Points Covered: A very practical sermon on the power of prayer based on James 5. What happens when we pray?
James 5:13-18 13Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14Is 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. 15And 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. 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.
James is writing this letter to an assembly of Jews who according to Chapter 1 were scattered abroad. They have been scattered out of Jerusalem by the persecutions of Acts 7 and 8.
So these believers in a situation of tremendous stress. According to this epistle, they are under trials, persecution, severe temptation. James is calling his readers to endure it all without wavering, without being unstable, without doubting, to look pass the pain and the persecution to the glory, to look for the crown of life.
See how James is completing his epistle to the troubled Christians: James 5:11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
James is calling them again to be faithful in persecution. He is telling them to hang on during trials.
For such troubled believers James is telling: James 5:13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Prayer is mentioned in every single verse from v13 through v18. The heart of Christian life, the heart of endurance is prayer. When things are not going well, you depend on a divine resource. You go to God in prayer. That’s always the resource, beloved. It’s so simple and it’s so direct. On the other hand, he says, “Is anyone cheerful?” And he may be somewhat sarcastic in saying that. “Let him praise,” that’s the other side.
James now covers four features of a believer’s prayer.
1. Prayer Brings Comfort.
James 5:13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
Are any of you persecuted? Any of you being abused? Treated wickedly? Any of you in distress? Any of you in calamity? Let him pray. Turn to God for comfort.
Peter put it this way: 1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. That’s the spirit. Pray. Take it to the Lord.
Jonah was in deep trouble, Jonah prayed: Jonah 2:7 When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. God in His wonderful grace delivered that prophet.
The word here in the Greek means a continual pleading. When life isn’t going the way it ought to go and you’re weary with the battle and you’re weak in faith and you’ve begun to sort of get crushed under the whole thing, continually plead to God for comfort. That’s a basic truth. It’s just so basic but so easily forgotten.
I remember singing this song from my childhood, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry…what? Everything to God in prayer.” That’s right. “What a friend we have in Jesus.”
And so, if you’re suffering, pray for comfort. But people are not always suffering. “Is anyone cheerful?” Anyone who has a happy attitude. You’re on top. That is in contrast to the other. But should someone be cheerful, let him sing praises.
On the one hand you have the wounded broken spirit. On the other hand, you have the whole rejoicing spirit. One is singing praise, the other is pleading for comfort.
2. Prayer Brings Healing.
James 5:14 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.
The word sick here has two meanings in Greek. One is weakness (emotional or spiritual) other is aliment or sickness of some kind.
a. Weak in faith. Romans 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak.
b. Spiritual weakness. 1 Corinthian 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
c. Weakness of Personality. 2 Corinthians 11:21 To my shame I admit that we too were weak for that!
d. Sickness. You may be diagnosed with a condition. You may have physical illness and weakness. Either ways, it is a trouble. You’re in the middle of the battle, you’re fighting for your life, as it were, against the persecutors, and you’re losing out and what you ought to do? Pray.
Now, go back to James 5: James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Sometimes in life you hit bottom, you don’t know what is your way forward. At such times it is hard for you to pray, isn’t it? In fact, you may not be able to pray effectively. So what do you do? You’ve got to find somebody else to pray. And who do you want to find? If you’re spiritually weak or physically weak, you want to go to someone who is what? Spiritually strong. So who would you go to? James 5:14 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.
Why? Because they’re the spiritual strength that you need. Go to the elders of the church, they’re the overseers, the pastors, the spiritually strong. Read their qualifications in 1 Timothy 3and Titus 1. They’re the godly. They’re the spiritually mighty. Go to the spiritually strong, those who are victorious, those who are patiently enduring. Draw on their strength.
James 5:16 The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Friends, when you’re down at the bottom, you want to find a righteous man. Go to the spiritually strong.
If you’re suffering, pray. If you’ve hit bottom and you’re weak and the power’s gone out of your life and out of your prayers and you’re overwhelmed with the persecution and the trials and the struggles, or if you are physically sick, then go the spiritual strong and let them pray over you. See that? Isn’t that a beautiful ministry?
Well, do you know what is the primary ministry of us pastors? Remember where it says in Acts 6 that the Apostle said you choose some men among you who can be appointed over the distribution of grains and we will give ourselves continually to: Acts 6:4 We will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. Ministers of God, our prayer life is more important than the ministry of the word. It’s a prayer ministry God has called us to. That’s the pastoral duty, to come alongside that weary Christian who is sick, defeated without strength and on behalf of that individual, lift up prayers to God from a righteous heart.
Now what is this anointing with oil? James 5:14 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.
This was a pattern shown to us by Jesus’ disciples. You see in Mark 6 when Jesus sends out the 12 two by two: Mark 6:13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
So when people are in trouble or sickness, they come to the spiritually strong, the godly leaders and they pray with them and pray for them with oil.
It’s all pictured in the twenty-third Psalm when it says of the great Shepherd: Psalm 23:5 You anoint my head with oil. When the shepherd brought all the sheep in to the little fold on the hillside after they had grazed all day, he put his staff down in front of the little entry and only one sheep went through at a time. And as one sheep went through, he put it down. The next one stood in line. He checked over the whole body. Wherever there was a wound, he poured oil and soothed it. Wherever the skin was parched, he rubbed it soft and then let the sheep go in. That’s the shepherd’s ministry…that’s the ministry…the ministry of caring. It’s a ministry of restoration. Oil is the ministry of caring.
And I want to say to you that as pastor that we want not only to teach God’s Word to you but we want to be strength to your weakness. We want to be the spiritually strong to whom you may come that we may gather around you and crying out to God on your behalf with the prayers of righteous men.
James 5:14 …..pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. To do that in the name of the Lord means to do it because that’s what Christ would do. To pray in the name of the Lord means that’s to pray and say this is what Christ would want. And so we are Christ’s hands and mouth to people.
What happens when such prayer is offered? James 5:15 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.
Prayer offered in faith by those godly men will restore the one who is sick and weak. See, it has to be a prayer offered in faith. You know what, when a person goes through trouble, sickness, his faith wavers and God does not answer prayer.
James 1:6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
James 1:7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.
The prayer of faith, the strong in faith will restore the sick and weak. James 5:15 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.
“The Lord will raise them up.” The Lord will restore, heal, and awaken. What a promise. Beloved, that is a promise.
When you come to the point in your life where you’re spiritually weak, physically sick, where you’ve exhausted all your resources and you feel like you’ve hit bottom, you’ve been through the suffering stage and you tried to pray and now you’re into the stage where you’re just weak and your prayers seem to go nowhere and you’re losing the battle and everything seems to be falling apart and you can’t get a hold of it all, go to the spiritually strong, the elders and leaders of the church and let us come alongside of you and let the righteous life and the strong godly men intercede on you behalf and as it were, oil you with comfort and strength and restore you. And the Lord Himself in answer to the prayer of faith on your behalf will restore you…restore you, raise you up, life your spirits.
And…notice the last part of verse 15…if he’s committed sins, they’ll be forgiven him. If the sickness has come because of any sin, it will be forgiven. The sins that bound him, the sins that pulled him down to weakness, if that was the cause, they’re gone.
3. Prayer and Fellowship.
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. Why does he say therefore?…he has just said if you’re weak, go get alongside someone spiritually strong and let him pray for you. And if your heart is sincere, and you’re there because you want God to reach out and restore you, then He’ll do it. So, if the prayers of a righteous man can assist that weakness in your life, “Therefore you ought to be confessing your sins to one another and praying for one another so that you may be whole.”
In other words, this is to the congregation. Don’t wait till you get to the bottom. Maintain a relationship with other believers that you’re always praying for one another. It’s a general element of fellowship. It’s a marvelous thing. Mutual honesty, confess your sins to one another. It doesn’t mean pour out every bit of garbage in your life, it means don’t hide your evil. Sin wants you alone, did you know that? Sin wants to isolate you. Sin doesn’t want anybody who shouldn’t know to know. And as long as it’s private and secret, you can nurse it and nurture it and feed it. And God wants it open and out and exposed among people who love you.
So confess, let it out, be honest, share your struggle. Let people know you’re in a battle so that you don’t become weak and defeated and weary and exhausted and wounded and victimized. Open up, share, seek forgiveness with one another.
Confess your sins to another believer. Not every specific sin but the weakness of your life until God gives you the victory over those areas. Don’t let yourself go down to the point of spiritual weakness driven by your sin because you never dealt with it and you never dealt with it because it was allowed to keep you alone. Don’t let that happen.
So, he says confess to one another and then pray for one another. You tell someone else where your battle is and then pray for their battle.
So, the point is this, if you’re suffering, keep your prayer life hot. If you hit the bottom through persecution, compounded by your own sin, you go to the spiritually strong men who come alongside. They beseech God, pleading with Him on your behalf. And God promises that He’ll lift you up. And to prevent you ever getting to that kind of extremity, dear friends, share your burdens with each other and pray for each other.
4. Prayer and Power.
James 5:16 …The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Listen, a righteous person praying for you has tremendous power. The energetic prayer of a man who is dealing with sin in his life and living righteously before God is very strong. You know what that tells me? There’s such a thing as weak prayers. And weak prayers come from weak people that’s why weak people have to go to strong people. Beloved, we have a tremendous prayer ministry for each other. A tremendous responsibility to come alongside.
To nail it all down on this issue of power, he gives an illustration. Elijah. James 5:17-18 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.
Most of the Jews considered him the most adventurous Old Testament person and everybody knew about him. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. He was just human. He had like passions. He suffered like we suffered.
Elijah was hungry. 1 Kings 17:11
Elijah was afraid. 1 Kings 19:3
Elijah was tired from battle. 1 Kings 19:3
He was just a man.
“But he prayed earnestly.” That means Elijah really prayed. Some people pray but they don’t really pray. They talk to God as if He was a divine waiter and they were just giving Him an order. Or if He was a divine secretary and they’re just dictating. But Elijah really prayed. You can read 1 Kings 17, it’s the story, but he really prayed.
James says he prayed that it might not rain. And you know what? It didn’t rain for three and a half years. He was a man like we are. He was a righteous man. His prayers were so powerful it didn’t rain for three and a half years. He prayed again, the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
You say, “What in the world is this story supposed to tell?” Well, if you read 1 Kings 17, it doesn’t say anything about Elijah’s prayer. It doesn’t say anything about the three and a half years of draught. It assumes his prayer and it does talk about the draught. In 1 Kings 18 it mentions the third year, but that’s different than the three and a half. Elijah spent two years in Zarephath with the widow and in the third year went to confront Ahab, but that’s a different time factor. The only thing we know about the prayer is what James tells us. The only thing we know about the duration of the draught, three and a half years, is what James tells us.
But the interesting thing is James is saying take Elijah who was a man just like we are. And they knew he was a man like we are. He was strong at points and weak at points. And he said look at him, he prayed and look what God did. God literally controlled the rain in response to his prayer.
As God sent the rain in response to the prayers of a powerful righteous man, so in response to the powerful righteous prayers of men today does he send the restoring health, blessing joy refreshment to the parched dry weary exhausted weak struggling believer who needs so desperately a refreshing touch from heaven. What a ministry. The ministry of prayer. Let’s bow together in prayer.