We started our prayer event by looking at James 5:16b and discussing what is meant by a righteous person and effectual prayer. Now we’ll discuss our study of the other part of James 5:16: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Religion has often confused the meaning of sin, fixating on certain perceived sins of others (some of which Jesus never mentioned!) while ignoring the most serious sin in oneself: the failure to love. Jesus provides the perfect definition of love – laying down our lives even for enemies, as he did – and said all the commandments could be summed up by loving God and loving others (Matthew 22:36-40).
A religious theology of sin leads to a focus on rules and regulations not to be broken for fear of punishment. This view of God leads to judging and condemning others rather than loving them. A genuine love relationship with the truly gracious God leads to a heart that is free, overflowing with Christ’s love and yearning to reflect it in every area of life. Our thinking about sin is transformed to not be about others – we trust God to lead them – but on ourselves, how we can better reflect his love. This of course has many implications, but the motivation is different and the results are positive – God desires what is best for his beloved, which is all of us! In fact, it is his whole creation. It’s worth asking ourselves that if sin is falling short of God’s love and mercy, might it potentially include knowingly refusing to extend it to any of his creatures – human or animal? If you’re curious about ways we can extend mercy in our daily lives and food choices, check out this faith-based resource:
Another lie of religion is that we must go through another person to have our sins forgiven. In reality, God desires real relationship with us and authentic communication. We can confess anything directly to Jesus who already died to overcome sin’s inherently harmful natural effects, which come from God’s adversary – not from God. Essentially in choosing sin, we turn away from the good source of life and make ourselves vulnerable to other, more sinister spiritual forces. So then, what is the importance of confession to other trusted people? Community helps us do life as Jesus followers, including overcoming things that could hinder our prayers or block us from fully experiencing all he wants for us. The Triune God is a relational, personal being, and we are made in that image!
Many other factors were mentioned in whether prayers are effective (some are listed here) so we shouldn’t assume (as Job’s friends did) that if they’re not, it must be due to sin, lack of faith, or anything else. But when we are authentic and invite genuinely loving, spiritually mature brothers and sisters into our lives, we can help each other grow closer to Jesus and be more like him. This can include sharing what we struggle with and knowing how to pray more effectively for each other’s real needs.
We also pondered what is meant by “healed.” We do sometimes see miraculous healing as a result of prayer, and overcoming sin would be essential to that because the natural result of humanity’s sin is death and suffering, to which we’ve subjected all creation. But other times we don’t see physical healing. The prayer may have been answered by God but then blocked by other (human or angelic) wills or simply by the fallen, spiritually oppressed nature of the present world. However, we can remain hopeful in God’s ultimate will for our healing which is spiritual and eternal. We also cling to the promise that all creation will be healed of its present suffering; we partner with God in starting to fulfill that prophecy now.
As we studied the context of James 5:16a, we saw that in confessing our sins to each other and praying for each other, we can be healed of those sins and therefore closer to the righteousness (rightly-related) in the second part of the verse. Jesus died for our freedom to have righteous hearts and lives. He’s not the angry God that religion has portrayed. He wants us to be free from the enemy’s hurts, habits, and hang-ups. In that freedom, we are healed in our hearts and relationships with God and then each other, which is worth far more than any kind of physical healing in this life. God’s eternal will is that people and animals are healed eternally when our spirits go home to be in the presence of the source of life, but we do look forward to a physical healing/resurrection of our bodies too.
From the one verse we examined, we can learn a few variables in the effectiveness of our prayers: confession of sin and spiritual healing, praying for each other and together, having righteous hearts and lives after the example of Jesus, praying fervently/earnestly/persistently (depending on the translation). When we don’t see answers, we trust in the ultimate restoration of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And we continue praying and working toward that future glory.
When we confess falling short in the meantime, we remember the grace, freedom, and heart behind it. God’s not keeping score and doesn’t want empty rule following. Jesus was proof of this when he subverted religious rules and revealed an irreligious God on the cross! He knows we can’t be perfect – that’s why we need a Savior. He just wants our hearts, our whole yet broken selves. When we invite him in – there’s always an open invitation to you if you’ve never surrendered to a God who is for you, not against you – we grow to care about what he really cares about: values like justice, mercy, loyalty, peace, wholeness, real beauty. We turn back to God with hearts of celebrating his goodness, not trying to earn something we already have. The poet Mary Oliver perfectly articulated this when she said, “You don’t have to be good… You don’t have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles in the desert repenting.”
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned as we continue this series with other verses on prayer, including those of Jesus himself. ~Jessica