16 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. 17 Elijah 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. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. ~ James 5:16-18
James wrote this epistle, this letter to a group of exiled and persecuted Jews who had received the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. And, due to the fact that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus was not all that popular in the world, these Jewish believers faced trials and stress and hostility and persecution. So, James wrote this letter to them to encourage them in their faith in the Lord Jesus.
In v.16 of today's passage we read, "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."
The theme of prayer is a major theme in this letter. In fact, we have been instructed on its importance in James 1:5 and James 4:1–5. When life is difficult, highlighted to us is the need for meaningful relationships.
In today's passage, James stresses the utter necessity of confessing our struggles to one another. And, when we do that, we are better positioned to pray for one another, and then, the Lord will bring about spiritual restoration for those who have been weakened in their faith during the battle. The Lord requires of us to pray so that when He answers, it will be obvious that it was He who intervened.
The word used here for "healed" in v.16 means to lift up or to make whole. The Greek word used here is written in the "subjunctive mode" and in the "passive voice" which literally means "that you all may be made whole." Interestingly, due to the way this verb is written, it is God who performs the action of making us whole after we have been weakened by the battle and we have prayed for His help.
The obvious point here is: prayer works. This is why the struggling believer goes to his brother who is walking with the Lord and seeks the prayer of that individual because, to put it simply, prayer is powerful. James reminds us of that fact, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."
The word translated "effective" is the word from which we get the word "energy." The Psalmist reminds us, "When we regard inequity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us." For the believer in Christ who has been born again, this does not mean God will not hear our prayers. This means we will not be given to prayer. It can also mean since we are not walking with the Lord, we will not pray according to His will. But, when we are walking with the Lord, we will pray energized, powerful, earnest prayers according to His will. The key is that we are walking with the Lord and we are closest to His heart. Interestingly, this is why we want those who are spiritually strong praying for us when we are weak in our faith.
In v.17 of today's text we read, "Elijah 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."
The Old Testament prophet, Elijah, is mentioned thirty times in the New Testament. He was a normal guy, he struggled with his faith just like us, and he knew hunger and pain and fear. Elijah prayed earnestly. He was honest and fervent in his prayers. By the way, we pray earnestly when we pray with great expectations. Elijah prayed that it would not rain, and, it didn’t rain for three years and six months. His prayer was powerful because He honestly prayed to the God of the Bible, and he did it according to God's will.
By the way, Jewish historians attest to a drought that lasted three and a half years at that time. Interestingly, if James were talking about healing physical diseases this would be a pretty obtuse illustration for him to use. If he wanted to illustrate how we could pray and be healed from an illnesses, James would have used a different story to illustrate the point. James chose this story because he was illustrating the power of prayer to restore the freshness of God's influence on our lives and ministries.
We are wired to focus on the steps we should take for our prayers to be heard by God. We have this bent toward believing that every result is born from method. If something works for somebody, we want to know the particulars that were followed in the prayer, as if certain things make the prayer more effective. While this applies to certain things in life, it doesn’t apply to prayer. The main ingredient in effective prayer is emphatically not us. The focus of effective prayer is God. Prayer has less to do with the specifics of how we say what we say, and more to do with the one to whom we speak. We pray as ordinary people who have an extraordinary God. Prayer is effective, not because of great men who pray, but because of a great God, who, in Christ, graciously hears His people.
In v.18 of today's text we read, "Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."
According to 1 Kings 18, Elijah's prayer brought rain to the parched soil. This is James' point in James 5:18. Prayer brings spiritual wholeness and productivity to the parched soul. This was the need of those to whom James wrote this letter, and this is our need, as well. Prayer or conversing with God is the lifeblood to the believer's effectiveness in this world which is adverse to the things of God. Investment in prayer is a must if we are to realize God's influence and blessing. I find it quite instructive that James began this letter focusing on the trials of His hearers. And, it is our trials that drive us to pray to God.