Summary: Prayer is the measure of a person. It is one of our greatest needs individually and corporately. In James 5:16b-18, James sets before us a description of powerful and effective prayer.
Elmer Towns is the Dean of the School of Religion at Liberty University in Virginia, which he co-founded with Jerry Falwell in 1971. The author of over fifty books, Towns also leads a Sunday school class with two thousand attendees at the Thomas Road Baptist Church, where Jerry Falwell is the Senior Pastor.
In the January/February 2003 issue of Pray! magazine, Elmer Towns wrote the following about prayer:
"My wife and I went through college by faith. If we had not prayed together daily through all our difficulties, I don’t know how we would have made it. I earned $1 an hour for driving a school bus, which was just enough to pay for our necessities, but there wasn’t even a dime left over for a Coca-Cola.
"One evening the only thing in the kitchen cabinet was a can of tuna, so my wife served a tuna casserole. As we clasped hands to thank God for the food, I prayed, ’God, you know we are broke. You know it’s two days until payday. You know we are willing to fast until we get money, but we ask you to please take care of our needs.’
"As we finished praying, the laundry man came to the door. Ruth met him to say, ’No laundry today; we can’t afford to have anything cleaned.’ But he had not come to pick up our cleaning. The laundry man explained, ’A few months ago your landlord asked me to pass along $20 to you to pay for having thawed the pipes for him. I had forgotten about it until today.’
"Some might say this was a coincidence, but Ruth and I say that our prayer together reminded the laundry man that he had $20 for us. He had been sent by God."
Throughout history God’s people have prayed and received answers to their prayers. In fact, we see an example of that in our text for today. In James 5:16b-18 we learn that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. So, with that in mind, let us read James 5:16b-18:
"16 . . . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
"17 Elijah was a man just like us. 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 5:16b-18)
Tradition tells us that James, the author of this letter and the brother of Jesus, was given a very unusual nickname by the Christians in the early church. They called him “Old Camel Knees.”
The Early Church historian, Eusebius, wrote the following account of James: “James was often in the habit of entering the temple alone and was often found on bent knees interceding for the people, so much so that his knees became as hard as a camel’s knees in consequence of his habitual kneeling before God.”
And so as “Old Camel Knees” begins to draw this letter to a close we should not be surprised to find that the topic of prayer closes his concluding paragraph. From verses 13-18 prayer is mentioned no less than seven times. Within six verses there are seven reminders to pray.
In verse 13 James refers to the importance of prayer during times of trouble as well as during times of happiness. In verses 14-15 James refers to the importance of prayer during times of physical sickness. In verse 16 James calls us to pray for each other when we have sinned. And then in verses 17-18 James uses the example of Elijah to remind us of the power and effectiveness of prayer.
In these verses James deals with other topics such as the responsibility of elders, the relationship between sickness and sin, and God’s will concerning the physical healing of sick Christians. But today I want to focus your attention on James’ major subject in these verses, and that is the power and effectiveness of prayer.
William Cowper, one of the great English hymn writers and a close friend of John Newton, once wrote, “And Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.”
Prayer is, without question, the highest activity of the human spirit. Men and women are at their highest when they are on their knees, face to face with God. It’s been said, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more.”
Just as the true test of a marriage can be found in the words spoken in private, so the true test of your relationship with God is to be found in your private communion with him in prayer.
Prayer is the measure of the person. It is also the making of the person. Therefore it is one of our greatest needs individually and corporately as a church. In James 5:16b-18, James sets before us a description of powerful and effective prayer.