Re-Up – Prayer – James 5:13-20
What is the one thing you could do that would have the greatest impact on your life?
The answer is Prayer. There is nothing more important, more strategic or more rewarding than prayer.
James 5 verse 13 has a header that says, “the prayer of faith”. This is what prayer is all about. And when we lack the desire to pray it is because we lack faith. If we could even glimpse the majesty and omnipotence of Who we are praying to, we would never be lacking in our zeal and our time for prayer.
Verse 13 begins with two categories of people; anyone suffering and anyone cheerful. The person going through troubles in life is told to pray, and the cheerful person, who has peace and joy is encouraged to sing praises to God. But then in the next verse James addresses another category of people, the sick person.
Over the next few verses it seems like James is giving a prescription, a way to pray for the sick that will work every time. James instructs to gather the elders, anoint with oil, pray in the name of Jesus and to pray in faith. The result would seem to be that healing is to be expected. So why do we not see instant healing with every prayer offered for healing?
As we look at each of these “conditions” we see firstly that the sick person is obviously unable to come to the meeting place and calls the elder, this person is possibly bedridden, and in a place of humility and dependence. The sick person takes the initiative and calls out for help. We must never let our culture of self-sufficiency, get in the way of our healing. Our independent culture is actually a form of pride and we need to humble ourselves and reach out to others when we are in need.
Secondly, the elder is another name for a pastor or a shepherd. This does not mean that only pastors are allowed to pray for the sick, according to 1 Peter 2, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. The key here is praying in obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and praying in faith.
Thirdly, James says that one must anoint the person with oil, is this the key that we are missing? Scholars have different ideas on this and the word for anointing oil here could mean a medicinal balm, so that could indicate using some medicine along with the prayer. I have seen miracles happen with or without oil.
Next, James instructs that the prayer be offered in the name of the Lord, this is always a good reminder that human beings cannot do miracles, we can pray for them, but God is the sovereign worker of miracles. To pray in the name of the Lord is to indicate our willingness to permit our prayers to be acted on under the sovereign will and purposes of God.
And finally, in verse 15 we read, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” So, what is this prayer of faith? The answer is in 1 John 5:14–15, The “prayer of faith” is a prayer offered when you know the will of God. The prayer of faith is twofold; firstly, we pray with faith in the all-powerful God we serve because we believe that He is able and secondly, we pray trusting in the outcome. Trusting in the outcome is faith that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
We are so focused on the temporary physical need that we miss the eternal and far more important need of every human being.
As you read different translations of verse 15, some read that “the prayer of faith will make the sick person well”. But the ESV translates it; “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick”, the Greek word SOZO, means to heal or to save, so it could be either. However, in the 20th verse of our text, where James is talking about the backslider who returns to the faith, he uses the exact same Greek word.
In fact, if we carefully note the overarching theme of the text from verse 13 to 20, this passage is more about the need for righteousness and salvation than it is about physical healing. We get so wrapped up in the first four verses that we miss the big picture. The theme of this text is holiness and righteousness, or a right standing before God. We are so focused on our temporal physical needs that we can forget that we are eternal beings and we all have a fatal sin condition. We are all sinners who are desperately in need of saving. We all need saving power of the blood of Jesus to save us from an eternity separated from the presence of God.
Verse 16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Who is a righteous person? It is a person who is in right standing with God. Someone who has repented of their sins and has trusted in the promises of God’s Word (see 1 John 1:9). Personal holiness is not just being a good person, it flows from a powerful and intimate relationship with God through prayer. Let us be a people who pray with power, because our hearts are in tune with the Holy Spirit.
In verse 17, we read that Elijah prayed fervently. James notes that Elijah was a man just like us, although God used him incredibly (see 1 Kings 17 and 18), but the key was Elijah was a man of fervent prayer.
The Oxford Dictionary describers fervent as, “having or displaying a passionate intensity”.
I pray that we would be a people of fervent prayer.
We can never overemphasize the importance of prayer and the power of prayer. It is the life blood of every true believer. Prayer is so much more than we could possibly imagine as we get to communicate with the creator of the universe!
“Satan dreads nothing but prayer. His one concern is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.”
― Samuel Chadwick