The Prayer of Faith

As we have gone through the book of James we’ve seen a lot of good advice on how a Christian should live their life. We’ve seen how to persevere through trials and suffering. We’ve been instructed on how we should treat our fellow man. We’ve even delved into the theological discussion of whether one must do good deeds in order to maintain their salvation.

As we draw the book of James to a close he offers one last piece of advice that is worthwhile for all Christians. He tells us that we should pray. This is a natural conclusion to his book as it ties everything together. Without the help of God we are unable to do the things that James has challenged us to do. Likewise, we are not able to persevere through trials and suffering when we go at it alone.

James 5:13

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

As Christians, our first instinct should be to pray, not our last one. It is said by some that prayer is the last refuge of a scoundrel and there is probably some truth to this statement. So many people use God as a last resort. They want to try all other options first. When they are sick, they’ll try home remedies, they go to the doctor, they have treatments and surgeries. Only when all of these things have failed will some people ever think of turning to God.

Time and time again I have seen people turn to God in times of need, only to watch them disappear when the trial is over. They’ll come to church, come to a Bible study or a prayer meeting until the time of crisis is passed. This is not what God has in mind and it is not what James is instructing here.

The idea is that we should turn to God at the first instance of trouble because we’re always in tune with God and always in communication with Him. Sometimes God gives us an answer to our prayers through earthly sources. God may say – go to the doctor. God may instruct us to apply for a certain job rather than showering money down upon us.

We are to live a life of faith and trust God for our needs but God has also given us common sense. He’s given us simple solutions to big problems sometimes. Just yesterday I was told about a man who had a hernia but who didn’t believe in surgery because he was told to trust in God’s healing. God never healed the man of the ailment that simple surgery could fix and the man ended up losing his job because he missed too much time from work because of his ailment.

This doesn’t mean that we only go to God for the big things that require miracles. We should go to God for all things. Sometimes God responds with “let me handle that for you” and sometimes God responds with “here is someone or something that can help, check with them.”

The exact same thing is true of praising God. Our natural reaction when something good happens is that it was a result of our hard work. We worked so hard or were so smart or patient and we were finally rewarded for all of the good that we had done. Or other people will instinctively say that they were lucky that something went their way when it could just as easily have gone the other way.

I am not the type of person who believes that God controls every minute detail of life. I believe that He gave us free will and that we are free to operate within the parameters that He has set. We will never achieve anything outside of what God has ordained however. That being said, if I narrowly avoid getting in an accident I’d be much more inclined to think that God had protected me rather than I have great driving skills that saved me or that I was just lucky. And even if it was great driving skills, I better thank God for giving them to me or thank Him that he made me lucky.

For the record, I don’t believe in luck and I don’t believe in coincidence in a spiritual sense. Two cats, both named Furball are rescued from trees by firemen end up as front page news in local papers on opposite sides of the country is coincidence. God isn’t trying to tell anyone anything through this. On the other hand, if you’re wondering whether it is time to switch jobs and out of the blue someone offers you a job, it would be wise to consider the offer. I believe that God is probably speaking in such an instance.

James 5:14-15a

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;

I paused halfway through the verse for a couple of reasons, the first is that it makes the most obvious place to break. Like many other things that we have looked at in James, this is easy to take out of context. This is not a guarantee to cure all sickness if someone really just believes hard enough. To suggest otherwise is insulting to everyone who has ever lost a loved one to sickness.

I believe that we should pray for the sick. I believe that God absolutely can heal and cure things that our doctors have no ability to fix. I have a friend with two children who the doctors have examined and said that they have no medical explanation as to how she either child. God absolutely does heal and perform miracles.

With that said, I am still sometimes surprised when people are healed. Perhaps I shouldn’t be but we know that our prayers are not always answered in the way that we would like. I’ve buried a number of good Christians that I have prayed for and their families have prayed for and many church members and friends have prayed for. And even though some of those prayers may have been in doubt I have to believe that at least some were with the belief that God really could heal. And if that is the case and I take these verses in James at face value, that means God has failed to heal.

And of course I don’t believe that God has failed us. Likewise, if this verse is a guarantee for healing for anyone who has faith, it would mean that people with genuine faith would never die. They would keep asking God for healing and God would keep healing them. Or it is proof that even the greatest Christian’s faith falters in the end and because of that they meet death.
I don’t believe any of these things to be true and I believe the next couple of verses explain why.

James 5:15-16

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore 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.

Why would James immediately switch from talking about sickness to talking about sin? It is because our physical well being and our spiritual well being are closely tied. This doesn’t imply that people get sick because they are sinful. Instead, there is a progression to be recognized.
It is more important for a person to be spiritually healed than it is for a person to be physically healed. A person who is healed physically will still grow old and eventually die. A person who is spiritually healed, or forgiven, will not become spiritually sick again. They only need to be saved once.

I can’t be certain about James intent but I believe that he is emphasizing the need for spiritual health along with physical health. God is concerned about both. Jesus taught this when he healed a paralytic in Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

Jesus wanted to demonstrate that He didn’t just have the ability to heal physical problems but that He also was able to fix spiritual ones. The crowds who followed Jesus wanted to see a spectacle. People who approached Him wanted physical healing. And while this showed mercy on people’s physical suffering, Jesus didn’t heal everybody. Physically healing people was not why Jesus came to earth. His mission was for spiritual healing – the forgiveness of sins.
I can’t conclusively tell you what James meant in this passage other than to tell you what he didn’t intend because it contradicts other scripture as well as common sense. I believe that James meant to tie the idea of physical healing in with the idea of spiritual healing. Both are accomplished through prayer.

James 5:17-18

Elijah was a man just 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.

James offers a physical reminder of the power of prayer. The idea is that if Elijah was just a regular person like us and God responded in such a tremendous way to answer his prayers, God will respond likewise to answer our prayers.

When we go to God in prayer whether it is in a time of trouble, in a time of joy, in a time of physical need, or a time of spiritual need we should expect God to answer us.

James 5:19-20

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James closes with this final thought. It is perhaps his real reason for writing in the first place. He wants to help bring people back who have wandered away from the truth. James has been concerned about those whose faith might have waivered during times of difficulty. He also wants to help correct a wrong that many people were not helping the less fortunate. James also addresses the abuses of those who have money – particularly those who appear to love it.
We have a responsibility to our fellow Christians to help them walk the Christian walk. This doesn’t mean that we are to nitpick every little thing that they do wrong. We aren’t perfect and even though we strive to be we can’t hold others to a standard that we don’t reach. Instead we should build each other up and encourage one another. Sometimes this means that we must teach someone the error of their ways but mostly this means that whatever we do, we do in love for another person.

James hits on topics hard because he wants people to correct the wrongs in their life. We should approach our lives the same way. When there is garbage to be cut out of our life we shouldn’t waste time, we should do it immediately.

And the same goes for helping other people reach their spiritual maturity. Today is the day to reach out to others who need help, not tomorrow. As we have learned in James, tomorrow is not guaranteed so we should do all that we can for the Lord today.

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