The power of prayer, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg
Bible Study material on James 5:16c-20

Introduction
The importance of prayer and for that matter the role of prayer in our Christian journey cannot be overemphasized. James 5:17-20 draws our attention to James’ exhortation on the power of prayer. In this study, therefore, the theme of what prayer means, who are to pray, when are we to pray (circumstances needing prayer) and why we are to pray (importance of prayer) are looked at.

What is prayer?
James’ use of the Greek word δέησις in James 5:16 denotes supplication, prayer, entreaty. It means to “intercede, to entreat and to make supplication.” The related word that James used in James 5:17 is προσευχή. That also connotes prayer to God and as an exchange of wishes. In other biblical contexts, the call to prayer, to some extent, suggests an invitation to battle. For the words used for prayer have the sense of entering into war. For example, Jacob is said to have wrestled with God (in prayer). Jesus is recorded to have travailed in sweat in prayer. Paul teaches that we wrestle not against fresh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Thus, the use of the words wrestle and travail suggests that prayer is a work and for that matter a spiritual work that involves the use of physical energy and time.

Who needs to pray?
James implicitly encourages all his readers to the spiritual discipline of prayer by means of his reference to an Old Testament figure, Elijah who exemplifies prayer. By describing Elijah as “a human being, even as we are,” James is giving the exhortation that every human being and for that matter a follower of Christ qualifies to stand before God in prayer. In other words, James had already drawn our attention to the fact that the fervent prayer of the righteous avails much. James’ mention of the righteous in this context denotes those who have relationship with God through faith and are therefore sanctified and seeks to live out their faith in Jesus. In this light, prayer forms essential part of the lifestyle and disciplines of the followers of Jesus.

Theologically, the fact remains that God is said to be a Warrior God. And that all who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives. Abraham knew when to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genes 18); Moses knew how to win their war against the Amalekites spiritually on the Mountain (Exodus 17:8 – 16). David declares that God trains his arms for battle. In the New Testament, watching Jesus, the disciples concluded that prayer was the secret of his great life. The apostles (Acts 6:4) and the early church (Acts 12) saw prayer as their utmost priority and means of deliverance respectively.

When and Why are we to pray?
The importance of prayer in our Christian life and for the growth of God’s Church and kingdom cannot be overemphasized. From the context of James 5:13-20 in general, James draws our attention to the fact that prayer gives us power in suffering (James 5:13). It also gives us power in sickness (James 5:14-15) and over sins (James 5:15-16). Using the example of Elijah, James further draws our attention to the fact that prayer invites God and for that matter the Supernatural to intervene in our natural situations (James 5:17-18). Last but not the least, in our attempt to share the Gospel, prayer is needed to bring those wandering away into the faith (James 5:19-20). Here, in prayer the weak and those straying away are encouraged and strengthened.

In the context of the local Church, prayer is the secret to the growth of the Church. For the early Church was a church at prayer. They prayed for boldness and for wholeness, and they prayed for revival and for survival. They prayed for freedom and forgiveness. The church will not get on its feet until it first gets on its knees. Charles Spurgeon describes the prayer of the church as the heating apparatus of the church. The prayer level is also the power level of the church.

Church history too has it that the giants of faith all made prayer the essential part of their life. Martin Luther declares, ‘I have so much business I cannot get on without spending at least three hours daily in prayer.’ John Wesley says, ‘God does nothing but in answer to prayer’ and backed up his conviction by devoting two hours daily to that sacred exercise.

Conclusion
This study has drawn our attention to the need for prayers especially in times of sickness, suffering and in difficult circumstances. By reading James’ reference to Elijah, Jesus and Church history in this study, it could be observed that no Christian is beyond the discipline of prayer. In relation to other passages of Scripture, therefore, prayer gives us the right to receive from God (Luke 11:1-3; Matthew 7:7). Prayer also prevents us from getting into temptation (Matthew 26:42). Prayer serves as a catalyst for other ministries in the church such as evangelism, good leadership roles and general giving of the church to go on (I Tim 2:4). Prayer releases divine favour (Nehemiah 1:4; 11).

Questions
1. What does it mean to pray?
2. Is prayer to be perceived as a gift or a spiritual discipline? Give reasons for your answer.
3. State four importance of prayer.
4. Why is prayer still important even in this era of advancement in science and technology?

Exhortation to prayer, praises and anointing the sick with oil, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg – Bible Study Material on James 5:13-16

Introduction
James 5:13-16 focuses on the exhortation on prayer amid challenging circumstances, whether general or more specific such as in times of sicknesses. James’ teaching about prayer in this context forms one of the three concluding exhortations. The other two concluding exhortations are the prohibition of oaths previously discussed in James 5:12 and the responsibility to bring back sinning brothers to be studied in James 5:19-20.

The need to pray amid suffering
Some New Testament letters such as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 end with an exhortation to pray. In this context, however, James invites his readers to pray amid suffering. The kind of suffering that James is talking about is not clear. However, it is worth noting that since James had previously talked about suffering in James 5:1-11, it is most likely that James is talking about a kind of suffering relating to one’s faithfulness to God just like the ones experienced by the Old Testament prophets and Job. However, it could also be used in reference to general forms of suffering encompassing poverty, illness and death. To James therefore, what should be a response as we experience suffering is prayer.

The call to sing praises to God when experiencing peace of mind
James further calls his readers to sing praises amid the state of peace of mind. In other words, to James experiencing a state of wellness of life demands praises. Most importantly, the peace of mind that James talks about here does not describe a situation where one does not experience suffering. For it does not denote the exact opposite of being in trouble. Instead, it describes the peace of mind despite the fact that one is in the midst of suffering. Under this circumstance, they are to praises God. In the congregational context, therefore, one is inclined to imagine that prayer and praise could belong together.

The need for a prayer of faith
Unlike the person suffering who are required to pray, James teaches that the persons going through the specific suffering of sickness are to call the elders of the Church to pray for them. It is not clear why James seems to imply that it is only the sick who have the privilege of benefiting from the prayers of the elders. However, the fact that James invites the sick to call the elders to suggest that the sick are confined to sickbed and cannot go to the elders. This position is strengthened because James 5:15 brings out the idea that the Lord will raise that person up.

Anointing with oil
Accompanying the act of prayer for the sick is James’ related exhortation to anoint the sick with oil. It is worth emphasizing that although James instructs the elders to anoint the sick with oil, James states that the prayer of faith shall heal the sick implies that it is the prayer, rather than the oil that serves as the primary act. In this light, the elders were not instructed to receive money from the sick members of the congregation before praying for them as commonly practiced in some contemporary contexts.

There is no detailed instruction on the kind and symbolic significance of the oil that the elders were asked to apply on the sick. Medicinally, in the first place, oil was used mainly for healing and as a skin conditioner in the ancient world (Lk 10:34). However, as used in this context, and in the second place, since only the elders were required to apply the oil accompanied by prayer, the perspective that anointing with oil symbolically signified presence and power of God intervening in the believer’s physical predicament. This view finds strength given the fact that the disciples used oil to heal all kinds of sickness (Mk 16:13).

Confessing sins to one another
James seems to represent the view that some kinds of suffering have a spiritual connotation. For that reason, James 5:16 implies that confessing sins to one another in the gathered ecclesia brings about forgiveness and consequently leading to healing.

Conclusion
Today’s lesson has focussed on James exhortation to prayer amid suffering of all kinds. Of particular importance to James is that prayer, anointing with oil and confessing of sins were necessary parts of the healing and deliverance processes. The implication here is that one’s physical sickness and thus suffering may have a spiritual origin. The book of Job, however, cautions us against this line of thinking in that God does not allow us to establish automatically a direct logical connection between sickness/suffering and our sins.

Questions

1. Wellness of life describes one’s peace of mind despite the fact that one is in the midst of suffering. Explain.

2. How does James’ instruction on the use of anointing oil in James 5:14 relate to how it is practiced in some contemporary African Christian contexts.

3. Under what circumstance can we describe a person’s prayer as a prayer of faith?

4. Using yourself as an example, how is prayer important in our discipleship journey?