Stephen Caswell © 2003
Minimum Of Organization
The ancient church had a minimum of organization, but it had a maximum of power. The average church today has a maximum of organization but tragically lacks power. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan once warned, One of Satan’s methods today is to start so many organizations in a church that the members have no time for unhurried communion with God. Many Christians are so busy that they can hear only the clink and clatter of church machinery. Too often we are over-organized and under-agonized.
Prayer is to spiritual life what breathing is to physical life. The Christian life is impossible without prayer. Yet today we spend so little time in prayer. Tragically the prayer meetings and Bible Studies are the least attended meetings of the Church. In chapter 5 James emphasizes the importance of prayer. In fact he mentions prayer seven times in just eight verses. Prayer is not a matter of gifting or ability, rather its a matter of conviction and time. James encourages us to pray and gives examples of what we can pray for.
I. Prayer For The Suffering
5:13: Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
Perhaps the 2 greatest weaknesses in the average church today are the areas of prayer and praise. The reason for these weaknesses may be traced to insensitivity. There is much need for prayer and praise. Suffering should elicit prayer. Sufficiency should elicit praise.
Firstly, James commands the suffering to pray. The word afflicted means suffering in difficult circumstances. The phrase in trouble is a good translation. Paul used this word to describe the circumstances he was in as he suffered for the Gospel’s sake. As God’s people go through life, we often must endure difficulties that are not the results of sin or the chastening of God. What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances? We must not grumble and criticize the saints who are having an easier time of it; nor should we blame the Lord. James indicates in verse 9 that some were doing this.
What we should do is pray. Let’s ask God for the wisdom needed in the situation and use it for His glory. Prayer can remove affliction, if that is God’s will. But prayer can also give us the grace needed to endure troubles and accomplish God’s perfect will. Let us pray for others who suffer too! Then encourage them by sharing this with them. Abraham Lincoln said: I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.
Secondly, James commands the joyful to sing praises. James indicates that everybody doesn’t go through troubles at the same time: Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. 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. He did this for Paul and Silas when they were suffering in that Philippian jail. When God delivers us from suffering we should immediately praise Him. David did this in the Psalms. Praying and singing were important to the early church, and they should be important to us too. Praying is not twisting God’s arm to give us something He doesn’t want to. Neither is it making God aware of our needs.
God already knows them and wants to meet them. Prayer is stating in no uncertain terms our dependence upon God. We are acknowledging our inability to handle the situation. We are seeking His grace and strength. Prayer is submitting ourselves to God’s will and asking Him use our trials for His glory. When we pray in the Holy Spirit He brings our desires into line with God’s. When we are earnest in prayer He changes us more than the people and circumstances we are praying about. This is why real prayer comes from the heart not just the mind.
Do you pray or grumble when suffering? Do you seek God’s glory? Do you pray for others when they suffer? When God delivers you from trials do you thank Him? Do you praise the Lord when He blesses you? Let’s heed these commands and grow in suffering and blessing!
II. Prayer For The Sick
a. The Request 5:14a: Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church,
I do not think that James gave us a blanket formula for healing the sick. In verse 14 James presents a situation where someone is laid up in a sick bed. They are unable to come to church or to see the elders. James tells such a person to call for the elders to come and see them. Note that the onus is with the sick person. If they have a conviction in their own heart that this is the right thing to do, then they should not hesitate. Let us not miss this point, the ministry being sought is both physical and spiritual. These two are often connected.
b. The Reason
James 5:14b-15: and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
The person is sick because of sin (v. 15). The Greek text says, If he has been constantly sinning. This parallels 1 Corinthians 11:30: For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep; ie, they have died. James has described a church member who is sick because he is being disciplined by God. This explains why the elders of the assembly are called: the man cannot go to church to confess his sins, so he asks the spiritual leaders to come to him. The leaders would be in charge of the discipline of the congregation. Let me stress here that not all sickness is a result of sin. As people living in a fallen world sickness is a part of life. We must not respond like Job’s comforters and condemn the righteous. That’s the last thing they need. Let’s be compassionate and pray for them.
The person confesses his sins (v. 16). In the early church, the believers practiced church discipline. First Corinthians 5 is a good example. Paul told the believers at Corinth to dismiss the sinning member from the assembly until he repented of his sins and made things right. James 5:16: Confess your sins therefore to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. To confess our sins simply means we agree with God about them. Lord, the Bible says that anger is sin, forgive me for being angry.
When David tried to cover his sin the Lord disciplined. Only after Nathan exposed his sin did David confess it. He said to Nathan, I have sinned, who then assured him that God had also put away his sin. Psalm 32:3-5: When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Proverbs 28:13 says: He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.
The person is healed by the prayer of faith (v. 15). It is not the anointing that heals, but the praying. The Greek word translated anointing is a medicinal term; it could be translated massaging. This may be an indication that James suggests using available means for healing along with asking the Lord for His divine touch. God can heal with or without means; in each case, it is God who does the healing. But what is the prayer of faith that heals the sick? The answer is in 1 John 5:14–15: And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us: and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.
The prayer of faith is a prayer offered when you know the will of God. The elders would seek the mind of God in the matter, and then pray according to His will. It is also worth noting that it is not one person with spiritual gift of healing that accomplishes this. It is the prayers of the church elders that God uses in this case. Why? Because they are the spiritual leaders of the church seeking to restore a member to fellowship.
In my last pastorate I received a request to come and pray for someone laid up in bed. I went with one of the deacons and we first spoke to them about their Christian life. This person in their early thirties was living a very undisciplined life. She had serious health problems but refused to follow the doctors advice regarding her diet. She also was very lax in her spiritual life. Physically and spiritually she was not feeding herself with the right food. We spoke about these matters and she confessed her sin. We then prayed and anointed her with oil. God did indeed forgive her sins and over the next few weeks restored her to better health.
c. The Reminder
When we sin, it doesn’t have to come to this. In verse 16 James addresses the whole congregation. James 5:16a: Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James commands us to confess our sin early. Don’t ignore it until God disciplines us. He literally says, keep on confessing your faults to one another and keep on praying for one another.
It is worth noting that James links physical health to spiritual health. In certain cases God’s healing requires prayer and confession. When we pray for healing for ourselves or others let us not forget the spiritual health issues.
Confession That Is Appropriate
The confessing that James wrote about is done among the saints. He was not suggesting confessing our sins to a preacher or priest. We confess our sins first of all to the Lord, but we must also confess them to those who have been affected by them. We must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession. It is wrong for Christians to hang dirty wash in public, for such confessing might do more harm than the original sin. The person James refers to called for the elders because their sin was of a public nature.
Let us remember that our physical health is linked to our spiritual health. God sends some sickness our way to discipline us. He wants us to confess our sin so that we can be restored. Therefore let us confess our sin quickly and avoid the Lord’s discipline.
III. Prayer For The State
James 5:16b-18: The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
Conviction In Our Prayers
In these verses we see the concern that Elijah had for the nation of Israel. The people were being lead into idolatry by wicked King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel. Elijah was not prepared to stand by and do nothing. Firstly, He boldly confronted the king to challenge the nation about their sin. Then, Elijah prayed earnestly for God’s discipline on Israel. God punished the nation by holding back the rain that they needed. For three and one half years, the heavens were as brass and the earth unable to produce the crops so necessary for life.
As you know, at God’s direction, Elijah challenged Ahab and the prophets of Baal to a showdown on Mount Carmel. God revealed Himself by fire to prove He was the true God. Baal was seen to be a false God. Which is ironic. Because the Baal worshippers believed he was the one who sent the rain and blessed their crops. But the nation still needed rain. Elijah went to the top of Carmel and fell down before the Lord in prayer. He prayed and sent his servant seven times to see if there was evidence of rain; and the seventh time his servant saw a little cloud. Before long, there was a great rain, and the nation was saved.
Do we need showers of blessing today? Absolutely! As Christians we have a God given responsibility to pray for our nation. If the Church doesn’t pray for the spiritual well being of our leaders and our countrymen, who will. Ezekiel 22:30 says: And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. God wants us to pray for our land. He wants us to pray for revival and blessing. 2 Chronicles 6:26-27: When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, when they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin because You afflict them, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Israel, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance.
How should we pray? Like Elijah did! Verse 17 says that he prayed earnestly. It literally means that prayed with prayer. He kept on praying. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says: Pray without ceasing. Elijah meant business with God. In fact we read that he prayed seven times before the rain came. He prayed in faith. He believed God would send the rain. He kept praying till he received God’s promise. When a cloud the size of man’s hand appeared he knew the Lord had broken the drought. John Bunyan said, In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
Elijah, Just Like Us
But Elijah was a special prophet of God, we might argue. James 5:17: says that, Elijah was a man just like us. He was not perfect; in fact, right after his victory on Mt. 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. Robert Law said, Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth. You cannot separate the Word of God and prayer, for in His Word He gives us the promises that we claim when we pray.
And The Rains Stopped
It was almost time for the Old-fashioned Revival Hour to go on the air. The broadcast was originating in a tin-roofed tabernacle in Waterloo, Iowa. As Dr. Charles Fuller, the dean of gospel broadcasters, stood on the platform before the microphone, a heavy rain began to fall and pound upon the tin roof, making it impossible for the broadcast to go forth with its Bible-saturated message.
Dr. Fuller prayed, Lord, if You don’t stop the rain, the Old-fashioned Revival Hour will not be able to go out over the air. For Jesus’ sake, please stop the rain! How illustrative of Dr. Fuller’s simple faith in the power of God was that prayer! Within three minutes, the rain stopped suddenly, and the program went out without the slightest interference. But 5 minutes after the service, a torrential downpour occurred.
1 Timothy 2:1-4: Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. When Paul wrote this Nero was ruling in Rome. If Paul encouraged Christians to pray for a wicked ruler like Nero, we should pray for our rulers today.
Do you pray for our land? Australia is in drought spiritually and materially? We desperately need God’s showers of blessings. Will you pray for our country? Do you pray for our government? We have no right to complain about our leaders if we fail to uphold them in prayer. Will you pray that God will give them wisdom and help them to rule righteously?
IV. Prayer For The Straying
James 5:19-20: Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
In the last two verses James deals with backsliding brethren. He challenges us to seek their restoration. Although prayer isn’t mentioned I am sure that it’s implied. If we pray for the afflicted and the sick, surely we must pray for the brother who wanders from the truth. These verses deal with our ministry to a fellow believer who strays from the truth and gets into sin. The verb err means to wander, and suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God. The Old Testament term for this is backsliding. Sad to say, we see this tragedy occurring in our churches regularly. Sometimes a brother is overtaken in a fault; but usually the sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline.
Verse 20 states backsliding is sin. God’s people need to come alongside and gently lead them back. Galatians 6:1: Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. The reason we should pray first is so that we will be gentle when restoring them. It is so easy to come across in a judgmental way. By praying first we can avoid this. God is able to help us minister graciously. If you have a broken bone you want the doctor to be gentle and use pain relief first. The break hurts enough without the doctor inflicting more pain. In the same way we need to be gentle when restoring straying brethren. 1 John 5:16 says: If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.
The origin of this problem is found in the statement wander from the truth. The truth means, of course, God’s Word. Unless the believer stays close to the truth, he will start to drift away. For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. This is why it is so important to regularly feed on God’s Word. What are we to do when we see a fellow believer wandering from the truth? We should pray for him, to be sure; but we must also seek to help him. He needs to be converted; turned back into the right path again. Do believers need to be converted? Yes, they do! It is important that we seek to win the lost, but it is also important to win the saved. If a brother has sinned against us, we should talk to him privately and seek to settle the matter. If he listens, then we have gained our brother. That word gained means won. It is important to win the saved as well as the lost. If we are going to help an erring brother, we must have an attitude of love, for love shall cover the multitude of sins.
If you see a brother wander from the truth can I encourage you to seek him out. Pray about this a good deal first so you can restore him gently. Today we saw James emphasize the importance of prayer. He gave us four different examples of how to pray, The Suffering, The Sick, The State and The Straying. Will you make prayer a priority in your life?
Jude 24-25: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.