As we grow strong in faith we will need to learn to pray with more confidence also. James 5 gives a key promise in that regard, that needs to be understood by all believers. Concerning the sick in church James writes, “The prayer of faith will raise him up.” The context makes it clear that this raising up is not the future resurrection from the dead but raised off his bed of illness due to God’s healing. For healing to occur the prayer of faith is crucial. Earlier in the same letter, in James 1:6-8, James warned that those who do not pray with faith, but doubt God as they pray, should not expect to receive anything from God. Clearly we must approach God in prayer with faith in His love and ability.
We should note from the context also that the prayer of faith is not expected on the part of the sick person but by the elders of the church. The sick person should not be burdened by the false guilt that he was not healed because his faith was not strong enough. The elders are to pray on the sick person’s behalf with confidence in the Lord and His healing power. The prayer of faith is to be uttered by those more mature in the congregation as they intercede for the sick person.
Truly this is an amazing promise. Many believers want to ascertain, does this prayer of faith guarantee a healing in every situation? Since no clarity is given in the passage, other Scripture must guide us. As we read the rich and varied prayer promises of the Bible we learn that prayer must always be conditioned upon “if the Lord wills.” God’s will is always paramount in the heart of a mature believer. And clearly God does not always will to heal everyone who gets sick, or at least not right away. Other prayer promises like John 14:14 “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” must also be interpreted as dependent upon the will of God in each situation.
Dan McCarney in his commentary on James writes, “Faith energizes prayer, but not because faith is some kind of magical power or psychic force that affects the prayer. Faith is that which connects a person to God and characterizes a relationship with God.” In that relationship with God we must remember He is in charge; He is sovereign not us.
The Bible teaches that it is not always God’s will to heal. In Philippians 2:27 Epaphroditus almost died from a very bad ailment. In 2 Timothy 4:20 Paul, who had the gift of healing, left this dear servant of Christ sick and could not bring him along on his missions trip. So sometimes God has lessons for saints to learn in the illness and the pain. Immediate miraculous healing is not always to be expected.
Furthermore we may also note that in this context, James raises the possibility that a person’s ailment was due to sin, either as a direct consequence of some foolish decision, or as God’s chastisement for some sin. Not all sicknesses, of course, are due to sin. However, if sin was involved, the prayed for person could not only rise from his bed but rise knowing his sins were pardoned by the Lord above. That would be a double blessing!
We should also note that the prayer of faith is to be done in the name of the Lord. That name obviously means the Lord Jesus. It is the name of Jesus which heals. Peter declared the same thing when he healed the lame man by the temple in Acts 3:12. The name of Jesus is a powerful name more precious than silver or gold. Faith in the name of Jesus pleases God, and it pleases him to be believed and trusted in prayer.
With faith, prayers can and do work. The healing here is expressed as being able to “restore” and “raise him up.” The term restore is commonly used for both spiritual salvation and physical healing. Here the context indicates wholeness of the body. As with the paralytic Jesus healed who was let down through the roof, this healing would indicate God had done a spiritual healing as well. His sins are also forgiven. He was set free from the consequences for his sin.
We are not told how soon after the prayer the person would be raised off his bed of sickness, but there would be a healing. When he would be healed, he could then arise with joy and thankfulness that the Lord has forgiven him and healed him.
So the prayer of faith works, and it is needed in the body of Christ.
James goes on to add another prayer promise in this chapter. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” The term for “prayer” in Greek is the word dēsis which means a petition; a particular request. It is a common word in the New Testament, and it is used in Luke 1:13 “But the angel said to (Zacharias), ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.'” Their petition was specifically for a son, and God heard it and answered it. So there is an effective petition which God listens and responds to.
Logically that also means that there is an ineffective petition. God wants us making specific and effective petitions to Him based on our faith as we obey His commands. Righteous men, not unrighteous men, have their prayers answered. 1 Peter 3:12 “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”
We may also learn from this teaching that some of our praying is too general to know if God is answering the petition. Only when we ask for specific things can we know if God is working. Believers need to learn to hone their requests and ask God for particular things. Believers should read their Bibles, learn the will of God, then study their lives and surroundings, and make specific petitions to God.
That means we need to take time to think about our requests. We also need to check our motives and our goals to make sure they line up with what God wants. We must remember we are speaking to the highest authority in the universe. Such petitions ought not to be hasty or wasted. We should ask good things, and ask them boldly when we know it is the will of God. Then, with faith, we can watch expectantly to know what God will do.
Right now our church is praying specifically for a longterm facility. It is a tall order, but we are sure the Lord will answer timely and wisely. He knows what we need to fulfill the work He has called us to do. We are also praying to be able to hire full-time pastors to add to our pastoral staff and serve our people better. We are also praying for the Lord to raise up and use our Bible Institute here in the Mid-Atlantic region. These are bold requests conforming to the will of God. What are you praying for today? Is it specific? Is it bold for the kingdom of God or is it wrapped up in self-interests?
Notice again that the effective prayer must be made by a righteous man. This might seem like a roadblock to prayer because Romans 3:10 flatly declares “there are none righteous, no not even one.” Yet Romans and elsewhere in the New Testament tells us we gain righteousness as a gift through faith in Jesus. That is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. God declares the ungodly righteous based upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account. Once justified, Christ Himself is our righteousness, 1 Corinthians 1:30. So all of us have access to God in prayer not by our own good lives, but by the perfect righteousness of Christ. Hebrews 4:16 “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Douglas Moo in his commentary writes, “Prayer, James wants to make clear, is a powerful weapon in the hands even of the humblest believer; it does not require a super saint to wield it effectively.”
However we also still need to show our faith in Jesus by living righteous lives. So what can a specific petition of a righteous man accomplish? The answer comes next. It can accomplish much! That is the Greek energeō- polus or “Works much.” The same verb is used in Ephesians 3:20 “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” Prayer works, or put more exactly, prayer opens the working hand of God. And not a little, for God is not little, but much! That is why prayers must be bold and ask for what does not look possible. Think of the God to whom you pray. Make request in line with the will and power of God.
Another prayer promise came from Jesus in the Upper Room Discourse in John 14:13 “ Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do.” The “whatever” is purposefully all encompassing. Much of our ministry accomplishment must be won in prayer. God gives us these kinds of open promises so we will come to Him often and ask for all our needs rather than being anxious about them.
However one word of caution here. We are not advocating a “name it; claim it” approach to God, faith, and prayer. The Bible is not teaching us to say anything like, “I believe I will be rich by the end of the year, in Jesus’ name Amen!” Or “Away with this evil person in Jesus name!” God’s prayer promises are not a blank check for greedy and arrogant souls. Asking in Jesus’ name is not simply ending a request “in Jesus name, Amen.” It is praying as Jesus would pray for the purposes of Jesus and the glory of Jesus. In all our praying we bow to Him as our sovereign Lord.