(Originally published January 8, 2021)
All throughout the book of James, he is trying to teach complete dependence on God. At the beginning of chapter 5 James addresses the rich people in his audience. Not because James thinks it is impossible for a rich person to have complete dependence on God, but because it is more rare for a rich person to have complete dependence on God. Many times a very wealthy person will begin to depend much more on their own wealth and riches than they do on their God. Apparently also their were rich people in James midst who were wicked, they used their wealth to oppress their workers. This would be the audience that James was talking to in the first part of chapter 5.
“Behold the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” James 5:4
Jesus had pointed out that it is more difficult for the wealthy to have complete dependence on God.
“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” Mark 10:23
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25
But Jesus, nor is James saying it is impossible. They are just pointing out where our dependence should lie, where our faith should lie. Regardless of how much wealth someone has. A wealthy person may have to make a more conscious effort to be sure that their faith lies in God, rather than their own riches but it is not impossible.
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.’” Mark 10:27
James next addresses suffering.
“Be 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. You also be patient. Establish your hearts for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:7-8
When we have something that we are praying for, something that we are having to wait a long time for an answer, James is using the illustration of the farmer waiting for his crops to show us how we should be patient while we wait for an answer. A farmer plants his seeds, then he waits. Much the same way, we pray the prayer, then we wait. I love the phrase he uses here “establish your hearts”. When you are waiting for an answer to a prayer you must “establish” your heart. You must plant your heart in Jesus and let Him sustain you while you wait. He goes on to use the steadfastness of Job as his example.
“Behold, 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.” James 5:11
We can look to Job as our example, he remained steadfast in the face of unimaginable affliction and while we all still may shake our heads at how much Job had to endure, we also see how God blessed Job’s steadfastness in the end. Also, we see how Job’s story is used to build our faith! I am sure while Job was enduring the afflictions that were heaped upon him that he never dreamed his story would go down through the ages and that people would be using his example to endure hardship thousands of years later. One thing we can learn from Job, God will never waste our pain.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” James 5:13-14
James is covering all bases here. We should pray when we are suffering, we should sing praise when we are happy and if we are very sick we should call on others to pray. Our job is to pray, it is God’s job to act.
“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. 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 5:15-16
Clearly not all sick who are prayed for receive physical healing on earth. Many times, I think we are afraid to pray for physical healing because what if we don’t receive the answer we want. James is saying here, we should pray with the knowledge that the Lord can handle it. I love the last line of those verses and I especially love it in the NKJV.
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16b NKJV
When we pray do we pray fervently? The word fervent means “having or displaying a passionate intensity”. Are we coming boldly to the throne of grace of the Most High God and laying our requests down with the knowledge that He will answer. I saw this statement in my studies of commentary.
“Effective prayer must be fervent, not because we must emotionally persuade a reluctant God, but because we must gain God’s heart by being fervent for the things He is fervent for.”
Yes, when we begin to pray for something we pray for the answers we want but at the end of the day even if the answer doesn’t come as we want it, when we pray with fervency, what we gain is far greater than the answer we were pursuing, because in the end what we gain is our hearts intertwined with our God’s.