Sunday School Lesson
Sunday School Lessons
January 25, 2015
WE PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER
BIBLE BASIS: JAMES 5:13-18
BIBLE TRUTH: The writer of James teaches that the prayer brings healing and offers Elijah's prayer as an example of prayer’s effectiveness.
MEMORY VERSE: READ – James 5:16
Devotional Reading: Lamentations 3:52-58
Background Scripture: James 5
Lesson Aims After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Summarize what James says about prayer, confession, intercession, and faith.
2. Compare and contrast James’s assertion about the power of a righteous person’s prayer with one’s own prayer experience.
3. Commit to greater involvement in praying for others.
13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
14 Is any sick among you? 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 shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. —James 5:16
A. Timely Prayer
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) wrote, “Anyone who wishes to pray must choose not only the right place but also the right time.” Bernard was an abbot of a medieval monastic community, and part of his responsibility was teaching the brothers of his house to pray. Daily routine was the rule in his environment, and prayers were offered multiple times, at specific hours. Bernard’s rigid schedule for prayers may not be suitable for us, but his advice about the timing of prayer still rings true.
The noise of the world seems to drown out opportunities for prayer. We are too busy, too stressed, or too tired to take time to pray. Peter Marshall, who served as the U.S. Senate Chaplain from 1947 until his untimely death in 1949, once offered this prayer for that body: “Forgive us for thinking that prayer is a waste of time and help us to see that without prayer, our work is a waste of time.” The advice within that prayer applies to a group far larger than just elected officials. It applies to us. The Christian should be a person of prayer. The church should be a community of prayer. Yet too often we have allowed prayer to be crowded from our worship services and our lives.
James wraps up his letter by discussing the necessity of timely prayer. He has lessons for us on both the purpose of prayer and the power of prayer. This is the focus of this week’s lesson.
B. Lesson Background
The book of James is unlike any other book of the Bible in certain respects. Although it begins like a letter, it reads more like a sermon, speaking with firm authority. It is loosely organized, jumping from topic to topic with little connecting material. It is also intensely practical, showing relatively little interest in doctrinal principles or formulations. The author is interested in conduct; he teaches his readers how they should live as Christian believers in a world that is often hostile to Christian values.
There are several men named James in the New Testament, but most scholars believe the author of this book is the James who was the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). According to church tradition, this James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem a few years after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Galatians 2:9), serving in this role until his death sometime in the AD 60s. He was given the moniker James the Just because of his constant pleas for justice for his people. Although he was a Jewish Christian in the predominantly non-Christian, Jewish city of Jerusalem, he was respected by all the people for his integrity. A second-century church historian records that James went to the temple daily to pray and spent so much time on his knees that they “became [calloused] like that of a camel’s.”
A word from James, then, seems a fitting end to this month’s lessons on prayer. In his little letter that we divide into five chapters, prayer is the final subject of his teaching, a position of importance and urgency that we should not ignore.
I. Call for Prayer
A. Asking (v. 13a)
13a. Is any among you afflicted? let him pray.
The author’s Jewish heritage admits a central place for prayer, and prayer is an essential for the first-century Jewish Christians. Therefore we should not be surprised at James’s attention to this matter. Here he begins to set forth his thoughts on prayer in terms of the first of four categories of people who need to pray or be prayed for. The prayer strategy for each group is different.
The first group is the afflicted, literally “those who suffer bad things.” James’s advice for these people is that they should pray. At first glance, this recommendation seems so generic as to be of little practical value. But since it serves as the pattern or template for what follows, we should pay attention.
This half verse features the most common verb in the New Testament for praying (used more than 80 times), and it embraces the sense of “asking.” The person with overwhelming life troubles should not be a passive sufferer but an asker, one who asks God for help. We should not be passive sufferers but active in lifting our issues to God in prayer. This echoes the teachings of Jesus, who counseled His disciples to “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Matthew 7:7). The first step in dealing with personal challenges is to ask for God’s help.
B. Singing (v. 13b)
13b. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
The status of the second group, the merry, may seem at first glance to be unrelated to prayer needs. The word translated merry is seldom used in the New Testament (elsewhere only in Acts 27:22, 25). It has the sense of strong, positive passions; it is the opposite of being apathetic. The merry person is one who is cheerful, whose heart is bursting with optimism. James’s tone is different here than a few verses earlier, where he commanded that there be mourning instead of laughter (James 4:9).
Songs directed to God can be thought of as “musical prayer” or “prayer set to music.” James is teaching that times of high spirits are also times to pray. If you are happy, then sing psalms of prayerful praise to God, the ultimate source of your happiness. Don’t spoil the moment by artificially depressing yourself, but don’t neglect prayer in the midst of good times either.
What Do You Think?
How has prayer served to enhance your faith in various circumstances?
Points for Your Discussion
Regarding “up” times (family member’s acceptance of Christ, job promotion, etc.)
Regarding “down” times (illness, sin guilt, etc.)
Regarding “in between” times (waiting for a response of some kind, etc.)
Praise in Prayer
We’re used to seeing people pray in bad times. We remember the droves of people who flocked to churches after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. When a gunman slaughtered 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the churches of the area were filled with people praying. It’s easy to get cynical and chalk all this up to the old “no atheists in foxholes” syndrome, but even the most devout Christians can be driven to their knees when circumstances overwhelm. James says it’s perfectly appropriate to pray when we’re hurting.
On the other hand, James tells us it’s also appropriate to offer joyful praise when we are merry. This seems to be much of the appeal of contemporary praise services. Younger people (and many older Christians as well) enjoy offering vibrant praise to God when they are happy. James strongly commends the practice.
One important benefit of singing praise to God in “up” times is that we will avoid being guilty of practicing spare-tire religion: used only in emergencies. You’re not guilty of that, are you?—C. R. B.
C. Healing (vv. 14, 15a)
14, 15a. Is any sick among you? 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: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.