The Primacy of Prayer in our Life – Guarantees and Non-Guarantees
WISDOM AND SUCCESSFUL LIVING – Life Lessons from Hard Times – Studies in James
In our lives, physical health and spiritual health are intertwined. They are separate and with different distinctions. But they also overlap as seen in both our text today and the ending of this epistle next week.
James addresses sickness and physical tests at three levels: (1) As a permanent and indispensable part of the refining process for every person (James 1); (2) As a temporary affliction relieved through prayer and confession (James 5:13-16); and (3) As a judgment and punishment from God for a pattern of sinful behavior (5:19-20). Today, the encouragement for prayer and repentance. Next week as we finish this book, the warning that comes from no repentance.
James 5:16-18 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
1. Illness as a Temporary Affliction is Curable! The encouragement is that the prayers and intercessions of others, including church leadership, can lead to healing. The guarantee: ‘and if he has sinned, he will be forgiven’. The promise: ‘so that you may be healed’. Notice how the spiritual and physical is combined. Our spiritual life impacts our physical life, and the solution for both is prayer and confession and the intercession of others on our behalf.
2. Persistent Prayer is Effective! Using the life of the prophet Elijah, James reminds these young Christians and early churches that Elijah both stopped the rain and seasons, and restarted the same, by earnest (in the original language this means ‘with prayer he prayed’ or ‘he really prayed’)(1 Kings 17-18). So pray and keep praying for the needs of those around us. And as an encouragement, Elijah was with a nature like ours. No super saint. Just a man that went to God with the needs of those around him.
3. The Promise of Persistent Prayer. Another of my favorite examples is from the teaching of Jesus, Luke 18:1-8. Here, a widow made repeated requests for justice to an unrighteous judge who feared neither God nor man. The judge finally relented and gave the widow what she sought. Jesus instructed his disciples in this parable twofold: (1) that they should always pray and never give up (18:1), and that this kind of prayer demonstrates faith (18:8). So both from the example of Elijah, and from the instructions of Jesus, we are to pray, really really pray, and keep on praying for those around us.
One caveat. This is a promise without physical restoration as a guarantee. You recall King David. His sin of adultery with Bathsheba, the intentional murder of Uriah, her husband, and the subsequent birth of a son before Solomon, and the rebuke of Nathan the prophet promising future violence in David’s family and the death of this child. Two things happened: David went to fasting and prayer to seek God’s change of mind on the death of this child, and upon the death of the child, David resuming his worship of God. The sin led to consequences that prayer did not reverse, and David recognized this as the just consequences from God and went back to his worship and direction from the Lord. Physical consequences that result from sin are reversible – sometimes – but no guarantees. Either way, confession and prayer are honorable in the life of a pilgrim in the Kingdom.
Next week, a final promise and life and death warning at the end of James.
– John Moore