Have you ever asked yourself – or even voiced the question out loud – “Why do we pray?” Does prayer really matter? Do we really believe that God can change things?
Or maybe the question should be, do we really believe that God does change things? When we pray for the sick, do we really believe that God will answer that prayer and heal the person who is suffering?
At the end of his brief letter, James spends a small section talking about prayer. When reading through the six verses, you get the idea that James believed that prayer was powerful and that God really does answer our prayers. Notice what James said about praying.
“Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you ill? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 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. So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest” (James 5:13-18 NET).
If someone is suffering they should pray. If someone is sick they should send for the elders of the congregation to pray for them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Although some might disagree, I don’t really think this is talking about anything magical. Oil (and wine) were two of the main medical ingredients used in the first century. It would appear that James is simply saying to use medicine, but be sure to pray.
And notice which really heals the person: it is the prayer of faith which saves the one who is sick. It is God answering our prayers. One of the areas that our elders are to be involved as shepherds is visiting and praying for the sick, as well as making sure that they are receiving the correct medical attention.
James’ point is simply this: “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” To prove his point, he used Elijah as his example. When I think of Elijah, I think of a great Old Testament prophet. Notice how James described him: “Elijah was a human being like us.” In other words, what Elijah did, we can do! God didn’t grant Elijah requests because he was a prophet but because he was simply one of God’s children.
What did Elijah do? He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain for three and a half years. When we read of this incident in 1 Kings 17, all we have is Elijah telling Ahab that it wouldn’t rain until he said it would. James lets us know that what was happening was Elijah praying to God. There was no rain until he prayed to God again and the sky opened up and once again watered the earth (1 Kings 18:41-46).
Do we believe God will answer our prayers like he did Elijah’s? James tells us that he will. He describes this as “the prayer of faith.” Pray believing God will answer the prayer. Pray for things within God’s will (James 4 discusses selfish prayer). And God will answer our prayers.
Readings for next week:
29 February – Hebrews 7
1 March – Hebrews 8-9
2 March – Hebrews 10
3 March – Hebrews 11
4 March – Hebrews 12