The inspiring story of a man of prayer, Angus Buchan.

There are several men in the New Testament named James. The James we are looking at now is James, the brother of Jesus. Technically James would be the half-brother of Jesus.

Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

This is the same man who wrote the letter that bears his name, which opens like this:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ… (James 1:1a)

It’s very telling that James never mentions his familial relationship to Jesus, referring to himself instead as “a servant…of the Lord Jesus Christ.” During the early years, James had no idea who his brother really was; it took him a long time to clue in that his brother Jesus was really the Messiah. No wonder our Lord said this:

“Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” (Mark 6:4)

It may have taken James a while to come on-board, but when he finally did, he was all in for the cause! James was one who believed that Christianity was not just a series of doctrines and beliefs, but a life to be lived. James was a man of tremendous faith and his letter is all about Christian ethics: how we are to live out our faith.

He was immensely practical—maybe the most practical of all the New Testament writers—and James was also a man of prayer, and we can learn a lot about the practical side of prayer by looking at his prayers.

1. Wisdom and prayer

James has a lot to say about “wisdom” in his letter, but when he writes about wisdom he’s not writing about “knowledge” or education or philosophy. James’ wisdom relates to how we deal with the trials and tribulations of life. Specifically, James wants his readers to see how wisdom is necessary for discerning God’s will for our lives when the way is unclear:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2—4)

This piece of advice can at first seem like a huge pill to swallow. Who likes trials? As Christians, we need to understand that difficult times come along for a purpose: to make us mature. The thing is, knowing this fact and accepting it are two different things. We may intellectually be able to say, “Everything happens for a purpose,” when a bad thing happens to us, but accepting it means we need to know God’s will—the “why” it happened in the first place. Then we need to know how to react in the face of that difficult time. James makes the assumption that believers undergoing hard times will have a difficult time knowing God’s will, so he goes on to say in verse 5:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

Here is where so many Christians get lost. They are able to see and understand God’s will in the big issues of life; things like death, for example. But they lose sight of God’s will when the “little things” start nibbling at their faith. Bit by bit, piece by piece their faith gets eaten up with worry, anxiety, anger, and that leads to decisions and actions that may be completely out of God’s will. This is where wisdom from above is needed.

A lot of Christians earnestly desire to live in God’s will, and most of them start out well. They read their Bibles, go to church, they fellowship with other believers, and they do all things a Christian ought to do. But then something comes along—a difficultly at work, a family problem, or maybe a financial crisis—and the wind goes out of their sails. This Christian is now faced with a decision or decisions; they stand at an intersection, wondering whether to turn right, left, or proceed straight ahead. They want to remain in God’s, but which direction keeps them in God’s will? This is the kind of wisdom James says we need. This is the kind of wisdom we need to be asking God for.

Very rarely in life are there cosmic billboards telling us which direction to take. A lot of times God’s will may be difficult to see. This is probably by design. If there were “signs” all over pointing us in the right direction, we’d spend our time looking for signs instead of looking at God. If staying in God’s will was easy, it wouldn’t take any faith.

No, we need wisdom, and if we ask for it, God is not stingy! He will give us all the wisdom we need to make the right decisions at the right times to remain in His will. Now, it’s entirely possible we may make the wrong choice. We’re only human, and God understands this. Paul knew what felt like to make the wrong choice.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (Acts 16:6)

Paul had made the decision to go one way, but it wasn’t God’s will, so the Holy Spirit prevented them from going too far astray. Eventually Paul would venture into the province of Asia and he had great success preaching the Word there, but this was not the right time. However, Paul was a persistent man. In the very next verse, we read this:

When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

Do you see what the great apostle did when God prevented him from going in a certain direction? He persisted and tried another direction. But, it still wasn’t in God’s will, so again Paul was prevented from making the wrong decision. This may not happen all the time with us, but we can be sure that God will do His level best to gently prod us in the right direction if our hearts are right. But He lets us make the decisions.

But it all comes down to wisdom. Paul needed it, and so do we.

2. Worldliness and prayer

We hear a lot about “worldliness” and how important it is that Christians avoid it. The problem is, most of us don’t know what “worldliness” is. Some Christians think “worldliness” is listening to all that “rock and roll” music on the radio. Others think it’s going to see a movie, or wearing a skirt too short or wearing fishnet stockings and sling back shoes. James, though, knew precisely what “worldliness” was, and it has little to do with how we spend our days off or what we wear:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (James 4:1—2)

This is what real worldliness look like. When Christians start behaving like that, they are behaving like people in the world. Getting what you want no matter what you have to do to get it…this is worldliness, and this is what concerned James.

Paul understood the wickedness of this worldly attitude because it had infested one of his churches:

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly —mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1—3)

Worldliness makes the life of the Christian miserable in so many ways. Like the alcoholic who can never get enough, so the Christian, once he has tasted of worldliness, can never get enough. What’s worse is what James wrote:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

When we are worldly, our vision blurs. When our focus is off of God, we cannot pray correctly; we pray for what we want, not for what God wants for us. James’ advice is to take a careful look at what we are praying for, why we are praying for it, and how we are praying. Do we simply have a grocery list of things we want? Or do pray to have God’s will be done?

Prayer always works; prayer never fails, but we must pray as redeemed people. Selfish or self-centered prayers get nowhere. Worldliness will stop your prayers quicker than anything else.

3. Wellness and prayer

We all want to be well, both in mind and body. In fact, judging by the number of pharmacies and clinics in even the smallest of towns, it’s probably safe to say that health and wellness are things Americans are borderline obsessed about.

In New Testament times, people wanted to be healthy, too. James knew this. But James also knew that being healthy was linked to being in God’s will. Remember, James is Mr. Practical, and here is his advice on wellness. Even though this was his prescription for first century Christians, it works just as well today:

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14, 15)

This is an interesting prescription that the average Christian completely misunderstands. James isn’t really asking a question. Just like when James wrote, “if any of you lacks wisdom,” he was assuming they were lacking wisdom, so here James is assuming there is a sick person among his readers. So, if somebody you know is sick, what do you do?

One of things James says is to “anoint him with oil.” The question is naturally, “What good will that do?”  Well, in all honesty, the oil does nothing.  There is more than one word translated “anoint” in the New Testament. Most of time, the word is chrio, which refers to “sacred anointing oil,” the kind used in religious ceremonies. The other word is aleipho, which refers, not to “sacred anointing oil,” but to medicine. This is the word James used, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Essentially, James is telling his readers that when there is a sick person in their midst, pray for them but make sure they take their medicine.

Remember what James is known for? James is known for being practical. What’s more practical than telling a sick person to take his medicine? James 5:14 is not referring to anointing oil, but to medicine.

But, remember, James was also a man of prayer, and that’s why he told his readers that the sick person ought to call the elders to come and pray for him. Praying for the sick is absolutely essential: the prayer of faith will make the sick person well. Does that mean the sick person will be healed instantaneously? Not necessarily. If it is God’s will, the sick person will be healed. If it’s not God’s will for that sick person to jump up, completely restored to health, then that sick person will be “raised up.” What does that mean? It means he will be made well, eventually, one way or the other. The sick person will be given the strength to face the difficult situation he is in. It all goes back to wisdom and being able to discern, understand, and most of all, accept God’s will.

How are you doing at that?

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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