A sermon on James 5:13-20 can take many forms. Today, I would like to view James 5:13-20 through the lens of “How to pray with power.”
There is so much I will not be able to cover in this sermon because James 5:13-20 is just so rich. But by going verse by verse through this Bible passage, I believe we can point to at least 3 ways to have more power in prayer.
1.To Have Power in Prayer, You Must Personally Experience God’s Presence (James 5:13)
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. (James 5:13)
In sports, there’s a common phrase that goes something like this, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” While I’m not saying praying is just a random act of tossing up prayers hoping some of them stick, I do believe that there is a link between consistency and potency. Those who pray often are usually the ones who see the greatest results.
I recently read an article which was exploring the commonalities of artistic greatness. The writer wanted to know what made people great artists. Whether it be a painter, a sculptor, a musician, a writer, a poet, an athlete, whatever it was, what led to their success. The writer also wanted to know when and how that artist produced their greatest work. Leonardo Da Vinci had his Mona Lisa, Beethoven had his Fifth Symphony, Michelangelo had his Statue of David, Shakespeare had his Hamlet, Martin Luther King Jr had his “I Have a Dream” speech, Michael Jordan had his game winning shot in game 6 of 1998 NBA Finals.
So what did all of these greats have in common? And when and how did they produce their most influential and most memorable achievements in their respected fields? The author of the article, however, only found one link between all these people. Some were young when they produced their masterpiece and then never really found that great of success again. Some were unknown until later in life before producing their great work of art. Some were well educated, some were not. Some were city dwellers, some were in the country. Some were extroverts and some were introverts. Some had one great achievement and some went on to produce other famous works as well.
The only thing that all of them had in common was that they all produced massive amounts of work. All of them tirelessly kept writing, kept painting, kept sculpting kept playing – the greats, whatever field they were in, all produced massive amounts. Do you think that was the first time Da Vinci picked up a paintbrush when he pained Mona Lisa? Do you think the Statue of David was Michelangelo’s firs time sculpting? How many shots did Michael Jordan take before his NBA Championship winning shot in 1998?
I’m not saying you gain power in prayer through repetition, Jesus said in Matthew 6:7-8, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” I’m not saying you gain favor through self-effort or because you earn it through consistently praying. That would violate the whole truth of grace alone found throughout the Bible.
What I am saying is that you don’t become a prayer warrior overnight. You don’t learn to walk with God moment-to-moment in a moment, it takes a lifetime to develop your heart muscles to consistently hear and obey the voice of God. You don’t develop the discernment to pray the right thing at the right time with the right motive in one try. Some pray in a soft tone, some pray with outstretched arms, some pray with a booming voice, some pray in the morning, and some pray in the evening, but the common link in those who have power in prayer is that they pray! They pray often. They pray when times are bad, and they pray when times are good. They are known by their consistency in God’s presence.
And here in lies the point I think James is making in James 5:13, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” James seems to touch both ends of the spectrum. He speaks to the suffering and the cheerful, those in the valley and those on the mountain tops. He says wherever you are at in life, come into the presence of God. He says if you are suffering, pray. And if you are cheerful, praise God. Both are acts of prayer because prayer is ultimately about coming into the presence of God.
And so if you want to pray powerful prayers, it starts with regularly and personally coming into God’s presence. So how can you come into the presence of God?
- It starts with Jesus. You cannot come to the Father except through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 3:12 (NLT) says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.” So if you want powerful prayers, it starts with the gospel. Put your faith in Jesus, repent of your sin, seek the cleansing blood of Jesus, be raised to new life, and become a child of God so you can pray every day to your heavenly Father.
- But the second way is so obvious we often miss it. If you want to have powerful prayers, you must actually pray. We can talk a good talk, I can preach a great sermon, but if do not quiet my heart before the Lord it is all for nothing. Do you know the God of the universe has made himself available to hear your prayers? That thought alone can change your life.
2. To Have Power in Prayer, You Must Pray with Other People (James 5:14-16)
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:14-16)
James 5:14-16 are deep and rich Bible verses. They are verses that should not be explained away. They are truths that should be followed at face value. Do what it says. If you are sick call the elders of your church and ask them to pray over you. Confess your sins to one another, and ask each other to pray for healing when we need it.
So much more could be said here. But what I would like to point out today is that from James 5:13 to James 5:14 there is a shift from the singular to the plural. What I mean is that James 5:13 is about you personally entering into the presence of God in both good and bad times. All the time we should seek God individually.
But now in James 5:14-16 we have a new category of prayer. We are now told that not only should you pray by yourself, but you should also pray with other people, with other Christians. Again, we could say a lot about these Bible verses, but at minimum what we must acknowledge is that we are told to pray with others.
And if you want to pray with more power, it makes complete sense to pray with more people. If God listens to the prayers of one person, what will he do when more than one person begin to pray about the same thing? Again, I’m not here to say that we can manipulate the will of God by how many people we get to pray about the same thing. According to 1 John 5:14, God only answers those prayers which are in accordance with his will. But we cannot over theologize that principle. We cannot let the sovereignty of God hinder our prayers. No, because God is all powerful we should pray more.
But the point is this, when we join in prayer with other people, our prayers often become more powerful. Jesus said in Matthew 18:19-20:
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
We can sit around and explain this for days or we can go out and obey this simple truth by asking each other for prayer, by offering pray when we see a need, and by making it our habit to pray with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
3. To Have Power in Prayer, You Must Pray with Faith and Righteousness (James 5:15-20)
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:16-20)
My first inclination is to soften the words of James here, to tame them and balance them and say, “Well he doesn’t mean you can actually pray with power like that . . .” but I can’t do that. As uncomfortable as these words make me, who am I to alter the word of God? Who am I to change what God said? Who am I to be so conservative and committed to truth and doctrine that I miss the true experiences of God exercising his power through prayer.
The only caution I will give, however, about these verses is a warning to not mistake where the power in prayer really comes from. Prayer is powerful not based upon the person who is praying but because of the God you are praying to. Pray to a false god and your prayers are worthless. Pray to the one true God and your prayers have the potential to be immensely powerful.
James 5:16 (NIV) says “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” But then the next line is “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours . . .” So James is not highlighting the power of a righteous person. He said the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective, but he didn’t say that power came from that person’s righteousness. James 5:15 states, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” It is the Lord who supplies the power to the prayers. Besides even the righteousness the righteous person has actually come through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9). No one is righteous without God transferring the righteousness of Christ to the person.
Additionally, when James 5:14-16 speak of healing prayer, this is not saying there are people with a gift of healing but rather a gift of healing came come through the prayers of people. The person is not gifted in healing. God heals. God gives the gift when people pray. Sometimes he chooses to give that gift through certain people more often, sometimes he never gives the gift of healing through someone, but it is God and not the person who is responsible for the gift of healing. (For more on this, see John Piper’s sermon, “The Elders, the People, and the Prayer of Faith”.)
Having said all that, we must not take away from what these verses plainly says. Healing is available. Forgiveness is available. Powerful prayers are possible. James 5:17-18 astound me:
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”
We cannot explain away that phrase, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours . . . .” Surely James says this so that the power Elijah exhibited in prayer would be sought after by people just like us. So rather than try to rationalize all this and tame these powerful words on prayer, perhaps what would be more helpful is to ask is, “What’s stopping me from praying like Elijah? What’s getting in the way?”
I think the text gives us at least two things that get in the way of powerful prayers taking place.
1.A lack of faith: James 5:15 again states, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” God supplies the power, God even supplies the gift of faith, but somewhere in the process the person needs to exercise their will and use the faith God has given them. In James 1:5 we are told to ask for wisdom, but in James 1:6-8 it reads:
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
We could go on and on about faith and prayer, about how to have more faith, but here it suffices to say that if we want powerful prayers, we must believe God can answer big prayers. If you never ask big things from God it probably means you don’t believe he able or that he does not care. To have power in prayer we must have faith and believe that God is able and that God is good.
2. Sin: James 5:16 (NIV) states, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” The obvious inference we can make here is that the reverse is also true, “The prayer of an unrighteous person has little power and is ineffective.” There are many reasons sin hinders are prayers. It is enough to simply know that it does. We don’t need to over-explain this truth. Here are a few thoughts, however, from my article, Purity Equals Power in Prayer:
So we can’t lose our salvation, but what we can lose is our experience of God’s presence, our usefulness to God’s kingdom, and the power of God on our behalf in prayer. When Christians sin repeatedly, when we go through seasons of backsliding, or we do not repent with the level of passion required to truly change our sinful behavior, our salvation remains but our relationship with God suffers.
A lack of purity will greatly affect the power of our prayer life. God will not bless rebellion because he loves us. To bless us in our sin would be unloving because it would cause us to remain where we are. Our experience and relationship with God suffers in prayer due to a lack of purity because God seeks to motivate us to seek him through removing his favor and blessings.”
Lastly, because of my sin I often feel too guilty to ask big things of God because I know I don’t deserve it. But that makes no sense because the whole point of the gospel is grace. James 5:16says the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective, but how do we become righteous? God’s grace. Therefore it makes total sense of why James ends his letter the way he does. James 5:19-20 states:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Throughout James 5:13-20, there are has been multiple mentions of confession and forgiveness. In addition to what we just read in James 5:19-20, it also says in James 5:15-16, “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another . . . .”
So if sin hinders the power of our prayers, and we are all sinful, what can be done? If we want a powerful prayer life, confession and repentance must be dear to our hearts. Just as we are to pray alone, pray with others, and pray for others, we must also confess and repent alone, confess and repent with others, and gently help others confess and repent when they are stuck in sin.
How to Pray With Power
In summary, if we want to pray with power, we must pray often, entering into the presence of God personally. If we want to pray with power, we must also pray with others and for others. Lastly, if we want to pray with power, we must pray with righteousness and faith all through the grace of Jesus Christ.