As I said before, a lot of James at first glance seems disjointed, but the more that I’ve read this book, the more I’ve come to see the overall flow of it. And here James comes back to an idea that he started in chapter 1, prayer in the midst of trouble.
In chapter 1, he said that if you are going through trial to ask God for wisdom, but to ask in faith. Faith that God is good. Faith that God’s way is best.
Now he comes returns to this thought, saying,
Is any of you in trouble? He should pray. (13)
Pray for what? Pray for wisdom and pray for help. But again, we need to pray believing in the essential goodness of God. Because if you doubt that, your prayers will be totally ineffective. (1:5-6)
But we shouldn’t just pray when we’re in trouble. James tells us,
Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.
It’s easy to remember God in our times of trouble. But do we remember him in the good times as well? Do we thank him for his goodness? That’s part of faith too. Believing that every good and perfect gift comes from him. (1:17)
James then returns to the idea of praying through trials, saying,
Is any of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. (14-15a)
This is no guarantee of healing, no matter what some people may say. Paul himself prayed for people who didn’t get well. (II Timothy 4:20, for example).
But nevertheless, if we are sick, James says to pray and to have the leaders of the church pray for you as well. The oil was either a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s work in healing, or it was used as an ointment for healing. Again, though, the idea is that through prayer, we express our faith in God. By praying, we put ourselves in the hands of God to heal…or not, trusting that whatever he chooses to do is best.
There are times, however, when sickness is the result of sin. And so James says,
If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. (15-16)
It calls to mind the time Jesus healed the paralytic in Mark 2. Before dealing with his physical ailment, Jesus dealt with his sin.
I’m not saying that all sickness is the result of sin. But there are many people, for example, who have suffered physical aliments because of bitterness and unforgiveness in their hearts. And by dealing with their sin first, their physical ailments were also healed. That’s another reason James says to pray when you are sick or troubled. Prayer can reveal these kinds of spiritual issues and bring healing to them.
He concludes by saying,
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (16-17)
In short, never think prayer is a waste of time. That it is ineffective. Even for the “ordinary” person, if we come to God in faith, prayer can accomplish great things. Not because we’re speaking some magic formula or incantation. But because the God we pray to is great. And when we trust him, he can accomplish great things in us and through us.
How about you? Do you sometimes think prayer is a waste of time? Or do you have the faith to pray in the good times and bad?