Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man_49
So Abraham prayed
and God healed
It is all so wonderfully matter-of-fact. Abraham prayed and God healed. In his dream to Abimelech God had spoken of Abraham in similar matter-of-fact words. [b]He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live
[/b] Abimelech believed this word and [b]rose early in the morning[/b] to put things right. It is this putting things right that connects this narrative, in my mind, with the closing verses of James letter.
James thoughts turn to [i]prophets[/i] as he brings his letter to a close. [b] Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. (Jam 5:10 KJV)[/b] He identifies two prophets in particular; Job and Elijah. Job he sees as an example of patient endurance; [b] We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. (Jam 5:11 NASB)[/b] I have switched to the NASB to highlight the fact that James is using different words. In general terms he speaks of the prophets qualities of suffering and patience but of Job he specifies endurance.
Most often, in the New Testament when we read the word patience we should expand it to patient-endurance. I recall listening to a lecture aimed at student teachers on the topic of special education. The students were going to work with those we in the UK we describe as having learning disabilities, and whom the USA describes as mentally handicapped. What, said the lecturer, is the most necessary quality of teacher in special education? It was a set up and the students walked right into it! Patience was the unanimous response. No, no, no. protested the lecturer what does patience mean waiting for something to happen? What the special education teacher needs, he declared is perserverance. You must stick at it until you get the result!
The Greek word usually translated patience in our King James Version is hupermenO. As regards its derivation, it means to stay-under something, to continue to bear the burden, to stick with it. I recall an old Scots headmistress, who was a byword for consistency. Christians who are going to be useful for God she would say are like postage stamps; they have to have stickability. She has been with the Lord for over 30 years now, but its interesting that when I think of faithful-perseverance I always think of Miss MacDonald! Job is not, biblically, the example of patience but of perseverance!
James moves on, but still clearly with the examples of the prophets in his mind; he is heading for Elijah. Elijah is an example too; this time, as all true prophets must be, of persistent and effective prayer. Lets follow his line of thought. He has spoken of sufferings and now adds his Spirit-inspired counsel for all who undergo suffering. [b] Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. (Jam 5:13 KJV)[/b] When the troubles come, he commands, pray. The NASB gets the spirit of the imperative, [b]Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.[/b] I wonder whether this is always our reaction to suffering? Some just grit their teeth and get on with life; that is either ignorance or arrogance. It is a reliance on natural strength rather than dependence upon God. [b] And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; (Luk 18:1 KJV)[/b] Ultimately we will find these are the only options; [i]pray or faint.[/i] If you are merry, sing psalms is the other half of the counsel, and then he moves on to the issue of sickness.
I suspect that the sick here are too sick to get to the meeting. Paul expects healing to be available through gifts of healing in the gathered body, but James identifies the elders as the representatives of the local church, who are to be called; [b] Is any sick among you? [u]let him call to him[/u] the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; (Jam 5:14 Darby)[/b] Presumably it was not possible to get the whole church around the bedside, so its representatives visit the sick, at their specific request. Perhaps, in passing, we should just comment that this is not the rite of extreme unction practised by the Roman Catholic Church in which oil blessed by a bishop is administered, by a priest, to a dying person to cleanse from sins in preparation for death.
The same matter-of-fact style we noticed at the first reappears here in James; [b] And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. (Jam 5:15,16a KJV)[/b] Tyndale, who avoided the word confess because of its priestcraft implications, has [b](ac)knowledge your faults one to another[/b]. This was my link to the story of Abimelech; prayer cannot ignore unrighteousness. [b]The prayer of faith shall save the sick[/b], but not by ignoring Gods righteous requirements. It is an axiom of scripture that [b] If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: (Psa 66:18 KJV)[/b] It is a sobering teaching of scripture that sin hinders effective prayer; [b] Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (1Pe 3:7 KJV)[/b] I wonder how much prayer has been completely neutralised by husbands not honouring their wives? [b] Behold, Jehovah's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isa 59:1-2 ASV)[/b] So Abraham, Gods prophet, will pray and the God will heal; but not at the expense of righteousness, Abimelech must [b]restore the man his wife.[/b].
James now sets Elijah centre stage and leads into the power of Elijahs example with a basic but vital truth; [b] The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (Jam 5:16b NASB)[/b] Some reading this NASB quotation will be sorry to see the loss of the word fervent. In fact the word fervent is not there but the word effective doesnt do it justice either. There is such energy in this word; in fact, this is the Greek word from which we get energy - energe? - to work in. Its implication is that the work is not superficial but thorough, inward, and hence effective. This is not wasted work but effective, productive work. The work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration is described using this word; [b] And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the [u]working[/u] of his mighty power, (Eph 1:19 KJV)[/b] Fervency can be easily imitated, the energized prayer of a righteous man cannot. In prayer, its not the amount of steam going through the whistle that counts but that going into the pistons. The sound of the whistle is exhilarating but its the steam in the pistons that gets the job done.
James says that it is the righteous man who prays this kind of productive prayer. Righteous does not mean judicial righteousness in James but outward conformity to Gods righteous requirements. This is a holy man at prayer; his prayer has an inward power and [b]availeth much[/b] or as the ESV translates it; [b] 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. (Jam 5:16 ESV)[/b]
James now illustrates his point by the story of a prophet. [b] Elijah was a man like affected as we, and with prayer he did pray--not to rain, and it did not rain upon the land three years and six months; (Jam 5:17 YLT)[/b] Youngs Literal Translation often reads strangely but we shall return to this verse to trace another truth shortly, and Youngs expresses it best. Elijah was like us. We often find it easy to identify with Elijahs frailties but the events accomplished in this life were accomplished by an ordinary man
who prayed. His achievements were not the consequence of his greater gifts or better opportunities, but because
he prayed. If Elijah, why not me? What He has done with one, He can do with another. What He has done once, He can do again. What He has achieved through Elijah, He can achieve through you, if He chooses.
The KJV says that Elijah prayed earnestly. Youngs Literal has the exact words [b] with prayer he did pray[/b]. To get the sense of this we need to remind ourselves that James is the most Hebrew-minded of the New Testament contributors and Hebrew has a special idiom for intensifying an idea; it repeats the word. The King of kings means the ultimate King. The Holy of Holies means the most holy place. Solomon wrote 1005 songs but the Song of songs was his greatest song. When God warned Adam of the consequences of disobedience He said; [b] but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, [u]dying you shall die[/u]. (Gen 2:17 LITV)[/b] This was an ultimate death, not merely the ceasing of life. Keeping these Hebrew idioms in mind we can see why the KJV translators opted for [b]prayed earnestly [/b]; there is powerful intensity in this praying. Elijah didnt say his prayers as children are encouraged to do, neither did he read prayers as some religious systems advocate. Elijah prayed his prayer; there is powerful concentration in this praying. I am not referring to the kind of intensity that people sometimes develop; an obsession. This is the fierce uncompromising focus of a man who has entered his closet and closed the door; nothing may accompany him here. And none of his experiences here can ever be told outside, but the consequences will surely be seen. [b] But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Mat 6:6 KJV)[/b] No other passions may enter to distract; [b] "Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. (Mar 11:24 NASB) [/b]
Oswald Chambers once said that the will is the whole being focused; [b] If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (Joh 15:7 KJV)[/b] Surely Elijahs whole being was in his praying. Again, I refer not to human intensity but that God-given ability of focus. [i]Every one that asketh receiveth. We pray pious blether, our will is not in it, and then we say God does not answer; we never asked for anything. Ye shall ask what ye will, said Jesus. Asking means our will is in it. Whenever Jesus talked about prayer, He put it with the grand simplicity of a child; we bring in our critical temper and sayYes, but. . . Jesus saidAsk. But remember that we have to ask of God things that are in keeping with the God Whom Jesus Christ revealed.[/i] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost Sept 16.
How then shall we pray? With all known wrongs righted, with conscience dependence upon the inward Pray-er, secretly, giving God time to bring our divided attentions into His focus, asking, believing, receiving
praying, ...as we love, ... with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The prayer of (this kind of) faith [u]shall[/u] save the sick, and the Lord [u]shall[/u] raise him up.