The power of prayer, by Rev. John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg
Bible Study material on James 5:16c-20

The importance of prayer and for that matter the role of prayer in our Christian journey cannot be overemphasized. James 5:17-20 draws our attention to James’ exhortation on the power of prayer. In this study, therefore, the theme of what prayer means, who are to pray, when are we to pray (circumstances needing prayer) and why we are to pray (importance of prayer) are looked at.

What is prayer?
James’ use of the Greek word δέησις in James 5:16 denotes supplication, prayer, entreaty. It means to “intercede, to entreat and to make supplication.” The related word that James used in James 5:17 is προσευχή. That also connotes prayer to God and as an exchange of wishes. In other biblical contexts, the call to prayer, to some extent, suggests an invitation to battle. For the words used for prayer have the sense of entering into war. For example, Jacob is said to have wrestled with God (in prayer). Jesus is recorded to have travailed in sweat in prayer. Paul teaches that we wrestle not against fresh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Thus, the use of the words wrestle and travail suggests that prayer is a work and for that matter a spiritual work that involves the use of physical energy and time.

Who needs to pray?
James implicitly encourages all his readers to the spiritual discipline of prayer by means of his reference to an Old Testament figure, Elijah who exemplifies prayer. By describing Elijah as “a human being, even as we are,” James is giving the exhortation that every human being and for that matter a follower of Christ qualifies to stand before God in prayer. In other words, James had already drawn our attention to the fact that the fervent prayer of the righteous avails much. James’ mention of the righteous in this context denotes those who have relationship with God through faith and are therefore sanctified and seeks to live out their faith in Jesus. In this light, prayer forms essential part of the lifestyle and disciplines of the followers of Jesus.

Theologically, the fact remains that God is said to be a Warrior God. And that all who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives. Abraham knew when to intercede for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genes 18); Moses knew how to win their war against the Amalekites spiritually on the Mountain (Exodus 17:8 – 16). David declares that God trains his arms for battle. In the New Testament, watching Jesus, the disciples concluded that prayer was the secret of his great life. The apostles (Acts 6:4) and the early church (Acts 12) saw prayer as their utmost priority and means of deliverance respectively.

When and Why are we to pray?
The importance of prayer in our Christian life and for the growth of God’s Church and kingdom cannot be overemphasized. From the context of James 5:13-20 in general, James draws our attention to the fact that prayer gives us power in suffering (James 5:13). It also gives us power in sickness (James 5:14-15) and over sins (James 5:15-16). Using the example of Elijah, James further draws our attention to the fact that prayer invites God and for that matter the Supernatural to intervene in our natural situations (James 5:17-18). Last but not the least, in our attempt to share the Gospel, prayer is needed to bring those wandering away into the faith (James 5:19-20). Here, in prayer the weak and those straying away are encouraged and strengthened.

In the context of the local Church, prayer is the secret to the growth of the Church. For the early Church was a church at prayer. They prayed for boldness and for wholeness, and they prayed for revival and for survival. They prayed for freedom and forgiveness. The church will not get on its feet until it first gets on its knees. Charles Spurgeon describes the prayer of the church as the heating apparatus of the church. The prayer level is also the power level of the church.

Church history too has it that the giants of faith all made prayer the essential part of their life. Martin Luther declares, ‘I have so much business I cannot get on without spending at least three hours daily in prayer.’ John Wesley says, ‘God does nothing but in answer to prayer’ and backed up his conviction by devoting two hours daily to that sacred exercise.

This study has drawn our attention to the need for prayers especially in times of sickness, suffering and in difficult circumstances. By reading James’ reference to Elijah, Jesus and Church history in this study, it could be observed that no Christian is beyond the discipline of prayer. In relation to other passages of Scripture, therefore, prayer gives us the right to receive from God (Luke 11:1-3; Matthew 7:7). Prayer also prevents us from getting into temptation (Matthew 26:42). Prayer serves as a catalyst for other ministries in the church such as evangelism, good leadership roles and general giving of the church to go on (I Tim 2:4). Prayer releases divine favour (Nehemiah 1:4; 11).

1. What does it mean to pray?
2. Is prayer to be perceived as a gift or a spiritual discipline? Give reasons for your answer.
3. State four importance of prayer.
4. Why is prayer still important even in this era of advancement in science and technology?

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