Prayer: James 5:13-18
There seems to be some inconsistency sometimes in the brotherhood when it comes to prayer. There are those who believe that they are commanded to pray for healing, but they also believe that God only answers through natural means. The problem with this is that if God intercedes He is doing something supernatural. Brothers in the traditional churches of Christ like to stay away from this idea because it sounds miraculous. The end result is either God intercedes or He does not.
There are also those who believe they are commanded to pray for wisdom, but the only way to receive that wisdom would be from the Bible. The issue with this is either the individual could receive wisdom by studying without prayer, or God interceded and gave him wisdom from above.
The list goes on and on. There are numerous ideas about prayer and how it works in the Christian’s life. Not all of these ideas can be correct. This study of prayer will primarily be from James 5:13-18. The paper will start with a discussion about what prayer is, then a brief introduction of James for context, and finally an exposition of James 5:13-18. The goal is to discover the true meaning and purpose of prayer in the life of a Christian.
What is Prayer?
The most common Greek word for “pray” in the New Testament is “euchomai.” It is used approximately 127 times in the Bible. According to William D. Mounce’s, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, “euchomai” means “to pray . . . to wish, desire” (pg. 228).
One might notice that neither of the previous definitions say anything about giving thanks to God. In fact, that closest “euchomai” gets to the idea of “thanks” within its definition is by implication.
There are 2 ways that “euchomai” can imply the concept of thanks. First, verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and Ephesians 1:16 show how thanksgiving and pray seem to go hand-in-hand. When one looks at “euchomai” in the Septuagint, in verses like Psalms 141:2, he would see the same idea even in the mind of the Jews. It is important to realize that words do not always hold to their original meanings. For instance, the word “awful” used to mean “full of awe,” but now it means the complete opposite. Words change in meaning by evolving over time. They mean different things in different contexts and in different cultures. To the Gentiles, “euchomai” may have only meant “desire,” but to Christians, at least to Paul and the other writers, it could include the context of giving thanks.
Second, by praying to God, one is, by default, recognizing God’s capability of producing what is asked of Him. In a sense, an individual is thanking God by being in awe of His ability to give. It is thought that “euchomai” carried the thought that since “someone did ‘this’ for me, I will do ‘that’ for them.” It as like a vow of respect and thanks. It should be Christian’s wish, desire, and prayer that God would grant them the blessing of receiving their thanks. When a Christian prays, he recognizes God’s ability, vows to live his life for Him, and asks God to receive the thanks as an offering. The word “euchomai” literally means “desire” or “wish”, but it carries so much more weight than this literal definition. With the aforementioned in mind, it is also important to remember that prayer does still refer to the Christian asking God for the desires and wishes of his heart. It is not only a means of thanksgiving. However, the things that are asked can only be so if they are according to God’s purpose (1 Jn. 5:14; Rom. 8:28). Anything a Christian asks of God must be received for His glory. John Brown says, in An Exposition of Our Lord’s Intercessory Prayer, “Our constant prayer should be, ‘ Our Father, honor us by making us fit and successful instruments for honoring you . . . ‘” (pg. 61). It is not proper to ask or expect gifts that are not either directly or indirectly beneficial for the will of God.
Everything one does and asks for should be for the benefit of His purpose. Priscilla Brandt says this well in Two-Way Prayer when she says “Do your work to please God” (pg. 98). She says this in the context of fear. The Christian is so focused on human perspective or material needs that he forgets that all things work both for God and by God. In other words, if something is done according to His purpose, He will make sure the necessary needs are met for the individual who is an instrument of said purpose.
Prayer is for thanksgiving, for wishes, and for God’s purpose. One might ask, however, “does prayer really work?” George M. Brown says in Prayer Power that “According to a national survey reported by a church of Christ in Denver, Colorado, fully 23 percent of the born-again beautiful admit that they have no prayer life” (pg. 39). The ones who do claim to have a prayer life admit that they see no real change between when they do or do not pray. Remember that these are people that are from 1992 or earlier and are willing to admit this mindset.
Christians do not see a point in prayer because they see no evidence of its value. There are a few things to consider when thinking of the effectiveness of prayer. First, consider if the request was according to God’s will. Does the request fall into what God has promised His will to accomplish? Consider if there is a way to know if the request is a part of God’s will. Consider, as in the first chapter of James, if the request was made in genuine faith. Last, Consider if the request is being answered in the form of providence over time.
People wonder “how does God answer prayer?” There seem to be two options. First, God would supernaturally intercede. Supernatural is anything that works outside of the laws of nature. This would be miraculous. The reason it would be miraculous is because if God is not directly involved, the situation is not dependent on prayers, but on nature. If God is directly involved, the situation is based on His supernatural powers and not simply by nature.
The second option as to how God answers prayer is more complicated, but it is still most likely to be the answer from my point of view. Christians understand that God is all knowing and all powerful. He cannot learn because He already knows all that will ever be. Humanity is within the realm of time and space, and its knowledge is contingent on what is learned in time and space. God is the creator of time and space, thus outside of and greater than anything it has to offer.
When a Christian makes a prayerful request before God in 2017, God has already heard it before the foundation of the world. He considered the heart, motive, request, and purpose of the individual and how this would fit with His purpose. After this, He providentially worked with the request and free will of all humanity according to His purpose in order to fulfill said request made in 2017. He is able to use natural means, humanities free will, and His great power, thousands of years prior to request, to make it come to pass. This is both comforting and relational in nature. He cares so much for the individual in 2017 that he has worked towards their own personal request from the very beginning. – Jesse
Suggested Reading After This Article: Prayer and James 5:13-18 Part 2