Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why is prayer powerful?

I'm currently studying the book of James. I was amazed to find that I have taken a lot of verses from the book of James out of context. I think other people do, too (or maybe I've just heard people wrong in the past - I've found that happens way more often than I care to admit!). I think it's easy to do - James is written, as my study Bible points out, in the same format as Proverbs. It is filled with one-liners of wisdom! But, something I've realized is that you don't truly understand what the "one-liner" means until you read the other verses around it, consider where James is coming from and who he wrote this letter to, and consider what the Bible as a whole has to say about what he's writing. I know, novel concept here! But you can walk away from James with a lot of well-meaning, wise sayings that are just totally unbiblical and not at all what James meant! Poor James!
So, here's what I've discovered about prayer, in reading James 5:13-20. I'm going to put the whole section here because I'm sure, if you're anything like me, you won't take the time - while reading a blog - to pull out your Bible and look it up for yourself! Here it is, then:
"13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 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 earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

Here's where I was wrong. I got all caught up in the ways to pray to bring about healing (or so I thought) and I missed the example James is giving. His examples are key, really. Elijah is an excellent example of someone uttering a powerful prayer - and the reason why such prayer is so powerful. Here's why:

  1. Elijah was a "man like us." He wasn't someone who was extra-special (although we may beg to differ - he was in the Bible, after all!); he didn't have an "in" with God that made his prayers more effective than ours. He was normal, a sinner.
  2. God sent Elijah, as his representative, to King Ahab to say it would not rain in the next few years (1 Kings 17:1) and then God sent Elijah back to King Ahab when God was going to make it rain again (1 Kings 18:1). Elijah didn't pray that it would stop raining or start raining on his own accord - he was doing what God told him to do. So, when our prayers are in line with what God wants, we can believe they will be answered.
  3. God always brings wholeness and forgiveness in answer to our prayers - that's what James means when he says " . . . pray for one another so that you may be healed." Healing in this context means wholeness and restoration. Look at the example of Elijah - Elijah prayed, and God brought back the rain. He restored the land.

Prayer is powerful because God is powerful - not because we're righteous enough, we use the right brand of oil, or we've confessed every sin we could think of. A lot of the book of James can be misinterpreted as what we need to do to make things happen. But, really, if you look closely, you'll see that the book of James is all about how we are powerless to do anything apart from God. You want to have true faith? You want to tame your tongue? You want to receive what you ask for? You want to see someone healed? Humble yourself - "Come near to God, and He will come near to you" (James 4:8). It's amazing to me how, the more I understand the Bible, the more humbled I am and the closer I want to be to God. I guess that's the point!

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