In his book Hope for the Troubled Heart, Rev. Billy Graham wrote1:
“True prayer is a way of life, not just for use in cases of emergency. Make it a habit, and when the need arises you will be in practice.”
A woman as in labor with her first baby and was experiencing much pain and anguish. That is natural for being in labor. The problem was that the pain wasn’t producing a delivery. The idea is that the more the pain comes and the closer the distance between the pain, the closer you are to the delivery. But this woman was having increased pain with no birth. She was experiencing increased pain with no deliverance taking place. The doctor came in to examine the situation and told the woman and her husband that the baby’s head was in the wrong position. The baby’s head was pointed up. Delivery of a baby is always easier with the head facing down. When the baby’s head is in the wrong position, there is a lot of pain with no delivery.
Many Christians today are experiencing a lot of pain but no delivery. We’re not seeing a birth. We are also not seeing new life. Christians are not seeing a change but we’re in a lot of pain. Perhaps our head is in the wrong position.2
When I pray, my prayers should help. Whether they are prayers for myself or someone else, the purpose of prayer is to rely on God to help. In this section in the book of James, we are shown how prayer can help. James presents cases in which prayers can be effective in helping. James 5:13-20 presents five cases in which prayer can be effective in helping.
5 EFFECTIVE PRAYERS DESIGNED TO HELP ME
1. I can pray a prayer of comfort when I suffer (James 5:13)
“Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises.” (James 5:13, CSB)
The first effective pray that is designed to help me is a prayer of comfort when I suffer. When I am going through a difficult time, whether it is a personal trial or a challenging experience, I can pray. In this case, James suggests that singing praises can help when I suffer. Putting the focus off of myself and my circumstance and placing it on God always changes my perspective. Changing my perspective – seeing the situation from God’s point of view – helps me to see that I can endure the suffering that I am presently in. Worship is a form of prayer in that case. When I feel down, depressed, anxious, fearful, or am feeling bad, worship lifts me up. Speaking praises to God (whether I carry a tune or not) will lift my spirit up.
2. I can pray a prayer of faith to help those who are sick (James 5:14-15)
“Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14–15, CSB)
The second effective prayer I can pray is a prayer of faith to help those who are sick. This is a prayer I pray for someone else. Many times, when a person is sick, they are too weak to pray. Their faith is weak because they are in a weakened condition. They need others to pray for them. This is the reason why this passage says that the sick person should call for the elders. The elders, or pastors, are called upon because their faith is stronger.
However, this prayer of faith is not limited to pastors. You can pray for someone else who is sick. You can pray for them that a sick person may be strengthened. As you pray, their faith in God during this difficult time is strengthened.
THE PROCESS FOR A PRAYER OF FAITH FOR THOSE WHO ARE SICK
1. The person is sick because of sin (James 5:15-16)
If the person has constantly been sinning, is the way the Greek reads. This is similar to 1 Corinthians 11:30.Sometimes sickness is a discipline from God. The person can’t go to church so the elders are called to come to him.
2. The person confesses his sin (James 5:16)
When the elders arrive, the person has the opportunity to confess sin. In essence, one has to have a proper relationship with God in order for Him to heal. So the sick person needs to pray for forgiveness of sin in order for healing to occur.
3. The person is healed by “the prayer of faith” (James 5:15)
The anointing of oil does not heal the person. It is the praying that heals. The word for anointing is a medical term. The point is that one can use whatever medical means is necessary along with prayer. One asks God for a divine touch.
3. I can pray a prayer of forgiveness to help others who hurt (James 5:15-16)
“The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” (James 5:15–16, CSB)
Some of our hurts, our pains, our illnesses come from sin. Therefore, we need forgiveness to help us heal. But forgiveness is helpful for other reasons as well. The passage here suggests that one should be able to pray and confess sins to one another. The reason is that confession really is good for the body, spirit, and soul. When I pray for someone else, it really helps. It really is effective. This is the reason why James connects praying for the sick to praying for forgiveness.
4. I can pray a prayer of power to change things (James 5:17-18)
“Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months, it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.” (James 5:17–18, CSB)
You may say: “My prayers can’t change the weather.” The point of this passage is not about changing the weather. The purpose of this example is to show that anyone can pray for change.
The Example of Elijah
God can use anyone to affect change. In the case of Elijah, the change of the weather was reflective of the changing the hearts of God’s people. The drought was a reflection of the people’s hearts toward God. This is the reason that James focuses on the pattern of prayer in Elijah’s case. Elijah didn’t pray just once for the weather to change and it happened. Elijah continually prayed for a change in the people’s hearts. As they continued to be disobedient, he prayed that a drought would continue. But when the people of God would turn back to God, the conditions changed.
“He replied, “I have not ruined Israel, but you and your father’s family have because you have abandoned the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals. Now summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.” So Ahab summoned all the Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel.” (1 Kings 18:18–20, CSB)
The fact is that Elijah didn’t stop praying for God’s people. You and I should not stop praying until God effects change in the lives of other people. This is what Jesus means when He says to “keep seeing,” keep asking,” and “keep knocking.”
““Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7–8, CSB)
We keep praying for that lost person until they commit to Jesus. Some continue to pray for that Christian who stopped coming to church until they start showing up. Others start praying for people and prospective members in our Sunday School class until God starts sending people. Still, others continue praying for people to rise up and lead in our church until God changes hearts and levels of commitment.
This prayer is for the power to change things. You can pray for things to change, whether that is in a relationship, a job, a difficult situation. We can pray for God to change things around us.
5. I can pray a prayer of restoration to heal a relationship (James 5:19-20)
“My brothers and sisters, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let that person know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19–20, CSB)
I can pray a prayer of restoration to heal a relationship that has been damaged. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus says that if a person has offended you, that you need to go to that person and repair the relationship.
Galatians 6:1-2 reveals a cycle of restoration that can happen when make repairing relationships a priority. Here, James reminds us that when people stray from the truth, that it is worth the effort to restore that relationship. Prayer can help heal a relationship with other people.
Dr. Tony Evans shared the following story about prayer:
One time I was trapped on an elevator. The immediate reaction of all of the people was panic. We were trapped, stuck, and couldn’t get out. Some people were crying, “Help! Help! Help!” Were we sincerely crying out? Yes! Were we begging for help? Yes! But it wasn’t working.
Other folks were banging on the door. Bam, bam, bam! No one was hearing all that noise, but those folks didn’t care. They kept right on banging. Desperate people do desperate things. They were crying out.
There was one calm man on the elevator. I simply walked to the other side, pulled out a latch, picked up the telephone, and waited.
A voice said, “Is there a problem?” I said, “We’re trapped on the elevator between this floor and this floor. Can we get some help?” They responded, “We’ll be right there.”
See, everybody forgot about the phone. We were so into being trapped that we forgot there was a phone link to the security department. Merely by picking up the phone, we were released from our hostage situation. All the human effort we put forth, banging and yelling, wouldn’t work, but picking up the phone and asking for help did. We had to seek help using the connection.3
1 Billy Graham, Hope for the Troubled Heart, (Waco Texas: Word, 1991). Internet, BillyGrahamLibrary.org. https://billygrahamlibrary.org/5-quotes-on-prayer-from-billy-graham/. Accessed on 2 March 2018.
2 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 234–235.
3 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 149.