James returns to where he began, in chapter 1 James speaks of the hard times we all face and our need for perseverance. This comes as we pray. Verse 5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, they should ask [that is pray] God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to them."
Prayer is the proper use for our tongues, not judgmental attitudes of hurtful attacks on our sisters and brothers in Christ. Not all our prayers are answered and James tells us the reason is our motives as we ask. Now, in these last verses, James underscores how prayer is appropriate in all of life's situations.
Prayer is appropriate when we're face trouble. It is appropriate when our soul is well. It is appropriate when we are ill and even when we confess and seek repentance. Prayer, for one another, is always a good thing.
Elders, anointing, confession have all been the highlights of this passage but I contend that those last few verses are meant to be illustrative of the larger lesson. I want us to take three things away from these verses.
Prayer is active. It's not easy to pray. It's easy to say words but it is not easy to pray and believe. In the gospels our Lord was confronted by Satan when he was praying and fasting in the wilderness. Do you think it was easy for Him? Why should we expect any less?
This is because active prayer isn't about us but about God's Kingdom. It lines us up with God's agenda and desires. It puts us on the front line of being available to God for whatever the Holy Spirit wants from us. The pastor at a large Washington D.C. church tells how active prayer broke into his life during a prayer time on a college campus.
"As we shared prayer requests, my friend said their ministry needed a computer, and I said I'd pray for him. I started praying that God would provide a computer, and then I felt as if God interrupted me. It's hard to describe the tone I heard from God. It was stern but not unkind. It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered these words in my spirit: Why are you asking Me? You're the one with the extra computer!
So I quit praying midsentence and decided to do something about it. I told my friend I had a computer that I wanted to give him. And I became the answer to my own prayer. Why ask God to do something for us when it is within our power to do something about it ourselves?
While in college I attended Sunday evening services at Peninsula Bible Church. They prayed differently. Someone would ask for prayer or share a concern. Then someone else nearby was appointed to pray aloud for the need right then. It was not unusual for the prayer time to last 90 minutes.
It also wasn't unusual to have answers occur at the same time. I remember a person needing a refrigerator and another man offering one to them before the pastor could even ask someone to pray for the need. That was prayer at work. Prayer as sweaty work...
Prayer is a family thing. Since creation God's intention was for us is to live in community with God and one another without the death sentence of sin. Even after our sin, God calls a "Abraham's family" forms the "People of Israel" and God comes to earth Jesus calls a group of disciples to follow. Jesus prays we might "be one" and in the aftermath of Pentecost the church meets together and shares their resources.
Our culture has placed a high value on individuality and a supposedly right to privacy. In fact, the Bible seems to promote the exact opposite. We are accountable to one another. Our lives reflect on the Body of Christ as a whole.
Here's a quick example of how this develops. I had records in the 60's. You got your friends together to listened to them. Then came cassette tapes. Music became portable. We didn't have to listen to what a D.J. wanted to play while we drove. Our tape decks let us listen to our music. In 1979 Sony's first Walkman created private music. We could carry and listen to our tapes whenever we wanted.
Apples ITunes site went down Christmas day 2006 as millions of people tried to buy music online. A senior editor at MacWorld magazine, said, "The store itself was working; there was just too much traffic." Today you don't listen to cuts you don't want. You customize your playlists as well as add, and delete music at will. It seems to me a side effect of this transition is a greater lack of community than before.
God calls us to something different. The Body of Christ, those who follow Jesus as the boss of their lives, experiences life within a context of fellowship, community and corporate responsibility. This is why no healthy Christian exists who is not part of a local body of other Christ followers. If you amputate a finger and set it on the table alone for a year it would no longer be a part of your body. It would be rotten.
The two illustrations James uses underscore this truth. Illness and the need for confession of sin are community occurrences.
Prayer is a powerful thing. Healing is wonderful. But it's not the oil or hands but prayer that heals. Prayer makes the difference. Anointing and hands are important only in so much that they are outward signs of the prayer going forth. Jesus makes that clear that sin and illness are not a natural link. But that doesn't mean it is never linked. We can think of times in our own lives when our sins have caused us to become sick or have caused others to become ill.
For this reason, James tells us that mutual confession is part of the process of healing for those who follow Jesus. This goes beyond difficult for it invades the most private parts of our lives. It is more than airing our dirty laundry, it is confess and "PRAY" for one another. Why, as we confess and pray we are humbled. Our own lives are laid bare and we know we are in no position to judge others. We know the reality of the sin of others because of the sin in our own lives. Notice how healing is directly linked to this confessing and prayer.
I am still not sure if James is talking about the elders being the righteous ones or someone else with a mature faith. All I know is that there is something about their prayer life that lets you know you are in the presence of God. Thus the great news for us is that, "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." God works through those who are righteous to bring healing to those who are ill as well as forgiveness.
Let me quickly say something about praying and healing. God does not heal everyone we pray for and it has little to do with the amount of our prayers, our belief that God can heal or the sorrow we feel when we think of losing that person. Healing takes place in God's timing and in God's way.
Be honest and we know our motives are skewed as we pray for healing for someone we love. It should be skewed; we're in love with that person. We don't want to lose them. We don't want to be alone. We don't want to hurt. Notice it's all about "we". God does reach down, suspends the natural order of things and brings about extraordinary healing. Dr. McDaniels in Abilene told me that the longer he practiced medicine the more he believed in miracles.
God also uses the normal means of healing that he hard wired into our bodies. Doctors, surgery, chemo and the rest have the ability to help our body heal and God uses those gifts. Lastly, God heals those who know Christ by calling them home. By the way, that is the only healing that is permanent.
As you pray this week recognize how you might be the answer to someone's prayer. Don't isolate yourself but become aware of what it means for you to reside, continually within a group of people who call themselves a family. In this way, be humble and recognize how much you need to rely on others. Lastly, don't be afraid of the power that God may give you as you pray. Pray with boldness, believe with reckless abandon and let God's Spirit shape you into the image of Jesus Christ. Amen.