Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 9

The Prayer of Faith

Based on a sermon from Sunday 24th July 2022

James 5:13-20

Since Easter we have been studying the Epistle of James, who is writing to Christians and teaching them what it means to be a mature Christian.  First, we’re to be patient when we find ourselves in testing times.  Second, we’re to practice the truth at all times, and thirdly we’re to have power over the tongue.  We’ve also looked at how we need to have and use Godly wisdom – where our deeds, words and actions are in tune with God’s plan and purpose for us.

Last week we looked at patience in suffering; Christians who are being oppressed.  He urges us to stay patient as we wait.  The day of the Lord, the very same one that our oppressors should be dreading, is one we can look forward to.  It will come.  The Lord is standing at the door and is ready.

In today’s section James focusses on prayer, including that we are to pray and praise God (James 5:13).  Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege.  Think on this: as God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs! 

“Is any of you in trouble?” (v13).  As God’s people going through life, we will endure difficulties that are not the result of sin or the chastening of God.  What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances?  Well, we’re not to grumble and criticise those who appear to be having an easier time of it (James 5:9); nor should we blame the Lord.  Instead, we should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it to His glory (James 1:5).

No doubt about it, prayer can remove affliction.  But prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will because God can transform troubles into triumphs, as we read in 4:6 “He gives us more grace”.  Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that the cup might be removed, and it was not; yet the Father gave Him the strength He needed to go to the cross and die for our sins.

James indicates that we don’t go through troubles at the same time:  “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).  God balances our lives and gives us hours of suffering and days of singing.  The mature Christian knows how to sing while he is suffering.  (Anybody can sing after the trouble has passed.)  God is able to give “songs in the night” (Job 35:10).  He did this for Paul and Silas when they were suffering in that Philippian jail.  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and sang hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).

As praying and singing were important elements in worship in the early church, so they should be important to us.  Our singing ought to be an expression of our inner spiritual life.  Our praise should come from the heart (Eph. 5:19) and be motivated by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

I do not think that James gave us a blanket formula for healing the sick.  Over the course of my Christian journey I have, with others, prayed for the sick, and sometimes God has given healing.  But other times, He has not seen fit to heal the person.  I remember praying for one person and they received healing, then praying for someone else and they did not!

In verse 15 James states that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”  This does not refer to the faith of the sick person, but to the faith of the people praying.  We need to realise that God heals, faith doesn’t, and all prayers are subject to God’s will.  It is also important to realise that our prayers are part of God’s healing process.  That is why God often waits for our prayers of faith before intervening to heal a person.

Christ’s death on the cross has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness (5:16).  But confessing our sins to each other still has an important place in the life of the church.  So if we have sinned against an individual, we must ask them to forgive us.  If our sin has affected the church, we must confess it publicly.  If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess that sin to those who are able to provide that support.  If, after confessing a private sin to God, we still don’t feel His forgiveness, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer and hear him or her assure us of God’s pardon.  In Christ’s kingdom, every believer is a priest to other believers (1 Peter 2:9).

So, the practical lessons from this section must not be overlooked.  For one thing, disobedience to God can lead to sickness.  This was David’s experience when he tried to hide his sins (Ps. 32).  Second, we never sin alone, for sin has a way of growing and infecting others, including the church!  Third, there is a great healing (physical and spiritual) when sin is dealt with, (See Proverbs 28:13)James is being tough here.  In essence he is saying, “Make it a habit to confess your sins to each other”.  So, do not hide sin or delay confession, because our most powerful resource is communion with God through prayer.  The results are often greater than we thought were possible.  Because God’s power is infinitely greater than ours, it only makes sense to rely on it – especially because God encourages us to do so.  Prayer power is the greatest power in the world today.

But how often have you thought that your prayers won’t be answered, or haven’t been answered because you feel that you are not good enough to be in God’s presence and ask?  We look at Biblical characters like Elijah and say, of course God answered his prayers, he was after all a prophet of God!  But listen again to what James says… “Elijah was a man just like us,” (5:17).  In other words, he was not perfect; in fact, right after his glorious victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah became afraid and discouraged and ran away.  But he was a “righteous man,” that is, obedient to the Lord and trusting Him.  God’s promises of answered prayer are for all His children, not just for ones we may call the spiritual elite.  Elijah prayed in faith, for God told him He would send the rain (1 Kings 18:1).  It has been said that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth (Robert Law).  Elijah was not only believing in his praying, but he was persistent.  “He prayed … and he prayed again” (James 5:17-18).

James concludes his letter with a challenge to his readers: make an attempt to bring back those among you who have wandered from the truth.  He refers to people who were once part of the Christian community but have lost their way.  Perhaps James has in mind believers who became spiritually weak.  Perhaps these were never true believers in Christ, at all, but merely part of the community.  In either case, they’ve wandered away after false ideas.

James doesn’t address how we might accomplish this rescue, only that we should try.  Even reaching out to someone who has wandered from God’s truth, with grace and compassion, is sometimes enough to bring them back into the community.  However we reach out it should be made with great love and concern for their souls.  James is not speaking of condemnation, judgement, or arrogance. He’s speaking of a sincere interest – a loving effort – to help someone else.

So these final verses that close out the letter are encouraging those who believe in God to show it.  This is most readily shown by praying in response to every circumstance.  We should pray for ourselves, praise God, and invite the spiritual leaders of our churches to pray for us when we are sick, or spiritually weak.  Healing will follow; sins will be forgiven.  We should confess sins to each other so we can pray for strength for each other to overcome sin.  Prayer works; God hears and responds.  If we really believe this is true, our behaviour will reflect it.

James’ letter is a very practical one, it’s emphasis is on faith in action.  God calls every believer to serve with compassion and grace, and to live in obedience to His commands.  When we do this, we are able to love one another.  When we show such love we are bringing glory to God as we show that heaven is here on earth.  All of this helps to draw people to Christ so they too find God’s amazing love for themselves.

In a nutshell, James’ letter encourages us to believe in God, place our faith in Him, and place our trust in Him.  Such belief, faith and trust needs hands and feet if Christ’s church is to grow here, and these hands and feet are yours and mine!

Living thoughts

This is an opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.  Re read the Bible passages above and the sermon before considering these questions…

Digging into God’s word

This brings us to the end of our study of James. His emphasis has been spiritual maturity. This would be a good time for us to examine our own hearts to see how mature we really are. Here are a few questions to assist you:

  1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?
  7. Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  8. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  9. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  10. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  11. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  12. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  13. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticise and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

God doesn’t want you to just grow old—His heart is for you to continually grow in spiritual maturity.

Prayer Response

Lord, we praise you for your straightforwardness.  You make it plain to hearts that want to know what you are saying and foolish to those who just want to fight you.

We thank you for the power in Christ we have to choose peace even when peace is not offered from others.  We always have the choice of how we will react and if we will choose to sow peace or harshness.  May we believe your truth and put it into practice: “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word provokes anger.”

Give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to sow in peace so we can reap a harvest of righteousness, which reflects your divine character.

In the One who was tortured for our sins, yet still asked for us all to be forgiven, realising we didn’t know what we were doing – Amen.