SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
August 31, 2008
God Welcomes the Faithful Prayers of His People
Key Verse: Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. – James 5:13
James believed in prayer. He encouraged fellow believers to pray and to believe that God would hear and answer their prayers. He had great faith in a great God who loves to hear his children praying.
For James no concern is too small or too big to take to God in prayer. God cares about anything and everything that is going on in our lives. Prayer should be a way of life for believers. If they are suffering, they should pray. If they are cheerful, they should pray. Songs of praise are prayers of thanksgiving for God’s provision and mercy.
James assumes that church elders (respected leaders) will from experience know how to pray for the sick. He instructs the elders to anoint the sick with oil in the name of Jesus. (Oil then and now symbolizes God’s power to heal.) He invites them to believe that God is ready and able to heal the sick in response to faithful prayers. Such prayers by church elders can be “powerful and effective,” just as the ancient prayer of Elijah was powerful and effective.
In one sense we should be cautious about saying that “There is power in prayer.” It is after all not our prayers but God who has the power. It is more correct to say that God is often pleased to release His power in response to the faithful prayers of believers. As Max Lucado says, “The power of prayer is not in the one who prays but in the one who hears it.”
There is no doubt that God sometimes heals people in response to prayer. Such healing may be emotional, spiritual, or physical. James understands the role that confession of sin may play in healing. Hidden sin creates guilt in the normal person. Guilt produces sickness in the body, mind, or spirit – or all three.
Observe that James urges that confession be made, not necessarily to a large group (or congregation) but to “one another,” to one person. This should obviously be a trusted friend, pastor, or spiritual mentor. Until sin is confessed, it has enormous power over us. We are obsessed with fear that someone will find us out. Confession sets us free from that fear. There is sweet release when another believer hears our confession and assures us of God’s plenteous mercy.
Once confession is made, the two are to “pray for one another.” Christ is present when two believers pray for each other.
He keeps his promise to be “in the midst” when two (or three) unite together in believing prayer. The living Christ is the third person in this prayer of faith. The result is quite often healing for the body, mind, or spirit – or the whole person.
Victory may be ours even when God does not grant physical healing. An elderly man was ill with cancer, in the hospital and expected to die soon. I was his friend and pastor. On one occasion when I visited him during his last days, he asked his wife to step outside the room so he could speak to me privately.
He confessed that during the Second World War, when he was serving overseas in the army, he had been unfaithful to his wife. He had never been able to confess his sin to her or anyone. He told me he did not want to die without confessing this sin. He wanted to know if God would forgive him. I assured him of God’s mercy and said to him, “In the name of Jesus your sins are forgiven.” A few days later he died peacefully. He had been spiritually healed by the power of God, a healing greater than any physical healing.
Note that James does not urge individuals to pray for their own healing. He says we should pray “for one another.” While prayer is personal, there is something wonderful in hearing another person pray for us. By praying for each other we are able to overcome our innate selfishness while caring deeply for another person. This is the church at its best – a community of believers who love one another and are more interested in the needs of others than their own.
There is of course no magical prayer that, if prayed correctly, will guarantee God’s doing whatever we ask. But James reminds us that, if we work at it, we can learn to pray more effectively. We can, by staying close to Jesus, learn to know better the mind and heart of God so that our prayers for others can be more effective.
Since so much
in kingdom business depends upon faithful prayer, surely God will be pleased to
hear each one of us pray daily and earnestly, “Lord, teach me to pray.” And not
so that we may be known for our powerful prayers, but so that those for whom we
pray may experience the power of God in their lives. (Contact Walter at