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  • Writer's pictureMarco Inniss

Understanding the “Prayer of Faith” in James 5

The Prayer of Faith:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.James 5:13-18

Near the end of his letter, James encourages any Christians who are sick to have the elders or leaders of their church community pray for their healing (James 5:14). Then he writes, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up” (5:15). What is this prayer of faith? And does it guarantee the restoration to health of the person who is sick?

To understand better what James means by “the prayer of faith,” we can look to James 1, where Christians are encouraged to ask God for the wisdom they lack, but to do so believing and not doubting (1:5–6). The key to such unwavering faith is not to muster it up out of our own will power. Instead, the conclusion of James 1 highlights the proper focus of our attention: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (1:17). Trusting our God for good gifts (like wisdom), including the gift of healing, contributes to praying by faith.

Another indication of what the prayer of faith is comes in the previous verse, where James notes that the elders of the church are to pray for the person who is ill (5:14). This is a prayer offered by the community—by its leaders or by a single faithful (“righteous”) person in that community (5:16–18).

Yet a prayer of faith should not be a presumptuous prayer, as if to think that God is bound to act in a particular way in response. James counters such a perspective in 4:13–17, where he encourages his audience to base their outlook on the Lord’s will and not assume they are in charge of their future. Again, as in James 1, the focus is on God and what God can do rather than on what prayer can do.

A call to prayer is always fitting, as the church should be a community that turns first and in faith to their loving God to help those in their midst who are ill or struggling. But effectual prayer is always humbly reliant on an effectual God.

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