People of Prayer
We are living in the last days.
Each generation has had its preachers and prophets who have said this. However, I want to point out some well-known prophesies.
Look with me at Isaiah 11:11-12
11In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.
12He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (ESV)[i]
Isaiah chapter 11 starts out with clear references to the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah 11:1-2 says:
1There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. (ESV)
From this reference of a “shoot from the stump of Jesse,” Isaiah 11 goes on to talk about the wolf dwelling with the lamb and the lion eating straw like an ox. Isaiah 11:9 says:
9They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (ESV)
Jesus is unquestionably the “shoot from the stump of Jesse.” However, the wolf and lamb thing is not yet a reality. The wolf and lamb and the references to animals may be symbolic, but I do not think they are. Whatever the case with these references to animals, the reference to no violence in the Lord’s holy mountain are not symbolic, nor is the reference to bringing back the “banished of Israel.” Verse 11 says that the Lord will recover the remnant “yet a second time.”
The first time the remnant was brought back was at the end of the Babylonian captivity, which includes the story of Ezra and Nehemiah. This “second time” referred to in this passage began in earnest on May 14, 1948.[ii] This is the day set as the birthday of the modern nation of Israel. Of course much happened before this, and the immigration of the Jewish people back to their land from the four corners of the earth continues to this day.
This one historical fact, interpreted in the light of Scripture, is enough to convince me that Jesus will return soon.
Scripture says much more about the consummation of the ages. Much has been given for our encouragement as we approach the end.
James and Peter wrote letters for the encouragement of the Church. And, James and Peter both begin their letters by addressing these letters to those in the “Dispersion.” The Dispersion refers to those of Jewish descent, who were scattered throughout the world by persecution.
These letters are addressed to the whole Church, because we Gentiles, as Romans 11:11-31 explains, have been grafted into all the promises of God in order to partake of Salvation.
As the Church, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, we eagerly await Christ’s return.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53 says:
51Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (ESV)
Until the time of Christ’s return, we are to be patient.
We are to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord…” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)
James 5:7-11 talks to us about patience in the face of suffering. The Lord Jesus promised us that in this world we will have trouble. (John 16:33) In Matthew 24:12-13 Jesus says:
12And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (ESV)
James 5:7-11 says:
7Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (ESV)
We have seen how, in the purpose of the Lord, His children sometimes suffer, and we have seen how in this suffering the Lord is compassionate and merciful. In chapter 1, James told us to consider it pure joy when we suffer; now he is telling us to be patient and “establish your hearts.”
One cannot help but notice the theme of patience, endurance and steadfastness in the New Testament. As we eagerly look forward to Christ’s return, we are to stand firm in the Lord. (Ephesians 6:10) Jesus left us with the job of making disciples, and while we expect opposition and trials, we are not cast down or discouraged by these.
While we eagerly await Jesus’s return, enduring with patience, we are to be people of prayer. James 5:13-18 says:
13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is 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. 15And 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. 17Elijah 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. 18Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (ESV)
This passage is a call to prayer.
Just before He went to the cross, Jesus said:
Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24, ESV)
In addition, prior to this He also said:
13Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14, ESV)
In James 5:13-18, I see three types of praying.[iii]
First, I see people praying for themselves. “Let him pray” is the instruction for anyone who is suffering. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, we are instructed to pray without ceasing, and Ephesians 6:18 says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times.” The New Testament is consistent in urging us to pray.
Second, I see people going to the elders of the Church for prayer. James 5:14 calls for anyone who is sick to call for the elders of the Church. The word sick in this verse is a word meaning “weak or feeble,” and its primary meaning is physical weakness. However, it also has connotations for weakness morally as well. (ESV)
Third, I see people praying for each other. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
Jesus taught that the man born blind was not blind because of some sin that he or his parents had committed. He was blind so that God’s works could be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3) Sickness, disease and weakness are in the world because of sin, but this does not mean that your particular sickness is there because of a particular sin. We will all be sick at one point or another. We will all die if Jesus does not return before that time. And, we will probably die of one sickness or another. For those of us living in the United States, heart disease will probably be the highest cause of death among us with cancer being the second highest cause of death. For those living in China or Japan, the main cause of death will probably be cancer. In other words, unless Jesus returns and does away with sickness and disease, we will all be sick at some point in our lives.
We all go to the doctor, and do not feel it necessary to defend ourselves for doing so. As a church, we pray for each other, and I assume you pray for yourself. However, we hesitate to call on the elders for prayer. Pastors and elders are called upon to serve the Body of Christ, and part of that calling is the privilege of being there for you when illness comes. The anointing with oil is used as a symbolic representation of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The phrase “in the name of the Lord” serves as a reminder that it is the Lord who heals, not the oil. However, this is more than a ritual.
Remember when the disciples encountered a demon they could not cast out? (Mark 9:18) When they asked Jesus why they could not cast it out, He said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (ESV marginal reading) Calling on the elders for the anointing with oil and prayer would be similar to this in taking prayer to the next level. The elders as the leaders of the church represent the whole body. Therefore, this action represents the unified prayers of the Body for the needs of this one particular member.
The ESV has the following note on James 5:15 with which I fully agree:
RE: the prayer of faith. Not the faith of the sick person but the faith of those praying. In this instance, James mentions no requirement for the sick person to exercise faith, only that he call for the elders. Christians who are ill often find personal prayer difficult. Will save perhaps carries a double meaning here: (1) the sick person will be physically healed (one meaning of Gk. sōzō), and/or (2) the sick person may also experience spiritual salvation (another meaning of Gk. sōzō), or growth in the blessings of salvation (sins … forgiven). As seen throughout the Gospels, Jesus healed both physically and spiritually, and the same double connotation may be present here as well. James is not teaching that all illnesses will be healed if people would simply call on the elders, or try to make themselves have enough faith, or pray with enough conviction. Healing, when it does come, is always a gift from God, who is sovereign over all circumstances, including sickness and health. It does not follow, therefore, that lack of faith on the part of the sick person is the reason that the sick person may not be healed. (On the gifts of faith and of healing, see note on 1 Cor. 12:9.) Some interpreters suggest that James is referring to the promise of the resurrection rather than physical healing. If, in the phrase “if he has committed sins,” implies that not all sickness is connected to specific sins, though James seems to expect that some sickness is.[iv]
James uses the example of Elijah in encouraging us to pray, and he says specifically, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…” Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, has given access to the Father to each of us. Consider the effects of Elijah’s prayers…no rain for three years. Now consider God is calling us to exercise this kind of influence through prayer.
The return of Jesus is going to be soon. In the meantime, God has not left us without help, comfort and power to act. He has left us with the task of making disciples, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer.
Are you continually praying for whatever concerns you?
Are you taking the time to pray together with other believers?
[i] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.