James 5:13-16 [i]
Lauren J. McFeaters
January 24, 2021
We are a people of prayer. We pray for every kind of reason and in every kind of circumstance. We pray when we’re in distress and when we give thanks. We sing our prayers when we have something to celebrate or lament. We pray at birth and at death. We pray alone and together. We pray while crying and while laughing.
During pre-martial counseling, I often tell couples, prayer is one of the most intimate acts of a marriage. I counsel families and individuals that when prayer is at the heart of life together, they will know a new kind of relationship. During Covid we’ve prayed by Zoom, all over social media, at the dinner table, by email, masked and distant, unmasked and at home. Last night I prayed on the phone. Nothing can stop our pray.
- Who teaches us to pray? Who taught you to pray?
- How do you know how to pray? Do you know how to pray?
- Would you like to learn how to pray? For many of us the answer is Yes, teach me to pray!
For the early Christians seeking to be Doers of the Word and not merely Hearers, James comes along with a Letter that could be titled: How to Pray. And through it, he guides us in the way of prayer.
In the beginning of our Letter, James sets the stage for prayer: Be quick to listen, unhurried to speak, and slow to anger. He teaches the church to let go of it’s hierarchy of the wealthy on top, and poor below; to act with gentleness and wisdom, to watch our language. James is very big on how we speak to one another. Because, as we all know, words can hurt; words do a lot of damage. [ii]
Interestingly, Martin Luther called James the “Epistle of Straw” and he sought to keep it from the Biblical Canon. For Luther, James is a lite-weight, trifling, and insignificant offering of scripture. He believed the Letter doesn’t carry the weight of revelation necessary for salvation and is a scrawny mix of chaff and weeds. [iii]
Not so fast Buddy. Rather than straw, we find James offers us the building blocks of a Life of Faith: it’s not about how to get “Right” with God: Do these things or Don’t do these things. God has already made us right through Jesus Christ.
It’s about, how do we step into faith as people who have received such grace, bound to one another and responsible for care. Well? We must pray. [iv]
What does it mean to pray in the name of the Lord?
Can I tell you there are thousands upon thousands of articles and books on how we can pray, but little to nothing on how to pray in the name of the Lord.
There was a time in seminary when I was working on a group project with Karlfried Froehlich. The class was on the History of Christian Art. My group was to study Prayer as found through historical paintings – but first came a study of the scriptural references about Jesus and Prayer. My job was to cut and paste every reference to prayer in scripture.
Now, when I say cut and paste, don’t think I had a keyboard with the strike of a key and the sweep of a finger. I mean:
- Take the Bible to the Library Xerox machine,
- copy the pages,
- use scissors to cut references,
- and glue to organize the clippings on charts.
What appeared before us was fascinating. I knew that Jesus prayed. But what I didn’t know is scripture hardly ever tell us what he prayed, how he prayed, or how we are to pray. A few sentences at most are revealed:
And Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come.’”
Praying, “Loving Father,
protect and guard my people.
Shelter them as they live the life ahead of them.”
“I pray that they be one heart and mind and
as long as I have been with them,
I was the one who guarded them.”
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So my people can experience
My joy be completed in them.[v]
Do you hear the theme? What comes through is Jesus’ prayer of protection; that he is our sanctuary and shelter. Such love he has for us that he prays protect and guard my people and shelter them as they live the life ahead of them. That we may have his joy.
James knows this. It’s the core of the Christian Life.
- Are you hurting? Pray.
- Do you feel wonderful? Sing out your prayer.
- Are you sick? Call on the church to pray and anoint.
- Prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet.
- And if you’ve sinned, you’re forgiven—healed inside and out. [vi]
- The prayer of a person living right with God is something formidable and remarkable.
When I asked earlier: Who taught you to pray, I had someone in mind. My mother-in-law taught me to pray. May Lou Brothers did not believe in dilly-dallying about prayer or quietly, lingering around the edges of prayer.
She believed in praying for specifics. She’d say God wants our specifics, our particulars, so there’s no use in being wimpy about prayer: be bold, courageous, and daring.
If she knew someone was struggling with cancer, she didn’t ask God to gently hold that person and soothe their cares; she prayed that God would take those pockets of Stage 3 cancer in the lower left lung and annihilate it, eradicate it, and wipe it out.
If a marriage were falling apart, she’d pray for God to intervene so powerfully that the two people wouldn’t know what hit them; that they’d be knocked over by grace; and look so deeply into their hearts that nothing could defeat their love.
I wish you could have known her. Mary Lou Brothers was a modest, wisp of a woman. Born in Post Falls, Idaho, she was humble and petite, but she prayed like an Amazon. She was elfin, but her intercessions were ginormous. She was unobtrusive but she intervened like the prayer warrior she was; like she was ten feet tall and could fly to the moon.
And that’s exactly what James has in mind for the people of God; what Jesus our Pastor has in mind as the practice of a Resurrection Life:
- To pray as if we can be set free on the wings of hope.
- To pray as if our burdens can’t hold us down.
- To pray with enthusiasm that sets our words skyrocketing to the heavens.
- The gift is this: We are loved by a Lord who prays for us – in specifics.
- And who makes it our sacred responsibility to pray in his name for others.
Thanks be to God.
[i] James 5:13-16 (NRSV) 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.
[ii] Rick Morley. “On Doing and Being – A Reflection on James 5:13-20.” September 20, 2012, www.rickmorley.com.
[iii] LW 35:362. Luther’s Works American Edition. Edited by J. Pelikan and H.T. Lehmann. 55 vols. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1955.
[iv] Rick Morley.
[v] John 17.
[vi] Eugene Peterson. The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 1993.