Usually when you conclude a book, there is this definite ending. Any and all questions are answered, mysteries are solved, the guy gets the girl, and everyone lives happily ever after. If your expecting some sort of Hallmark ending to the book of James … I’m sorry to say that you will be severely disappointed.
A cursory reading, a quick skimming over the last section of the book will raise more questions than it has answers too. In these last verses, James makes it sound like prayer is actually effective, that God listens, that God answers in line with our requests. But I wonder … does James realize the questions which he is raising? Questions which many if not the majority of people have asked and have seemed to have never gotten an answer too.
Some of you have heard the story about my sister-in-law, Heather. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was only 27. She had surgery, she went through chemo treatments and the cancer went into remission. She was diagnosed a second time after she found she was pregnant with her second child. The doctors said that the cancer has metastasized and was feeding off of her hormones. So when her second child was born, the doctors removed the different parts of her body which produced hormones. She went through chemo during and after the pregnancy and the cancer went back into remission. The cancer metastasized again and she was diagnosed with breast cancer a third time. She went through treatments and the cancer went into remission. The fourth time she was diagnosed in a span of 6 years, she was told that the cancer metastasized and that it attacked her liver, she had legions on her skull, it was in her spine, and it was in her bones. At that time, she was also diagnosed with lymphedema. Regular chemo was determined it wouldn’t work. She would qualify for an experimental treatment, but when she went it to receive it, her numbers had changed and she no longer qualified. This happened a few times. Eventually the hospital said there was nothing they could do. So she went to a different hospital. She started treatment there and she was improving. She then had a reaction to a dye used to run a test, was hospitalized, developed pneumonia, and due to her weaken immune system, she passed away at the age of 33 leaving behind a husband and two children under the age of 10.
Over the course of those six years, we prayed for Heather. At times we felt like God heard our prayers as Heather’s cancer went into remission. When it came back that fourth time, it seemed like God wasn’t listening, that God wasn’t answering us, that God didn’t care at all what was going on. If God was listening, why didn’t He answer us? Why was our loved one not being healed?
I’m sure we can all relate to this in one way or another. If it isn’t prayers for yourself, a loved one, maybe it’s prayers for the end of a drought, or for things to work out so you can keep your job, your house, your car, your family.
James says that “Elijah was a man just like us. 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 crop” (5:17-18).
God answered Elijah’s prayers. Maybe God answered Elijah’s prayer because Elijah was a prophet. Prophets were pretty righteous people chosen by God and God seems to answer the prayers of the righteous. You and I are chosen by God as God comes to us to claim us … but maybe we aren’t righteous enough. Maybe we aren’t good enough, faithful enough. Maybe that’s why God doesn’t seem to hear or answer my prayers.
James says Elijah prayed earnestly. To be a prophet and to pray earnestly, Elijah must have had tremendous faith knowing that God would hear him. Maybe the reason your and my prayers go unanswered is because we didn’t pray enough or maybe because we didn’t pray hard enough? Maybe you and I don’t have enough faith and we at times doubt whether or not God actually hears us? Maybe when things keep falling apart we doubt whether God can actually do anything about our concerns or problems?
We see in John’s Gospel that a man born blind was healed by Jesus. When questioned by the Pharisees about this miraculous act, the once blind man says “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will” (John 9:31). Peter says in his first letter, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12).
James preaches prayer like one who believes what Jesus taught about it. Jesus taught that God does indeed hear and answer the prayers of the righteous. He answers the prayers of the righteous, he answers the prayers of His beloved, his baptized children. God hears and does answer your and my prayer. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). God does indeed hear your and my prayers.
We need to understand something … there is a noticeable difference between the cry of faith for healing, forgiveness, and mercy and the requirement for God to meet my demands. The cry of faith for healing, forgiveness, and mercy is a prayer. The demanding, the requirement for God to meet my demands … that is tempting God. Tempting God is not what James is talking about.
James is declaring the reality of what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. James is declaring the reality that our Father in heaven is working His will on earth, just as He does in heaven. You and I … we are simply asking Him to do it for us too. To this kind of prayer, God’s answer is “Yes and amen in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:20). James, with complete confidence in Christ, says that this is true even for our prayers of healing and forgiveness.
The question is never one of “if” God will answer the prayers of the righteous, of you and me, but “when.” James says, “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up” (5:15). James is speaking in the future tense, the sick person will be well, the Lord will raise him up. “Raise him up” … that’s resurrection language. Resurrection language which points back to James’ exhortation a few verses earlier. “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming” (5:7a).
Today, this is a time of suffering and hardship, it is a time of sin and sickness, a time of loving and prayer. But James promises, faith will turn to sight and prayer will turn to praise. Jesus, who through his life, death, and resurrection, forgives you your sins and heals your diseases. Jesus will return and make everything all right.
So we pray, we continue to pray. We pray in faith, longing for that day, knowing that God can full well heal in a moment, in a month, in a year, or on the last day when Jesus comes again.
The prayers we offered for Heather, the prayers we prayed for her healing … they were heard … they were answered. Maybe not in the selfish way in which we wanted, but they were answered. She is not suffering with the side effects of cancer or the pain from her lymphedema. She is in the company of her Savior. And when Jesus comes again, he will raise her body from its grave and she will be perfect. She will be cancer free and she will reflect the image of God’s love and mercy. And that’s true for all for whom we pray for who believe in Jesus as their Savior.
Prayer, prayer James says is faith in the promise that Jesus will come and that healing will take place. So we pray, we pray for God’s will to be done in this way. Do so, knowing God listens to your and my prayer, he takes it into account and says, “Yes, my dear child, it shall be so, in spite of the devil and all the world.” God may not give us exactly what we want when we want it … but He will raise you up, forgiven and whole, body and soul, to dwell in His presence forever! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.