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Exploring the Bible / Prayer

How to pray, according to James

When we ask the question of how to pray, I think the Bible is an endless resource that directs us, guides us, challenges us. So instead of compiling the biggest blog post you have ever seen detailing every lesson the Bible gives us on how to pray, I thought I would split it up. Different writers highlight different key points about prayer, but we know that all of this information is useful and powerful.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”

2 Timothy 3:16

I love the book of James. It’s so action packed, full of incredible advice and challenges and calls to action. James also has some great advice about prayer, so I wanted to start this series by looking at what James has to say about how to pray.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

James 1:5

Quick starting point, not every Bible verse talking about prayer will include the word ‘prayer’. But us being directed to ask God for something, is us praying to him. In this case, James advises us to ask God for the wisdom that we are lacking (and let’s face it, we could probably all do with some greater wisdom). But James also tells us more. He tells us that God gives generously – he will give us what we need in abundance, and he gives to all without finding fault. This isn’t something that only the very best of Christians can ask for and be given – this is for all of us. We can all pray for wisdom, and we can all receive it.

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

James 1:6-8

So, following on from the previous verse about asking God for wisdom James also gives us some advice as to how we go about praying. This may sound harsh – for James to say that those who doubt should not expect to receive anything from God, that they are double-minded and unstable. But I encourage you not to see this as a negative, but as a calling to overcome doubt and be confident in our belief. I have a blog post all about how to overcome doubts which you can read here. So, when you pray – do you believe? Or do you doubt God’s ability to answer your prayers?

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

James 4:1-3

This passage is examining the sources of quarrels amongst the people. James says that these quarrels are caused by a desire for material things, and that not having these things is leading people to sin and to quarrel amongst themselves over these things. But he also states that they do not have the things they desire because they do not ask God for them. Or that if they do ask, they don’t receive because they have asked with the wrong motives. Our motives in prayer should be the same as our motives in all aspects of our lives: to bring glory to God. If we are asking God for things from our own greed, we are asking with wrong motives and will not receive.

The statement that they have not asked God for the things that they covet does not tell us that we will receive everything we ask for. It is telling us about the state of our hearts. If our response to desiring something is to covet it from someone else, rather than to pray to God for it, we need to re-evaluate the state of our hearts.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

James 4:7-8

This is probably one of my favourite Bible verses. It’s a call to prayer. When we pray, or read the Bible, we draw near to God, coming into his presence. We are told that when we do these things in order to draw near to God, he will draw near to us in return. And by doing these things we are also resisting the devil, turning away from his evil ways and focusing upon God. By doing this we cause the devil to flee from us.

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”

James 5:13-15

Here, James shares a number of different times in which we are called to prayer – when we are in trouble, when we are happy, when we are sick. Within our community, prayer is a part of every time within our lives. It’s our answer to any and all situations. And we are told that when our prayers are offered in faith, they have the power to heal, and to lead to forgiveness.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

James 5:16

James tells us a lot about what community should look like, and a big part of that is prayer. Specifically, we are called to pray for each other. Confess our sins to each other and pray for healing for one another. Are you part of a Christian community that enables you to confess your sins? That encourages you to do this? That prays for you when you are in need of healing? This is the kind of community that you need to be a part of, that you need to find.

“Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

James 5:17-18

I think this is a great way to round off what James tells us about how to pray. By sharing a story of the power of prayer. A story of Elijah praying for no rain – and it didn’t rain for THREE AND A HALF YEARS. What?! What an incredible answer to prayer. And for him then to pray for rain and to receive it, what an encouragement to us. This story gives us the encouragement we need to believe wholeheartedly in the power of prayer. Prayer really does work, as James illustrates so wonderfully here.

Which books do you think have lots to teach us about prayer?

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