Work

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

work hard at prayer because I believe prayer works.  Or maybe I should say God works in response to prayer. The tension between how God’s will and my prayers work together is a mystery.  But James is clear.  Prayer is to be our first response all of life’s situations.  Prayer is about our relationship with God.  But it’s also productive.  It actually accomplishes something. I’ll say it again.  Prayer works.

Just how does prayer work?  What are the conditions for power-filled prayers?  James gives us some tips. He talked earlier about how the “prayer of faith” will heal the sick.  But now he raises the bar.  It’s the prayer of faith offered by the “righteous” person that works best.  I especially like the Amplified version here:

The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power](James 5:16 AMP).

If we glance over this verse too quickly, we can become weighed down with the idea that we have to be “good enough” to earn the answers to our prayers.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A “worksbased” prayer is not at all what’s implied.  But we must look closely at this verse to fully absorb its powerful message.

First, we need to be firmly grounded in what it means to be “righteous.”  What we could never do for ourselves, Jesus did for us through the cross.  And it’s only by faith that we have access to that free gift:  We’re saved by grace through faith, and not our works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8).  Even the Old Testament saints were made “just through faith,” a concept that could never be grasped by the works-obsessed Pharisees.

Second, let’s look at the Greek word for “prayer” as it’s used in this verse.  Deesis, a different form of prayer than James previously described, is an urgent prayer.   It comes from a word that means “to be impoverished.”

This is desperate prayer—more like begging.  When you pray in this way, you’re coming “needy” to God.  A sinner, saved by grace.  But you’re wearing Christ’s robe of righteousness, so you can approach God with bold faith that He can do anything.

The result?  Prayer that’s powerful and effective.  The word “powerful” means mega-power. It’s prayer on steroids. Power-prayer!

Let’s dig a little deeper.  The word in this verse translated “effective,” or energeo, is where we get the word energy.  It means to “set in motion; to cause something to happen.”  So you see, this kind of prayer is not only desperate, it’s active. It gets results.  In short, it works.

James wants to shake us free from lazy prayers and low expectations.  Old “camel knees” knew the extraordinary power available through prayer.  He wants us to know this power, too!

Lord, I come boldly to You today, made confident because of my righteousness in YOU.  And because I have faith in what You can do—though my neediness is ever before me—I can expect great things!  Give me a steadfast heart to believe the promises in Your Word.  Give me alertness to watch for signs of You at work.  And when I notice the answers to prayer (and even when I am still waiting), help me remember to give glorious praise and thanks to You.


Confession

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16).

Confession.  It’s good for the soul.  And according to James it’s good for the body, too. He shows a link between the confessing of our sins and the healing of our sickness. Another form of prayer, confession is admitting our sins to God and to our fellow believers.

It’s been said that our secrets make us sick.  James uses an interesting word for sickness. In addition to illness, this particular word can also mean “weary, fatigued, mentally drained, exhausted.”  We see that sin not only separates us from God, it’s also exhausting. Confession of our sins is the first step toward healing.

The word confession in the Greek, exomologeo, comes from ek, “out,” and homologeo, “to assent.”  It means “to admit or acknowledge,” and conveys the idea of a public admission of one’s faults.  Bringing our sins “out” in front of others.

I don’t think it matters whether we confess our shortfalls to one, two, or ten friends.  The idea is to acknowledge our failure before God and others.  This takes the stinger out of our soul and opens ourselves up to healing.  James reminds us that the prayer of faith is powerful enough to heal both our body and our soul.

Do you have someone to whom you can freely confess your sins? I encourage you to pause and think about your relationships.  We all need accountability.  Without it we can’t grow as God intended and we sure can’t experience freedom from sin. Following Christ was never meant to be a solo journey.

A courageous young friend once took James’ admonition seriously.  Eager to grow in her faith walk, she emailed a few of her close friends and family:

I am reflecting on areas of growth and want to understand some of my hang ups.  You’ve been an integral part of my life and have seen my good, bad, and ugly. Would you speak into my life about anything you see that hinders the future God has called me to?  Thanks for helping me in my journey toward holiness.

Might we also be courageous today to not only confess our known sins to each other but also to seek feedback from those who know and love us?  Through confession, let’s take the stinger out of our soul and open the door to God’s provision of freedom, health, and holiness.

Lord, You know my secrets—the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of me that no one else sees.  Give me boldness to address the sin in my life head on.  Help me understand the freedom that comes with full disclosure. Give me wisdom about which friends can be trusted and who will pray daring and faith-filled prayers on my behalf.  Thank You that You desire healing—body, soul, and Spirit.  For it’s by Your wounds that I have been made whole.  


Sick

Is anyone among you sick? He should call in the church elders (the spiritual guides). And they should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Lord’s name (James 5:14 AMPC).

Sick? Worn out? Weighed down by sin?  James prescribes prayer for life’s troubles. Funny how our hearts turn to God when we’re desperate.  The most often-prayed prayer to reach heaven is probably, “Help!”

When my children were little, I remember feeling especially close to them when they were sick. In much the same way, I wonder if God feels near to us when we’re in distress.  James encourages us to cry out to God during our times of sickness.  And we’re to ask the spiritual leaders to pray for healing, he urges.

His instructions might surprise you.  The leaders are to pray over the sick person, but they are also to anoint him or her with oil.  The use of oil in this context may not be strictly spiritual; the word for “anoint” can also indicate a medicinal purpose.

In other words, when someone is sick, medicine and prayer work together in the healing process.  I have a friend in the medical profession who sees his role as part of the church’s call to minister to the sick.

I like the Amplified version’s description of what happens to the sick person as a result of the elders’ prayer:  And the prayer [that is] of faith will save him who is sick, and the Lord will restore him; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5:15 AMP).

The prayer of faith will save the sick person.  Notice it’s not just any prayer but the “prayer of faith,” or as some translations say, “believing prayer.”  The sick person is “saved” by the prayer of faith. Saved comes from the Greek word, sozo. It often refers to spiritual salvation, but can also mean ” rescue, deliver, or heal.”

I’m acquainted with a group of strong believers in India. They plant churches in remote villages where medical care is scant.  Grave illnesses often threaten the lives of villagers.  If a doctor can be found—a rarity in itself—the medical treatments often fail.  So villagers often cry out to any number of countless Indian gods, to no avail.

Finally, in desperation, the villagers will often call upon one of these church planters, to pray for their dying loved ones.  Time and time again, they tell me, God has miraculously healed the sick in response to their prayers.  The result?  Entire villages throughout India have put their trust in Jesus Christ, the “one true God who heals!”

But notice the second part of James 5:15. Tucked in, almost as an afterthought, James reminds us:  If the person being prayed for has sinned, he will not only be healed, but also forgiven.  Indian believers are amazed when they realize the true God who heals the sick also forgives their sins. What a joy for those long held captive by generations of fear!

And what joy for us to be reminded that we can come to God in prayer—trusting His Son to save us, heal us, and set us free from our sins. Prayer is powerful stuff!

Lord, when I am sick or burdened, don’t let me struggle alone. Remind me to ask others to pray for me.  To lift my arms when I am weak, and to intercede for forgiveness when I sin.  Help me to realize the connection we share as members of the body of Christ.  Together, let us experience  great power in our prayers!!


Trouble

Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray. (James 5:13)

Trouble? What’s your reaction to times of trouble? James gives a simple prescription: Prayer.  But instead of being our first response, prayer is often a distant afterthought.  We remember to pray only after we’ve exhausted ourselves trying to fix the trouble.  If we remember at all.

The word for troublein the Greek is kakopatheo.  It comes from two words meaning “to suffer,” and “evil.”  James uses a broad brush to describe most any kind of hardship we might endure.

Take a minute to read James 5:13-16. You’ll notice several different kinds of prayer in the passage.  Petition, praise, healing-prayer, confession, and the prayer of agreement.  All have their place in the life of a believer.  Let’s look at the first two: petition and praise:

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise (James 5:13).

When trouble hits, we’re to petition God for help.  The word for prayer used here comes from a word that means “to wish.” It can be very specific in nature. When you’re in trouble you need help.  Prayer helps when I’m in trouble because God has the power to change my situation.

But what about those times when you’re happy? Also time to pray.  James reminds us to praise—another kind of prayer. We can sing songs in our heart (or out loud) to God.  Through the prayer of praise, we invite Him into our times of happiness.

Sometimes life is good. Other times, it’s marred by trouble.  In either situation, we can draw comfort, encouragement and joy through prayer, because as James reminds us, prayer works!  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

Lord, remind me to pray. Let prayer become my first response. When prayer is foremost in my mind Lord, it shows that You are on my mind.  It’s about the relationship with You.  Prayer does work, and the more I am watchful, the more I notice Your answers.  But prayer is my pipeline to Your heart.  And as I am learning, that’s the best reward of all.


Patience

We consider blessed those who have persevered (James 5:11).

Better not pray for patience,” a friend once warned. “The Lord will be sure to send you some trouble!”  I’m not sure I agree with her theology.  Rather, I believe tough times come because we live in a fallen world where hardship and pain are simply a reality.

Jesus himself warned us: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  James reminds us that if we persevere—holding up patiently under trial—we will be blessed.  Happy.  Fortunate.  Even joyful (James 1:2-4).

The word translated patiencemakrothymia, comes from two Greek words which mean “long” and “anger.”  A patient person is “long-suffering” as opposed to one who gives in to hasty anger.

James exhorts us to observe the farmer in our quest for patience:

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near (James 5:7,8).

I have to confess I’m not eager to walk through circumstances that build patience.  Be honest. How often do you see the words patient and happy in the same sentence?  But God promises to transform our hard places into places of joy. Christians who have suffered persecution in dangerous places tell of how God gave them supernatural patience and even joy right in the middle of their afflictions!

My friend Ange’s family was torn apart during the Rwandan genocide.  When fleeing from the soldiers, she became separated from her husband, not knowing his whereabouts until they were miraculously reunited after eight long years of searching for each other!

When I asked how she survived, she answered, “I stood on Romans 5:3-5.  God’s Word promised me that I could rejoice in my sufferings. They were bringing me perseverance.  Perseverance produces character, and character hope.”  “And hope,” she added softly, “does not disappoint us.”

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from believers like Ange who follow Christ in hard places where persecution and hardship are a daily threat—India, Sudan, China, the Middle East.  As we look at their patience in the face of suffering, let’s take heart from their example and learn to stand firm in our own trials.

Lord, give me the courage to see You even in the storms of life. To persevere through pain until I see Your glory. Help me to trust You, for You are full of compassion and mercy.  You have promised victory.  Keep me strong until the storm passes over.  May my trial be an opportunity for me to grow and for You to shine.