Summary: James shows us that in any situation we face the answer is prayer.
THE ANSWER IS PRAYER
1) Are you in trouble? Pray (vs. 13a). We have the tendency to try to fix our problems without prayer. There have been multiple times where I was faced with a problem and spent too much time trying to fix it with repeated attempts using my superior ingenuity and skill. Once frustration set in the thought occurs, ‘pray’. I do and I receive what I need to fix the problem. James is trying to get us to understand that prayer needs to be our first resort; not our last. When prayer is your last resort you are relying on yourself not God to fix the problem. David was a man who often found himself in some precarious situations. In one of these situations, he was in trouble at the hands of a man named Abimelech. So, he prayed. And God delivered. Psalm 34:4-6. Sometimes God will leave us in our troubled situation until we decide to pray about it. Jonah was inside the big fish three days and God didn’t release him until after he prayed. And the trouble doesn’t have to be a major one. Whether the trouble we’re in is minor or major, we should pray. F.B. Meyer writes, “The greatest tragedy is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” It’s been said, “When life knocks you to your knees, you’re in the perfect position to pray.” Are you in trouble? Pray.
2) Are you happy? Praise God (vs. 13b). James is saying, ‘alright, so you’re not in trouble right now-are you praising Jesus?’ Too often we only think about God when we’re in trouble. James wants us to be thinking about God all the time-not only in our time of need. Did something go well for you? Praise God. Did something work on the first try? Praise God. Did you pass that test, remember that verse, finish on time? Praise God. Like praying when we’re in trouble, praising God when things go well is also a test of our pride. I don’t pray when I’m in trouble because I think I can do it myself. And when I don’t praise God for my accomplishments I am saying, ‘I did it myself’. Deut. 8:10-20. When we don’t praise God in times of plenty we are putting God in a position to have to teach us a hard lesson. It’s not just about us either; it’s about ministering to others. Psalm 105:1-2, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” Singing praise and telling others about our joy in the Lord will cause others to be drawn to Christ. Are you happy? Praise!
3) Are you sick? Have the elders pray (vs. 14-15). James moves from being troubled, to being happy, to being sick. “Are you sick? Call the elders together and have them anoint you with oil and pray over you.” Notice James places some responsibility on the sick person. This again is a test of our pride. It can be humbling to ask others to pray for you. In our pride it’s a sign of weakness. James puts us to the test-“Do you want to get well? Then you’re going to have to ask for some help.” We also see in this that James combines prayer with anointing with oil. Oil was used medicinally. In fact, there was once a Greek Doctor named Galen who said that oil was the best of all medicines. Does this mean James thinks that prayer isn’t enough when we’re sick-we need oil too? No. We don’t put our faith in the medicine, we put our faith in the almighty healer-God-“anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord”. This shows that the recognition of power isn’t in the oil as if it held some magical power, but in the God behind the oil-because he does hold the power. It’s a challenge to us as well. Do we have more faith in doctors than we do God? Do we put our hope in medicine or is our hope in God? We can go to the doctor and we can take the medicine and God can use both to help us but the bottom line is in what or in whom do we trust? Vs. 15-“prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’. 2nd Kings 20:1-7. Hezekiah believed that God could spare his life. And the Lord honored his plea. And interestingly, we see Isaiah preparing a remedy for the boils. So we see God bringing the healing through a medicinal remedy, much like the oil. Hezekiah’s faith wasn’t in the medicine but in God. “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well’. We can get hung-up on the word, ‘will’ and think that if someone we pray for doesn’t get better we must not have prayed in faith. That’s not necessarily true. Sometimes God allows things to happen regardless of the faithful prayers of loved ones. We need to leave room for God’s will, whatever that might be. James didn’t say, “Are you in trouble? Pray and God will instantly take it away.” If God doesn’t remove the trouble, if God doesn’t remove the sickness there must be a reason and purpose beyond our current understanding. The prayer offered in faith will end with the words of Jesus’ prayer in the garden when he prayed for the cup of wrath to be taken away from him, ‘yet not my will, but yours be done’. 1st John 5:14-15. Robert Law said, “Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth.” Tony Compolo tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. Compolo prayed boldly for the man’s healing. That next week he got a telephone call from the man’s wife. She said, "You prayed for my husband. He had cancer." Compolo thought when he heard her use the past tense verb that his cancer had been eradicated! But before he could think much about it she said, "He died." Compolo felt terrible. But she continued, "Don’t feel bad. When he came into church that Sunday he was filled with anger toward God. He was 58 years old, and he knew he wouldn’t get to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn’t take away his sickness and heal him. The more his anger grew towards God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in his presence. But the lady told Compolo, “After you prayed for him, a peace had come over him and a joy had come into him. Tony, the last three days have been the best days of our lives. We’ve sung. We’ve laughed. We’ve read Scripture. We’ve prayed. Oh, they’ve been wonderful days. I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing.” Then she said something profound. "He wasn’t cured but he was healed."