The book of James is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I never grow tired of reading it, and I never stop learning from it. I am amazed that I am challenged by it every time, and I mean challenged in the very core of my being. That said, I have been thinking a lot about prayer lately. Consciously, I don’t pray much. I don’t sit down and have a heart to heart with God. I usually try to pray/think. Because I spend so much time in contemplation, thinking about life and how to relate my world to something gracefilled, I find that I never simply sit and pray. Basically, the words of James remind me that I am a prayer slacker. I don’t pray when I should, and when I shoudl rejoice, I attribute my successes to my own good will. However, when I read James, I see that part of our Christian life is prayer, and not the way I do it:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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.
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.
I am well aware of the ways that this particular Scripture has been used to tell people they don’t have enough faith to be healed. One of my good friends had cancer. As she was fighting for her life, a pastor of a “healing” church told her she just didn’t have enough faith, she wasn’t righteous enough. If she was either faithful or righteous, she would be healed. They sighted the King James version of this Scripture. I actually think the King James is beautifully worded, but it doesn’t include women (I jsut need a tNIV Bible): “The effectual fervant prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Effectual fervant prayer does avail much, but it doesn’t mean that if you don’t get the answer you want that you don’t have enough faith or righteousness. It might mean that God’s answer, [Their] will might be different from yours. In fact, I would wager my whole paycheck, which isn’t much, that the case is that we want what we want and sometimes all the prayer in the world will not sway God.
Which brings me to my weirdness about prayer. What is the point of it really? Surely, we cannot presume to think that our wishes sway God’s will. So is prayer really more for us, that through it we are slowly swayed into God’s will. That [Their] response has not changed, but that our response to [Them] has changed. For example, if as a child, I really want a bicycle, and I pray every day for a bicycle. I never get the bicycle. Initially, I get pissed and whiny, because I really want the bike. Eventually, I realize I am never going to get a bike, so I am resigned to that. Finally, I recognize that I was stubborn, and reconcile my desires to the will of God. I am not getting a bike for whatever reason, and all the petitioning is not going to secure a bike for me. I begin to realize there are more important things than my bike. My will has bent toward God’s will.
Do I disbelieve the power of prayer? Honestly, possibly. Probably? Not really. I think we can petition for God’s grace and love, but I think we are bound by Jesus’ own words in John:
You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Mostly I am annoyed with the “In Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end of prayers, because it has become a little magical charm that we use to seal our prayers. How many times have you said it? How many times have you paused to really consider what it means? We pretend, I think, that because we say “in Jesus’ name” at the end that we have prayed in accordance with God’s will, and that God, the Father, is obligated to answer our prayers because we have asked in Jesus’ name. There is more to it than that: we are to be so closely knit with Jesus and his ideals that we can pray within God’s will. If you read these verses in context (novel concept, huh?), we are to be the branches on the vine. If you know anything about plants, nothing gets to the small branches without going through the main branch first. Our very essence comes from that main branch of that vine, which is Jesus. So, praying in Jesus’ name is much more than a magical addendum to a selfish prayer. Praying in Jesus’ name should be about praying what Jesus might pray. I never do that. I almost always—when I do pray—pray for things I want, pray for things to turn out the way I want them to, or pray for people to think or do what I think they should think or do. Jesus doesn’t pray for those things. How can I presume to pray in his name? Why do I go on pretending to even be like him? What Jesus prays is:
Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us, as we forgive. Don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us.
Pretty different from:
My friend lost his job, can you get him a new one? Better than the last one, and possibly with a raise, a company car, and benefits.
I’m just saying. My prayers aren’t Jesus’ prayers. They aren’t even close. So, I’ve been thinking about it and I wonder why I still love the book of James?