer.
When we pray earnestly and with faith, God moves. Not because He has to, but because He wants to. Remember: ″The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective″ (v. 16).
When should we pray? What should we pray for? How can the examples that James gives improve our prayer life?
What does James mean when he talks about a ″prayer offered in faith″ (James 5:15)? How is that kind of prayer different from other kinds of prayers (for example, prayers for luck or of need, or similar kinds of prayer offered by non-believers)?