In James 5, James addresses three things. He pronounces to the rich oppressors of the Christians that their judgment is coming on the day of the Lord. He urges those suffering under that oppression to remain patient, strong in their faith, as they wait for the day of the Lord. And he encourages all Christians to show their faith in God by praying in response to every circumstance.
James uses the first section of this chapter to announce the coming doom of certain rich landowners, who were oppressing the poverty-stricken Christians. He calls on wealthy people to start weeping and wailing now in anticipation for their coming misery. In fact, it will come so quickly that James writes as if it has already happened using past tense verbs, which was a common technique used in Biblical prophecy. Using this perspective, their riches have rotted, their expensive clothes are moth-eaten, and their silver and gold has corroded. He gives warning to the rich by saying that the cries of those working their fields have reached the Lord’s ear, and their judgment is coming.
James then turns his focus to the oppressed Christian readers. He urges them to stay patient as they wait. The day of the Lord, the same one that he says the oppressors should be dreading, is one they are to look forward to. James encourages them to be patient like farmers who wait through the rainy seasons for the harvest to be ready. They must strengthen their hearts, stand firm in their faith, and refuse to fall into grumbling against each other in their suffering. Instead, James tells them to look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. He says they should follow the example of Old Testament prophets like Job, who remained faithful to God through great suffering and oppression.
Maybe today you’re dealing with hardships or oppressions and you’re wondering how to keep going. I want to encourage you in the same way James encouraged the believers he wrote to: look back in scripture and see God’s blessing for those who remain faithful through trials. God is still compassionate and merciful. He will reward those who are faithful.
James opened this letter by telling believers to count all struggles as joy. His intent was not for Christians to pretend to be happy, but simply to realize that God can bring good and prove faithful in any situation. Now, James closes out his letter by encouraging believers to demonstrate their faith in God by praying in response to every circumstance. Are you in trouble? James says you should pray. Are you happy? You should sing songs of praise to God. Are you sick or weak? Ask the elders of the church to pray for you, anointing you with oil, and the Lord will make you well and your sins will be forgiven.
A lack of prayer in response to trouble should be a spiritual warning sign for us. It’s a symptom of a person who isn’t living in full dependence on God. But another warning sign is not being quick to sing songs of praise to God when we are happy. Prayer should be the natural response to any circumstance or state of mind for people living in relationship with God. So my question is: is prayer your response? In the good times, are you praising God for His blessing? In the bad times, are you asking God to move in your situation? Are you trusting God to provide even when it seems impossible? No matter the circumstance, James 5 calls us to pray.
James’ words make it clear that the community of Christians are to take care of another. They should confess their sins to each other – so those brothers and sisters can pray for one another’s strength to overcome those sins. Prayer is powerful and effective. God hears and responds. This is why James mentions the prophet Elijah and how God was moved into action through his prayers. Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain, and for three and half years, no rail fell. Kind of like Wichita Falls. Then when Elijah prayed again, proving that his God was the one true God, rain fell.
Throughout this book, James repeatedly makes the case that what a person does reflects what they believe. So, if we as believers know that prayer works, why aren’t we? Oftentimes I think that people will give prayer a try and hope that it works, but when their circumstance doesn’t change immediately, they become disheartened, lose faith, and quit praying. My challenge to you today is the same as James’ challenge: keep showing your faith in God by praying in response to every circumstance. How you respond in the face of trials determines where your faith is. So today, let’s show our faith to be in God alone by responding with prayer no matter what we face.