See part 1 for the introduction to this series.
Remedy 5: Prayer and praise
Someone once said that a Christian who doesn’t pray to God is an atheist. and I suppose you could say in the same breath a Christian who doesn’t praise God is an atheist. Our life of prayer and praise reveals the true state of our faith: what we really think about God.
If we are to be whole-hearted and humble, we will pray about everything.
Talking to God about everything may not be our first reaction – in sad times we often become self-absorbed, in happy times we often become complacent and forget to thank him for his goodness.
But if we have correctly adjusted our view of God and ourselves, our first reaction in difficult times or happy times should be prayer and praise.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. (James 5: 13)
But, James then gets very specific:
Is anyone among you ill? 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; 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. (James 5: 14-16)
I’m not sure I’ve got this right but it seems James is saying that God may use the trial of sickness to discipline us and bring us to repentance if we are being double minded. Like where the Apostle Paul says God is disciplining the Corinthian church with illness because of their proud discrimination amongst one another – sound familiar?
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Corinthians 11: 28-30)
So if we are sick we should ask:
“Is there some specific or ongoing sin of pride and spiritual adultery I should be confessing and repenting of?”
If so – the believer is to call the elders to come and pray with them and anoint them with oil. The anointing with oil in the name of the Lord probably represents being purified from sin, as it sometimes did in the Old Testament tabernacle.
And the word “if” in 5:15b is crucial. If the sickness is God’s discipline for a particular sin, then healing will come, you are forgiven. If there is no healing, the sickness presumably wasn’t linked to a specific sin, it is just the result of living in this fallen world.
Then we see in 5:16 that it’s not just the elders who can pray. We must be honest with one another about our weakness
and pray for each other’s spiritual health.
Visit any church prayer meeting in the land and you’ll know we’re great at praying for one another in the difficult trials of life – the illness, the financial difficulties, the kids…
But how often do we pray for one another that we won’t fall into sin in the midst of these hardships? That we won’t be spiritually adulterous? That the Lord would save us from spiritual pride?
Now, this may be – ironically – because we’re too proud to admit to each other we have any spiritual pride.
So if our greatest need is to be spiritually faithful to the Lord, we need to be praying for this for each other constantly. And God promises, The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16)
Then James uses Elijah as an example.
Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. (James 5:17-18)
You may think that’s a strange prayer to use as an example. What’s rain and crops got to do with anything?
Well, the reason James uses Elijah’s prayer about rain all relates back to the episode in the Old Testament when Elijah was calling back the people of Israel from their…wait for it… spiritual adultery.
As they, led by King Ahab, turned away from the Lord to worship Baal, Elijah claimed in prayer God’s promise in Deuteronomy to withhold the rain when Israel turned away from Him.
Then came the big old face off on Mount Carmel when Elijah challenged Baal to a duel. Would the real God step forward, please. Of course, Baal failed to show up. Then it was God’s turn.
Listen to Elijah’s prayer:
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18: 36-37)
Do you see, then, James uses this example of Elijah’s prayer because it is a prayer that the adulterer would return to their true love. It’s a prayer crying out to God to turn his people back to him.
James’ letter has been packed with great and urgent concern for his readers to recognise their faithlessness, their proud, worldly behaviour, and repent.
And at the end of his letter, James urges us to share his concern. This is how we should pray for one another, that we would be constantly turning back, single-hearted to the true God.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
The responsibility to apply this is personal and communal.
From what James has told us:
a) The wanderer’s situation is serious. Remember James 1:15. Sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death, – it’s a matter of life and death!
b) But God does not want this. He wants us to turn each other back to him.
Sadly we’re not so good at this.
We hate to interfere or be seen as judgemental.
But actually, it just means we value our friendship with that person more highly than their friendship with Christ! It’s so important, if we see a fellow Christian wandering off into sin, we must love them enough to challenge them.
It may be that you can testify to a situation where a Christian has challenged you and turned you round. I know for myself I have felt most uncomfortable when I have been challenged, a bit like the lights going on in the nightclub, but it has usually led to a turning point.
And the Lord’s grace is always available – no matter how much he has been wronged, we can be forgiven.
So, we have a collective responsibility.
v19: the ‘someone‘ wandering away could be me.
The ‘whoever’ bringing them back should be me.
So as we finish let’s recap – How will we know the wise life when we see it?
Well. Let’s look at 3:17-18, it’s another good one for your fridge:
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Remember: This is God’s intention for us: to reflect the beautiful characteristics of our Saviour Jesus Christ:
- Pure – not adulterous and contaminated by the world
- Peace loving – not troublemaking
- Gentle – not selfish and unkind
- Willing to yield to others– not overbearing and proud
- Full of mercy – not harsh and unforgiving
- Showing no favouritism – not unfair and judgemental
- Sincere – not double-hearted and hypocritical
And as we allow God’s royal law of love to enslave us, leading to a humble, peace-filled, love shaped life,
we will see real results: a harvest of righteousness.
Want to be useful to God? Well – notice that James doesn’t say, “Be better trained, better qualified, more gifted, more able…” he says “Be faithful – get some wisdom from above – Be like Christ in the way you speak and act.”
So. we got there:
James’ shocking diagnosis is that our adulterous hearts are so often opposed to God’s will for us: his making us more like Jesus project.
But God has given us the prescription:
- We must see him as he really is
- meditate on his character
- remember the gospel that saved us
- and then see ourselves as we really are.
- We must humbly turn to him in repentance, trusting that there is grace sufficient for even our rotten hearts.
- We must hear, receive and act on that word, giving up our vain pride, confess our sin and then
- Get on with putting our faith into action: the job of patiently trusting God, humbly submitting to his law of love
- and then actively loving those around us
It is excruciating, isn’t it – heart surgery – but it’s a life-saver.
After the intensive operation, now we are in the recovery room.
After studying this letter we may need to spend time alone with God, on our knees, confessing our spiritual adultery and accepting once again God’s amazing grace into our hard little hearts.
So let’s think back to those questions in talk 1
1. Do you ever consider what God’s intention is for your life?
2. Do you ever consider whether what you spend your life trying to achieve for yourself is what God is working to achieve?
Let’s allow his Holy Spirit to do that wonderful work of heart transformation – to make us more and more like Jesus. That is God’s intention for us.
“Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up”
I hope you have enjoyed this series. I know when I heard the original talks they had a profound effect on me. May you be blessed and changed for the better.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk and follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz for monthly newsletters.