‘‘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. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.’ James 5:14-15
The clearly expected outcome – ’the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.’ In verses 17-18, James continues to assert the miraculous power of prayers, offered in faith:
‘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 land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.’ James 5:17-18
Clearly, James believed that prayers offered in faith would result in the physical, miraculous intervention of God. When we look at the life of Jesus, and the amount of time and energy he devoted to healing the sick, which was an expression of his deep compassion for the suffering, it is easy to see that James was closer to the truth than most Christians are today.
Jesus relied on miracles to confirm his words, moreover, He told us that those that believe in Him will do even greater works than He did. Do we really believe Him?
“I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:12-14
Powerless prayers have been rendered as such by the long, slow erosion of faith among God’s people, and that erosion has been made possible by the embracing of false traditions. For example, the kind of prayers that close with ‘not my will but yours, be done’. This is not stated in faith, in expectation of an outcome, but more as a catch-all – ‘please ignore everything I just asked for, if it doesn’t suit you.’
This is not the model of discipleship we are to follow and teach, where we are completely unaware of the will of God, and our prayers are at best guesswork. Paul urges us to walk ever more closely with God, and increasingly understand his will.
‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ Romans 12:1-2
As we yield to God’s mercy and walk closely with him, our ideas are changed. We jettison old ways of thinking, as healthier, more life-giving inspiration arises in His company, and as our minds are renewed, we become more attuned to Him and to His will. Only then, in our closeness with God, where His good, pleasing and perfect will is known, can we pray effectively.
In the early church, the lived experience of the Christian faith was far greater than it is today. There is much we have lost and must seek to restore. Back to the church as God intended as revealed in the Book of Acts.
Praying effectively: James sums it up well:
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.’ James 1:6-8
Adapted from the excellent article "The Prayer God Can’t Answer" by Duncan Edward Pile Patheos Nov. 23rd 2021