Yesterday I preached at Calvary Memorial Church, where I pastor middle school students and oversee communication. My sermon on James 5:13-18 can be viewed here:
One of the goals of this sermon was not to offer new prayer methods which would only likely be later worn out from lack of heart. Rather, my goal was to cultivate the affections for a vibrant prayer life. As with any sermon, something goes unsaid. I want to say that one thing which went unsaid now, and also offer a few practical methods and resources for prayerful inspiration as well.
A Warning That Went Unsaid in Regards to Fervency
James 5:13-18 is a bookend to the book of James. At the beginning James charges those who lack wisdom to ask for it, to pray. Then piles on the wisdom for a ethic of virtue and faith throughout chapters 2-4, returning in chapter 5 to steadfastness and prayer, which is where he started in chapter 1.
In verses 13-18 James gives us four characteristics of prayer. Prayer should be done in faith (v. 15). Prayer should be done by the righteous and repentant (v. 16). Prayer should be fervent (v. 17). I argued in my sermon that the prayer of faith and the righteous prayer (or prayer of the righteous depending on how you translate δέησις δικαίου) point to Christ because we pray in the name of the Lord (John 16:23-34). Verses 14-16 deal with the specific circumstance of the sick and Christ alone has the power to expiate both the cause of sickness (sin) and the effect of sin (sickness). Matthew 8:17’s use of Isaiah 53:4 validates this point. Prayer, true communion with God is not possible without real union with God in Christ. Only those of the faith, counted as the righteous, have access to God through prayer. Furthermore, a vibrant prayer life is connected to a repentant life. Communion with God in prayer requires that we live an ongoing life of turning away from sin privately and publicly.
Here’s whats so important about these three characteristics that James offers. And this is what went unsaid. These three characteristics: faith, righteousness, and repentance—precedes the fourth, fervency. In verse 17, it is said of Elijah, that he “prayed a prayer”, which is a Hebraism of duplication for emphasis, meaning he prayed fervently. This is the warning. Do not assume that praying fervently brings either efficacy to prayer, and be weary of those who pray fervently. Fervency is always to be commended, but it is faith, righteousness, and repentance that take precedence over fervency. In ministry, I have served alongside men and observed men that outwardly show signs of conviction, boldness, passion, zeal, and fervency. But they lacked perseverance. They fell away. They lacked faith, righteousness, and, especially, ongoing repentance. With prayer, it’s not your rhetoric that matters; it’s your righteousness; it’s not your presentation; it’s your piety.
Practical Methods and Resources
Here are some helpful methods for prayer and resources to accompany.
First, pray the Bible. It’s God’s Word and no better guide exists for prayer. Sit with the Scripture open before you. Read a line and pray. Start with the Psalms. Donald Whitney has recently written an excellent book from Crossway on this.
Second, read great prayers or great prayer guides. The Valley of Vision is my go-to on this. I love to read from this collection of Puritan prayers. Helpful also is Isaac Watts first chapter to A Guide to Prayer, which is available and in print from Banner of Truth.
Other Book Recommendations on Prayer
If you’ve read widely of the others below, this recent collection of essays (July, 2016) are stimulating.
This is a classic guide to praying the Bible. Much of Whitney’s inspiration comes from this book.
This is a recent book on corporate prayer, an overlooked and underused method of prayer in the church.
This is an excellent introduction to prayer from pastor Timothy Keller. I warmly recommend it. I reviewed the book for Lifeway: Pastors here.
Paul Miller shows how stimulating and life altering prayer can be. This book reads fast with excellent narrative that stokes the affections. I reviewed it here.