Several years ago, my husband hung a large birdfeed er from a tree limb in our yard.
We were eager to see what birds would find their way to this bountiful buffet of seeds.
Yes, we got birds, but we also got squirrels.
These squirrels, and possibly one specific rodent, were quite effective at getting seed from the feeder even though it had a rounded dome on top that was meant to deter them.
They were quick to figure out that if they simply chewed through the wire that the feeder was hanging on it would drop to the ground causing the domed lid to come off and spill all the seed on the ground.
My husband even hung the feeder with a stainless-steel cable that they chewed through before trying an 6- gauge copper wire.
This last wire was looking good for a while. But then we noticed that a squirrel was trying to chew through it too.
What does the effective tenacity of these squirrels have to do with effectiveness in prayer as discussed in James 5:16?
The book of James focuses on encouraging Christian communities to live out their faith in a responsible and consistent manner no matter what circumstance they find themselves facing.
Today we will focus on a verse from a section commonly subtitled “The Prayer of Faith” by editors.
Take a moment to consider the verse from four different translation styles:
ESV James 5:16 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.
NAS James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
NET James 5:16 So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.
NIV James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
What is identical in these four translations?
The opening sentence is identical except for the NET versions use of the word “so” instead of “therefore”.
Whenever you are reading a sentence in a book of scripture, or any text really, if the author uses the word “so” or “therefore” this communicates that what came before this sentence supports the conclusion to be presented.
Thus, we need to consider James 5:13-15:
ESV James 5:13-15 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
On what basis does effectiveness in prayer hinge on in this passage?
- Anyone who is suffering should pray.
- Those who are sick should seek the prayers of the faith community for healing.
Take careful note of the last sentence of verse 15.
It says “if” the person has committed sins, they will be forgiven.
This is important to note because when one is suffering or sick it does not always mean one has sinned. The book of Job in the Old Testament is an excellent testimony of this as well as a discussion in John 9:1-3 between Christ and His disciples.
What is different in these four translations?
Here are the last sentences of verse 16 from each translation by themselves:
- The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (ESV)
- The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (NAS)
- The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. (NET)
- The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)
How do these different phrasing arrangements help us to understand James’s point?
All four use the phrase “prayer of a righteous person or man.
Three of the translations use the word “effective” in some manner.
Two of the translations mention “power”.
One mentions “accomplish much”.
The point of this exercise is that although the phrasing of each translation above may have different word orders or even use different descriptive terms, they are all aligned with the same perspective.
A righteous community has opportunity to have powerful effectiveness in prayer for others who are in trouble or sick.
How does this effectiveness in prayer connect with the confess your sins bit?
To understand this best, we need to keep reading to the end of James.
ESV James 5:17-20 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. 19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
James is referring to 1 Kings 17-18 .
Elijah is a prophet called to witness to Ahab, the reigning king of Israel in his day, the amazing power of God.
Scripture says this about Ahab before Elijah comes on the scene:
ESV 1 Kings 16:30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. 32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
James is drawing on the history between the sins of Ahab and those he led into sin by mentioning the amazing effectiveness in prayer to control when it would or would not rain.
The Lord and James are making the point that failure to confess one’s sins leads to negative consequences.
The Lord and James are making the point that if one is suffering or ill because of sin, confessing this and seeking prayer of a righteous community to pray for you can heal you from the suffering or sickness.
Keep in mind that the particular suffering or sickness is not indicated in James. It could be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc.
The key take away is that if we are servants of God, then we are to live out our faith in God practically and consistently as Elijah demonstrated back in the OT.
This will then afford us great opportunities for effectiveness in prayer for other believers in our community and provide a powerful witness of who our God is to those who do not know Him.
- How often do you confess your sins to God?
- Are you specific regarding your sins or generic?
- How could being specific about your sins grow your spiritual health?
- How does not being specific about your sings hinder your spiritual health?
- Who is a safe person or community of fellow believers that you can confess your sins to and seek prayer support for healing from your sufferings in this arena?
- When you see fellow believers straying from God are you willing to intercede for them? Why or why not?
- How can your prayers impact non-believers towards a better understanding of God’s provision of forgiveness towards those who confess their sins?
- What else do you see in the verses above that helps you live out your faith day by day?
PS. Back to the squirrels.
The 6-guage copper wire was looking good for a while. But then we noticed that a squirrel was trying to chew through it too!
May you and I have the same grit and tenacity that squirrel did when it comes to living out our faith day by day so that we will see effectiveness in prayer for those in our community.
Our communities need us to be faithful witnesses so they may be fed with grace and mercy that leads to healing forgiveness from our Lord.
ESV Proverbs 15:29 The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.