Summary: James is encouraging his readers to pray. In fact, James’ concluding remarks consistently take the reader back to the need to pray. The first thing we should do is frequently the last thing done.
JAMES 5:13, 14
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
James is drawing his brief, pointed missive to a conclusion. Throughout the letter, James has confronted the ubiquitous tendency among Christians to seek accommodation with the world. James is writing to people who have experienced life in all its rawness. They have suffered, and they have experienced joy. They have been deprived, and they have found the richness of the Lord. Through all their trials, the Lord is still their God. They have proved the veracity of Paul’s declaration, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful” [2 TIMOTHY 2:13].
Nevertheless, James is encouraging his readers to pray. In fact, James’ concluding remarks consistently take the reader back to the need to pray. When suffering, pray. When cheerful, pray. When sick, pray. The first thing we should do is frequently the last thing we do. James’ concern is that life happens, and when life happens, the brother of our Lord wants to ensure that we respond by turning to the Master, drawing close to Him.
The message today introduces the subject of prayer—a topic that will occupy our attention during several messages planned for the weeks to follow. In this particular study, I am seeking to lay the groundwork for prayer as a lifestyle among the people of God. I understand that I cannot persuade anyone to pray, but I do trust that the Spirit of God, working through the Word of God and working powerfully in each life, will encourage us to become men and women of prayer.
CULTIVATING A LIFE OF PRAYER — “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” Whatever circumstances the believer may find himself or herself in, they are to live with a prayerful attitude. James gives two extremes—whether one is suffering, or whether one is cheerful. After this, he names a special situation—illness. We shall focus on the special situation of illness in a moment, but first we need to think about what James is actually saying in this thirteenth verse.
In keeping with other letters of the New Testament, James’ final remarks urge his readers to adopt a life marked by prayer. Listen to some of the instances found throughout other letters. Drawing his letter to Roman Christians to a conclusion, the Apostle Paul pleaded for them to join him in prayer. “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company” [ROMANS 15:30-32].
Paul knew that he walked by faith and not by sight, and he further knew that he faced many powerful enemies. Hostile religious zealots in Jerusalem were intent on ridding their world of the Apostle, and he sought to complete the work God had assigned him, especially serving saints suffering in that particular city. Accordingly, he asked the Christians in Rome to become partners through prayer as he travelled to Jerusalem and then to Rome.
The concluding remarks Paul drafted in his Ephesian encyclical are well known to every saint who has engaged the enemy in prayer. The plea has a militaristic air, in keeping with the battle we face to be godly in the midst of a dark world as we withstand evil. “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” [EPHESIANS 6:16-20].
Excellent encouragement is offered to all believers in the words the Apostle wrote to the beloved Philippian Christians. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” [PHILIPPIANS 4:6].
To the Christians in Colossae, the Apostle to the Gentiles wrote, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” [COLOSSIANS 4:2-4]. He understood his greatest need was for opportunity to declare Christ, and he wanted the Colossians to share in the advance of the Gospel, which they would do as they joined him in praying for God to work powerfully and effectively.