13Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are 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. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore 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. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
As it so happens given the Lectionary readings for today we will stay with prayer as our devotional topic.
The passage above from James is as straightforward and direct as any passage in the Bible. If you're suffering, pray. If you're happy, sing. If you're sick, get elders to pray for you ...
The passage concludes with a statement that prayers from righteous folks are powerful and effective. Who is righteous? Those in right standing with God. Elijah is presented as an example of a righteous person whose prayers proved powerful and effective.
This point about prayer -- that prayer changes things -- is a great reminder that we, as believers in Christ, are invited to be co-partners with the Triune God to see that God's Kingdom comes on Earth as it is in Heaven. Now it is true that not all Christian traditions believe in the efficacy of prayer in terms of changing things. I think they are mistaken on Biblical grounds. It is also true that some Christian groups over-emphasize the efficacy of prayer, believing that without prayer nothing happens. I think they too are mistaken on Biblical grounds. The Biblical truth about prayer is in the middle of these two. Consider the following three Worlds.
In World A, everything is already pre-determined. This predetermination can be in the form of materialism or theism. Everything in the world is governed by physical laws which were in place soon after the Big Bang. Everything is on a set course, including human beings. We think we have free will, but we don't since humans as physical creatures are also subject to physical laws. For the theist, everything is predetermined by God from the beginning of time. God has predetermined everything. We think we have free will -- that is, our choices make a difference -- but in reality even our "choices" are predetermined. So prayer in this theistic determined world cannot change any outcomes, at all.
In World C, everything is contingent. Freedom abounds. Every outcome is determined by creatures who are essentially free. It's an "open" universe. So prayer in this world shapes almost every outcome. Now in order to see prayer in this light, we must first believe that God has given over His governing power and authority to creatures like us to determine outcomes. But Biblically speaking, this picture is not warranted. Some things are wholly determined by God. Creation, Redemption, Christ's Return. We can add Revival and Salvation. The Rising and Falling of Nations. All these large themes are spoken of in the Bible as determined by the Triune God.
In World B, some things are determined; some things are contingent. There are vast areas where the governance of things in those areas is completely in the hand of God Almighty. No creaturely input is needed nor asked. The running of the physical cosmos is such a vast area. But there are also areas where the individual outcomes in those areas are contingent upon human action, including human prayer. Healing, deliverance, miracles, political outcomes, softening of hearts, breakthrough in relationships, etc. Prayers, like Elijah's, can have a profound impact. This is world we inhabit. And in this world, prayer has a tremendous role to play. Even the absence of prayer has an outcome!
Given this overall picture of Prayer in the World, how could we not be motivated to pray?!
If your prayers shape the future, why would you not give yourselves to prayer?
It's a No-Brainer. A cliche captures our appropriate response.
Let's pray: Lord, we ask you for a simple request: Open our eyes to see how our prayers shape the future. Help us to see that "the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." In Your Name, Amen.