The Power of Prayer and the Response of Praise (James 5:13-18)

The Power of Prayer and the Response of Praise (James 5:13-18)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, August 02, 2020

A minister said to a child: “So your mother says your prayers for you each night. What does she say?” The youngster replied, “Thank God he’s in bed.”[1]

Prayer is very important in our Christian life.  A man named William R. Newell said this about prayer: “kneeling is a good way to pray because it is uncomfortable. Daniel prayed on his knees.” Jim Elliot [who was killed as a missionary in Ecuador] said, “God is still on His throne, we’re still His footstool, and there’s only a knee’s distance between!” He also said, “That saint who advances on his knees never retreats.”[2]

Many others have written on prayer. Why? I think that is obvious, prayer is our connection with God. I believe people write on prayer because prayer is so difficult for us, all of us, including pastors.  One reason I believe prayer is difficult is because it takes faith. We are having faith that our prayer is heard. Another thing about prayer is humility. It is humbling to ask for help and confess our sins to God. Of course, another reason is time.

In James 5:13-18 we see James wrapping up his epistle. Here James writes about prayer. As we discuss this passage, I hope you will be encouraged by James instructions on the power of prayer.

Read James 5:13-18:

 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 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 earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

  • In verse 13 James instructs us to pray in our troubles.
    • Prayer is the subject of the next several verses
    • Prayer is also the better use of our tongues. If you recall James has written about the tongue in several verses. Some of this is review, but allow me to remind you:
    • in James 1:19: be slow to speak; James 1:26: anyone who thinks of himself as religious must keep a tight rein on his tongue. James 3:1-12 are about not using our words to curse people. In chapter 4:11-12 it says not to slander one another, then in verses 13-17 he writes about boasting and bragging. So, now James gives us some good instructions for the tongue; prayer and he will also mention praise.
    • Now, what type of trouble is James talking about? It is easy to think that the trouble has something to do with illness. In fact, at first glance I thought the trouble had something to do with illness. I thought that because in verse 14 James writes about sickness. But I am going to share a different thought on that verb translated “sickness” in a moment.
    • For now, trouble could likely mean persecution. Recall that in James 2:6 the rich were dragging the people into courts. We also know that James was the pastor of the Jerusalem church and we know there was persecution in Jerusalem. James himself was stoned to death in AD 62. Stephen was stoned to death prior to this letters writing. In Hebrews, which I think was written in or around Jerusalem, in chapter 13:3 there is a hint about persecution there. So, I think the trouble James is referring to is persecution.
    • James says to pray.
    • What are you doing in your trouble? I urge you to pray. This is a topic which I have covered before, but it always needs repeating, pray.
    • Francois Fenelon, a seventeenth-century Roman Catholic Frenchman, said this about prayer:
    • Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you; tell Him your joys, that He may sober them; tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you to conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them; lay bare your indifference to good, your depraved tastes for evil, your instability, Tell Him how self-love makes you unjust to others, how vanity tempts you to be insincere, how pride disguises you to yourself and others.
    • If you thus pour out all your weaknesses, needs, troubles, there will be no lack of what to say. You will never exhaust the subject. It is continually being renewed. People who have no secrets from each other never want for subject of conversation. They do not weight their words, for there is nothing to be held back; neither do they seek for something to say. They talk out of the abundance of the heart, without consideration they say just what they think. Blessed are they who attain to such familiar, unreserved intercourse with God. [3]
    • Now, still in this verse James writes about the opposite of trouble, happiness. If you are happy, sing songs of praise. Col 3:16-17: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
  • Now, in verses 14 and 15 James tells us about communal prayer for illness.
    • I said communal prayer because now you are to get more people involved in your prayer.
    • James says, is anyone of you sick? You should call the elders of the church to pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. And in verse 15, the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.
    • This is a somewhat difficult passage for me to talk about. It is difficult because it would be easy to say if you have done this and you are not well, your faith is not strong enough. Look again: James says, the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. The text continues to say: The Lord will raise you up; if you have sinned you will be forgiven.
    • Now, what does sin have to do with the sickness?
    • We cannot say that if you are not better after being prayed over and anointed by the elders, your faith is weak and your sickness may be because of sin.
    • I know that I have opened a can of worms and I am going to get rid of the worms now. I am going to try to get those worms to catch fish or something productive.
    • The dear man, who was my youth pastor in high school and a spiritual advisor now, lost his daughter to leukemia when she was around 16 or 17 years of age. He is and was a very godly man who spent lots of time in prayer and had great faith. But he was told by some that he had unconfessed sin and that is why his daughter was not healed.
    • I don’t believe that for a second. At least not in that case.
    • Though I will talk about confession in a minute.
    • The Greek verb translated “sick” can mean weak. It is quite likely that James is not writing about a physical ailment but a spiritual weakness and/or some physical weakness from the persecution. Think about it for a moment. These people are facing persecution. They are drained. It has been difficult to maintain the faith. Their faith has been challenged and maybe weakened.
    • Now, James says call the elders.
    • The elders are to pray over the person and anoint him/her with oil. The verb translated “to anoint” literally means “to rub” or “smear” with oil. This could carry the idea of putting oil on wounds from persecution. At the same time this anointing could simply be symbolic as it was in the Old Testament.
    • Either way, it is quite likely that the sickness is not a literal physical illness but a weakened faith.
    • The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. God will honor your request. This is especially true if we believe this is talking about a weakened faith from persecution.
    • The text goes on to say that his sins will be forgiven. What is the sin? Where does this come from?
    • It is possible that the sin is a weakened faith.
    • It is also possible that the sin is just an unnamed sin. Why is it forgiven? Do the elders forgive the sin? I don’t think so. I think we can know the sin is forgiven because the individual has come to the elders. Since he has come to the elders, that implies a contrite heart willing to confess sin.
    • Suppose the person has an actual physical ailment? This passage says they will be healed in faith. You may be questioning your faith because you have not been healed. Remember that our prayers must always be about God’s will. We pray in Jesus’ name because we are praying in Jesus’ character or manner. Look at verse 14. At the end of the verse it says that the prayer and anointing are in the name of the Lord.
    • In the Bible times, name meant character. Our prayers need to be in the character or person of Jesus. This must include Jesus’ will and desires. Our prayers must be in submission to His will.
    • So, the prayer in faith will bring healing if that is in God’s will. The question is whether James is referring to spiritual healing or physical healing.
    • It seems to me to be about a spiritual weakness which needs a spiritual healing.
    • Also, about elders: notice the idea of calling upon the spiritual advisors for support. The New Testament gives this type of instruction often. It was important for the church to be a community. You need to, I need to, we all need to be able to call for help spiritually; and that is what the next verse is about.
  • In verse 16 James shows that communal confession goes along with prayer.
  • In Psalm 66:18 the Psalmist writes that if he had cherished sin in his heart the Lord would not hear his prayer.
  • I don’t think you must always be concerned about some unconfessed sin that you don’t know about.
  • What you must be careful of is repetitive sin. This is sin that you are going through and you cannot conquer. This is sin which you have given into time and time again. We should always confess our sins to God, but we must also confess them to each other.
  • This doesn’t mean giving your dirty laundry to the whole church. Who wants to be first we can have an open mic right now. No!
  • This does mean having a prayer partner or a group of Christian friends that you can share your struggles with at a specific time and place. There is a time for public confession as well. Don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that is what James is writing about.
  • We need to confess because in confession we clear our minds and hearts.
  • We need to confess because in confession we can hear the person we confess to say that we are forgiven, or God forgives you. We need to hear that.
  • We need to confess to everyone we have offended in our sin (as far as possible). In some cases that may be a large group of people.
  • We need to confess so that we can be held accountable not to continue in that sin.
  • This means the person we confess to, or at least one of the people, should say, “You are forgiven, now how do we prevent you from falling into this sin again?”
  • We are not meant to live the Christian life alone. Unchecked sin corrupts absolutely. Our sin is contagious, always. It is not secret. If you don’t believe me look how divorce affects children. Be sure your sin will find you out and it does hurt other people (Numbers 32:23).
  • This verse about confession and sin implies that the sickness may be actually weakened faith in the previous verse.
  • I know that some of you need to confess and I urge you to do that. Make it a point to confess the sin today.
  • You may have to confess to your spouse that you have looked at pornography.
  • You may have to confess to your children that you have treated them badly.
  • You may have to confess to your boss that you did something wrong.
  • You may have to confess to someone else.
  • Don’t ignore the Spirit’s nudging about this. In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus told the people that if they are about to worship God and they realize they have an unresolved issue with someone else, they must resolve that and then come back to worship.
  • In confessing our sin we can truly be spiritually healed and fulfilled.
  • In verses 17-18 James gives an example of the power of prayer: Let’s re-read those verses: 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 earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
  • Recall that James was the half brother of Jesus and he was called James the just. It is said that he spent hours on his knees in prayer so much so that his knees were callous like a camel’s flesh. So it is only fitting that as he closes his epistle he writes on prayer.
  • God is right there ready and waiting on your prayers
  • I want you all to know that whether you are battling a physical ailment or a spiritual problem I am here to help you.
  • Stanley Jones said of prayer: Prayer is surrender—- surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boat hook from a boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.[4]


Let’s pray now


[1] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 456.

[2] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 453 (cited from Elizabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty)

[3] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 451 (cited from Charles R. Swindoll, Strengthening Your Grip)

[4] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 453 (quoted from E. Stanley Jones, a Song of Ascents)

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