Prayer and Godliness
James continues discussing prayer. It is chiefly through prayer that we are healed—and confession of sin as we saw yesterday. But let us be clear, it is not just any prayer but the prayer of faith—and not just any faith but the prayer of a righteous man: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
I am reminded of the account in Mark 9:14-29 in which the disciples were unable to heal a boy with an unclean spirit. When our Lord, coming down from the mountain, discovered their impotence, he moaned, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me!” After healing the boy, the Lord’s disciples approached him, asking: “Why could we not cast it out?” And Jesus replied, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Other ancient manuscripts add, “and fasting.”)
Well, James understood our Lord’s call for prayer. Remember that this was the bishop with camel’s knees from kneeling for long hours. But James also understood what else was needed per our Lord’s words to his disciples, namely, righteousness, or what the Bible also calls blamelessness, holiness, or godliness. And so James takes Elijah for example—he would have to take one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament! “This man…” James tells us, “…Be like him.” After all, he prayed that it might not rain for three and one-half years, and then prayed that it would rain—and it all came to pass. Now, we might complain, “Could you not have picked a lesser saint to copy?” But then James reminds us, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours,” as if to say to us, “What’s your next excuse?”
I want to make two points: 1) If our prayers are to be effective, they must be accompanied by holy lives. We must be pursuing holiness and godliness, walking with the Lord daily. We cannot expect God to answer prayers from profane lips and lives; and, 2) We can and must do this; we have no excuse. To be saved is to be freed from the power and dominion of sin; to be saved is to have the Holy Spirit living within us who is constantly remaking us after the image of God’s Son. No, we shall never reach sinless perfection, but we must be growing in grace: a) to prove that we are of the Lord, and, b) to have effective prayers. Yes, God will bless the prayers of his people who pray in faith—but it must be a pious faith, a sincere faith, a faith working through love.