Prayer How It Works – James’ context is the danger of swearing or making deals with God. Instead, be a person of integrity and be a person of prayer. God’s people should say “Yes” when we mean yes and say “No” when we mean no. By being people of integrity, we will avoid the need to make deals with God. I never remember the need to make a deal with God when I had been honest and a person of integrity.

The Book of James – How Life Works
By Pastor Delbert Young

Prayer How It Works

Prayer How It Works

Scriptures: James 5:12, James 5:13, James 5:14-16, James 5:17-18, Mark 1:35

James 5:12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

Above all, my brothers . . . James begins this section with “Above all, my brothers.” We are used to his beginning a section with a similar “by brothers,” but this time it is “Above all . . .” This is important.

His context is the danger of swearing or making deals with God. Instead, be a person of integrity and be a person of prayer. God’s people should say “Yes” when we mean yes and say “No” when we mean no. By being people of integrity, we will avoid the need to make deals with God. I never remember the need to make a deal with God when I had been honest and a person of integrity. However, I do remember making deals with God when I had done something from which I needed him to get me out.

After I had come into the kingdom, I was reading the Bible for my first time ever. I ran across a story that baffled me (still does). The story is about Jephtah in Judges chapter 11. Jephtah was a judge who led the people of God to war against the Ammonites. Just before the battle, he made a deal to the Lord saying if God would let him win the battle, he would offer the first thing out of his door as a burnt offering. He did win the battle and the first thing out of his door was his daughter, his only child. The Bible says Jephtah did to her as he had vowed (Jdg 11:39). I thought, “This is weird. He sacrificed his own daughter?” The obvious point of the story is deals I make with God affect my family and generations to come.

Have you ever been in trouble and swore to God you would do something if God would first do something for you? We said something like, “Oh God! If you will get me out of this one, I swear I will go to Africa as a missionary.” Well, at least you said you swear you would go to church or swear to pay your tithes. Did it work out like this? What you asked God to do happened, but what you told God you would do did not happen. Or, at least it didn’t happen for very long. James said don’t do this. Instead pray when we find ourselves in trouble.

James 5:13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

James 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

James 5:15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

The alternative to swearing and bargaining is praying. We don’t manipulate God by our bargaining power. We find the solution to our trouble by prayer power. When we bargain with God, we are expressing a lack of faith. We don’t believe God will do something for us. So, we cut a deal. However, when we pray and believe, we are expressing faith God can and will move.

James began this section with “Above all, my brothers . . .” Then he moved to “Is any one in trouble? . . . pray. Merry? . . . Praise. Sick? . . . pray.” We have nearly gone through the entire book of James. We could say, “Is any one going through a trial? . . . pray. Is any one going through a temptation? . . . pray. Is anyone dealing with anger? . . . pray. Is any one doubting their faith? . . . pray. Is any one having trouble with their tongue? . . . pray. Is any one needing wisdom? . . . pray. Is any one fighting and quarreling? . . . pray. Is anyone slandering and judging? . . . pray. Is any one hoarding wealth? . . . pray. Is any one sick? . . . pray. ABOVE ALL, MY BROTHERS . . . PRAY. Don’t bargain WITH God. Pray TO God.

The passage is about how prayer works. James talked about how prayer works in several different ways. James talked about: (1) Prayer working when we are in trouble; (2) Prayer (praise) working when we are happy; (3) Prayer working when we are sick; (4) Prayer working for each other; (5) Prayer working for the righteous. Let’s talk about these for the next few minutes.

James 5:13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.

(1) Prayer working when we are in trouble. The thought of James is not to bargain with God and tell him if he will do this, we will do that. Don’t sacrifice your kids. James said instead of bargaining and swearing to do something, pray. How many of us truly believe we have experienced prayer working when we have been in trouble? Let’s vote. If you know (not think) for a fact prayer worked for you in a time of trouble, please raise your hands. That’s how prayer works. Prayer works in time so trouble. It’s a fact.

James 5:13 . . . Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.

(2) Prayer (praise) working when we are happy. James connects praise with prayer in this section. When we think about it, praise is a type of prayer. It’s thanksgiving prayer. We are talking to the Lord and thanking him for what he has done for us. We tend to forget about God when we are happy. Often we forget to praise God when we have asked him to help us through trouble and he did. James said don’t forget about God when happy. We all enjoy being thanked when we do something for people. We are far more apt to do something nice for the person again if they appreciated what we did. That’s how prayer works when we are happy. We need to thank the Lord. One day we will want his help again.

James 5:14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

James 5:15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

(3) Prayer working when we are sick. James tells us how prayer works for the sick. He is very clear. We are to call the elders. A lot of people don’t know about this part. People expect people, especially leaders, to come and pray for them when sick. They become upset if this doesn’t happen. James said for the sick person to ask the elders to come and pray. We should not become upset when the elders do not come unless we have first asked. We ask them to pray over us and anoint us with oil in the name of the Lord.

James said, “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” Isn’t this interesting? The Bible is clear on how all sickness and infirmity are not related to sin. For example, the blind man in John 9:1-3. However, obviously some sickness is related to sin or James would not have put this part in. I appreciate James said, “IF he has sinned” James said to make certain the base was covered “IF” he has sinned.

The part I want to emphasize is not sin will cause sickness. The part I want to emphasize is if sin did cause the illness, prayer of the elders will help work forgiveness. That’s how prayer works.

James said, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” The Lord will use the elders, but it’s the Lord who will heal the sick person.

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

(4) Prayer working for each other. We are to pray for each other so we may be healed. With this prayer, we note the confession of sins. This could refer to the need for physical healing or the need for spiritual healing. Again, no matter, the emphasis is not sin can cause spiritual or physical problems. The emphasis is the confession of it and prayer will heal it. I am extremely cautious about to whom I do my confessions. I like the way the King James Bible writes this verse.

(KJV) James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed . . .

I believe in confession, but I don’t tell everyone my faults and sins. I do have “One” to whom I confess. I have known the man for more than twenty-five years. I can tell him anything with confidence knowing it will never be repeated. It is this way with him too. There are things we can talk about in a public setting. There are some things that should remain “one to another.”

James said prayer works when we confess our sins and pray for each other.

James 5:16 . . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

(5) Prayer working for the righteous. It was interesting James did not say the prayers of a religious man or woman were powerful and effective. Neither is it the prayer of a perfect man is powerful and effective. James encourages us to find righteous people to pray for us. I am cautious concerning whom I allow to pray for me. I want righteous people praying for me.

What does “righteous” mean? The Greek word is dikaios and pronounced dik’-ah-yos (Strong’s #1342). It means observing divine laws, keeping the commands of God. A simple way for me to understand righteousness is simply the doing what is right before God. A righteous person is a person who lives the Word of God to the very best of their ability. If we want our prayers to be powerful and effective, we need to be righteous. That’s how prayer works.

James 5:17 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.

James 5:18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

So, should I wait until I am a righteous man to pray? Is there some level of righteousness I must acquire before God will answer my prayers? James made certain we understood this was not what he was saying. Don’t wait to achieve some level of righteousness before we pray. To get the point across, James used the Old Testament prophet Elijah as his example.

Elijah had some serious character problems “just like us.” He wrestled with anger “just like us.” If he became upset with someone he would call down fire and burn them up. He had an uncontrolled tongue “just like us.” He mocked people. On Mount Carmel, he made fun of the prophets of Ball and Asherah and said some very cruel things to people. Over and over he said things to Elisha making me wonder why Elisha continued to follow him. Elijah was a man of faith who was fed by ravens, but became extremely depressed and wanted to die because things were not going his way. James said, “Elijah was a man just like us.” He was full of character flaws, but “he prayed” and God moved.

Elijah “prayed earnestly.” The Greek is interesting. The word translated “earnestly” in the NIV is proseuche{pros-yoo-khay’}. It is Strong’s #4335 and means a place set apart or suited for the offering of prayer. It is interesting to me how people of prayer have a place where they offer their prayers. Abraham was like this. No matter where Abraham traveled, he would build an altar and there he would pray. Jesus was like this. He always had a place to be alone with the Father and pray.

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Elijah was this way also. For the event James speaks about concerning the rain, Elijah went to the top of Mount Carmel (1Ki 18:42) and had a place where he prayed. He laid on the ground and prayed for rain. He sent his servant to look for rain clouds. The servant would come back and tell Elijah he saw nothing. Elijah would pray again and again. Seven times Elijah prayed. Finally the servant saw a little cloud coming from the sea. The sky grew black and the rain came down.

We need a place where we can lay on the ground or floor if we want and pray. There is something about having a special place to pray.

James said, “He prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” His prayer opened heaven and brought life to earth. Isn’t that how prayer should work?

James said to not make deals with God. Let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” Instead of making deals with God, pray. Prayer is a tremendous act of faith. Pray when we are in trouble. Pray when we are merry and things are going well. Pray when we are sick. Get the elders to pray for us. Confess our faults to one another and pray for one another so we can be healed. Get righteous people to pray for us. But don’t wait until we correct all our character flaws before we pray. Remember Elijah. He was a person just like us. He had several character flaws, but he didn’t stop praying and God didn’t wait until Elijah was perfect to answer his prayers. Neither will he fail to answer your prayers and my prayers. Let’s pray.

Other Related Sermons:

Baptism Into Jesus – sermon series video audio notes

Abimelech Is Watching sermon notes series

Lord Teach Us To Pray pt 1 – video audio notes Luke 11:1-2