“The Prayer of Faith.” What is it, and why does it work?
Some prayers are more effective than others.
In a previous post, we examined the woman with a hemorrhage from Mark 5. This post will finish the series by examining the healing prayer described in the last chapter of James. Here, Jesus is no longer present on the earth. But the writer is confident that believers can still obtain physical healing through Jesus’s name. Check it out:
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
Here, James uses the example of Elijah from scripture to prove that prayer can really work. But let’s break down how James advises his readers to obtain divine healing through what he calls “the prayer of faith.” The text contains each of these elements:
- CommUNITY. Notice this is not a solo prayer. And it is not just the sick person praying for his or her own healing. She calls on other believers, here, “the elders.” The elders would be Christians known for their spiritual maturity and experience.
- Confession. Part of this communal prayer involves confessing sins. Not everyone is comfortable doing this, but confession can really heal relationships, render you vulnerable, and clear a path for God’s Spirit to work. If you’re having trouble obtaining a result through prayer, consider whether confessing sins might be a necessary missing ingredient.
- Righteousness. Again, sin can sap prayer’s power. James says the righteous person’s prayer is effective, and it’s a reminder that God can work best through holy people with clean consciences.
- Trust. Recall from the last post that “faith” means active trusting. The prayer of faith involves an inward emotional experience, a feeling of certainty. When we pray in faith, we don’t just ask for stuff; we speak it into existence. You can even command the result into existence through the power of Jesus.
- The Lord’s Name. Effective prayer is done in the presence of the Spirit of Christ.
- Physical Touch. Just as when Jesus healed people, we should also use touch to convey spiritual energy. Here, the elders touch the sufferer by anointing him or her with oil. The oil symbolizes the Spirit, and also the status of every believer as a priest of God.
- Reciprocity. Notice that the believers are confessing to each other and praying to each other. This is another part of the action element. Prayer can be most effective in a culture where believers are open and vulnerable with each other, and pray for each other often as a matter of course.
So, to make prayer effective, I encourage you to try to assemble all these elements. Don’t just do it alone. Bring your faith, and recruit other righteous folk to bring their hearts and hands into the situation. Finally, it’s best to keep your relationship with God and your fellow believers strong through a culture of mutual confession and righteous living.
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Bren Hughes (M.A., M.Div., J.D.) is a lawyer and former minister who lives in the hills of Kentucky.