James, the brother of Jesus, was a man of prayer. He was so prayerful that, according to Christian tradition, he earned the nickname “camel knees.” Have you ever seen a camel’s knees? They're a little bit gnarly and often calloused. James was known as “camel knees” because he knelt in prayer so often.
James challenges us in this area. In his letter, he often discusses prayer, but he also encourages people of faith to take action. We need to remember that prayer is more than theoretical. It’s practical because it connects us with God.
If we desire to experience the power of God in our lives, then we need to learn how to pray. James reveals to us how to pray for ourselves emotionally, physically and spiritually and how to pray for others in the same manner.
How to pray for our emotional life
James tells us, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13 NIV). That word “suffering” is also translated “troubled.” It has to do with emotional distress, those who are facing hardships in life. James is thinking of anyone who is facing external pressures of any kind that affect us on the inside, like depression, anxiety, dysfunction in the family or financial stress, among many other trials.
When we face stress of all kinds, prayer is not our last chance but our first choice. James does not promise us here that our emotional pain will always go away, but he does guarantee us that God cares about our suffering. When we cry out to God and bring him our pain, he is a “friend that sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24 NIV) When we put our burden in his hands and accept the loving arms of Christ around us, then we experience comfort and gain strength to bear up under the pressure.
How to pray for our physical life
In the next verse (5:14), James says, "Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord." What James is describing here is the healing touch of the ministry of the church to its people.
In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the Good Samaritan has compassion on a man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. The Good Samaritan bandages the critically injured man’s wounds and pours on oil and wine. He poured on the wine to fight the infection, and he poured on the oil to soothe the wounds. I believe that is what James was thinking of when he wrote this verse. We see a beautiful balance in Scripture between the practical use of medicinal treatment and the power of prayer. Whether healing is by medicine or whether it is by miracle, it is all the work of Christ, accomplished through the prayer and loving presence of the church body.
This doesn’t mean that everyone who is prayed for is going to get well. Physical healing is a mystery wrapped in the sovereign will of God. We should always pray for people to get well, but we must also always pray, “Lord, your will be done.” That's what Jesus prayed. For the Christian, the ultimate healing is not here, but in heaven. These verses are not a blanket promise for healing. They’re a reminder of the ministry of the church, the ministry of the body of Christ. We are always to pray for people when they're sick and when they're suffering.
How to pray for our spiritual life
In closing his letter, James says:
“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… My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:16, 19-20 ESV).
We must confess our own sin and pray for those who have wandered from the truth.
We must stay connected to the truth and close to the truth, for our sakes and the those of our brothers and sisters in the faith. And the good news of Christ is that anyone can be restored. Jesus is the friend of sinners — all of us.
As we observe this National Day of Prayer, we need to make sure that we're always praying for those who are suffering emotionally, physically and spiritually. Then we must put feet to our prayers and go love them and serve them in the name of Jesus.
That's the final challenge James leaves us with. So let’s go do it.
Dr. Jack Graham is the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in America. He is the author of the acclaimed Unseen, and his PowerPoint Ministries broadcasts are available in 92 countries and are heard daily in more than 740 cities. Follow him @jackngraham.