The Prayer of a Righteous Person (James 5:16-18)

Main Idea: Prayer is powerful, but the prayer of a righteous person is even more powerful.


My sermon today is about prayer, so I want to begin by reading some prayers that I found online that were written by children.

Dear God, please send a new baby for Mommy.
The baby you sent last week cries too much.
Debbie, age 7

Has anyone ever felt that way about a new baby in your home?

Dear God, who did you make smarter? Boys or girls?
My sister and I want to know.
Jimmy, age 6

It’s a legitimate question. I kind of want to know the answer, too.

Dear God, could you please give my brother some brains?
So far he doesn’t have any.
Angela, age 8

I do wonder how God answered that prayer, and if Angela’s brother ever got brains.

God answers prayer. We may not always understand God’s answer, and we may not always like the way that God answers, but if you believe in God in the God of the Bible, then you must also believe that He answers the prayers of His people.

Dr. Helen Roseveare, a missionary in Zaire, told this story. A mother at their mission station died after giving birth to a premature baby. They tried to improvise a make-shift incubator to keep the infant alive, but the only hot water bottle they had was beyond repair. So they asked the children at the orphanage to pray for the baby and for her sister. One of the girls immediately prayed, “Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the baby’s big sister so she won’t feel so lonely.”

That very afternoon a large package arrived from England. The children watched eagerly as Dr. Helen opened it. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed started to dig deeper into the package, exclaiming, “If God sent that, I’m sure He also sent a doll!” And she was right! Because 5 months earlier, God had burdened a ladies’ group at a church to include both of those specific items in their package to the mission in Zaire.

It sounds unbelievable to our skeptical twenty-first century brains, but maybe that’s just because we need to pray that God would give us spiritual brains that desire to pray.

Often when we hear sermons about prayer, we feel guilty. But before you feel guilty because you feel like you don’t pray enough, I just want to point out that no matter how much you pray, you might always feel like you don’t pray enough, because the standard for prayer according to the Bible is that we never stop praying.

Jesus taught His disciples in Luke 18:1:

…that they should always pray and never give up. (Luke 18:1b, NLT)

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says:

pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

And I’m sure even Paul, who wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:17, didn’t literally pray every moment of the day, and yet, he never once wrote that he felt guilty for not praying enough.

So I don’t think the goal of these passages is to get us to feel guilty for not praying enough. But I think they do challenge us to pray in a certain way.

James 5:16-18.

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. 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. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:16-18)

Father, we confess to You and one another that we’re sinners. Heal us, that we might go and bear fruit. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Bearing fruit is often used as an illustration in the Bible of being productive and effective. When a farmer sows his crops, he hopes and prays that his farm will bear fruit. He doesn’t just want to work for the sake of work. He wants to work to see a harvest.

As Christians, we can sometimes be confused about the fruit that we’re supposed to be producing.

Charles Ryrie writes about five types of fruit that Christians ought to be producing. We can have the fruit of a developing Christian character. We can have the fruit of developing Christian conduct. We can have the fruit of seeing other people come to know Jesus. We can bear fruit with our lips that declare God’s praise, and we can bear fruit through our generous giving.

Boiling this down even further, I believe that there are basically two kinds of fruit that we’re called to produce. As Christians, we’re called to increase in the fruit of the Spirit, and we’re called to make disciples of all the nations.

So, are you being a fruitful Christian? And if not, what do you need to do now in order to begin to bear fruit?

Verse 16.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

I don’t know if this story is true, but I’m going to share it anyway because it has a good point.

There was once a small town that had historically been “dry” in the sense that no alcohol was served anywhere in town, but then a local businessman decided to build a tavern. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned about it, and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. As the story goes, shortly thereafter lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar heard about their prayer meeting, and then sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church argued in defense that it was just a coincidence. After reviewing the case, the presiding judge stated that “no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.”

So do you believe that God answers prayer?

We saw last week that we’re to pray for one another in regards to our sicknesses and weaknesses, in order to be saved. Verse 15 said:

the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick (James 5:15a)

So we talked about how there’s a community aspect to salvation that we often ignore. God doesn’t just want to save each of us, but all of us. So when we see that someone is sick, whether physically or morally, we’re to pray for them, that they would be saved.

This week, we read in verse 16:

confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

But that’s kind of weird, isn’t it? I mentioned this last Sunday night, but wouldn’t we expect that the outcomes from these verses to have been reversed? They seem mismatched, right?

[Verse Animation]

We’d expect to read that in order to be healed, we pray for the one who is sick, and in order to be saved, we confess our sins. But that’s not what it says. James writes it the other way. He writes that in order to be healed, we confess our sins, and in order to be saved, we pray for the one who is sick. That’s kind of weird, huh?

What this tells me is that it’s all packaged together. Your salvation and healing are linked together. When you come to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, you can also know that you will be healed of every sickness and weakness, whether in this life, or ultimately, in eternity when God makes all things new.

But Scripture is clear that this will only come about as we confess our sins to God and one another.

We’re often very good at confessing to one another that we’re sinners, but we’re often very poor at confessing our sins. We’re comfortable telling each other the general truth that we all know, that we’re sinners, but we’ve very uncomfortable sharing how specifically we’ve sinned. And when we do, we usually do it in a dismissive or even slightly humorous way, like when I confess to you that I’m addicted to pizza rolls.

I’ve never told anyone this, but sometimes I feel guilty for how many pizza rolls I eat. And I’m being totally serious. Sometimes, late at night, even when I haven’t been hungry, I get myself about 25 to 30 pizza rolls, almost a whole bag of them, and just eat them all. So please pray for me, and I’m being totally serious, pray for me that I would have a healthier relationship with food.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “That’s no big deal. That sounds like a very small thing. At least you don’t struggle with my sin, Pastor Chris.” But that’s exactly my point. We all tend to look at our own sin at times and either excuse it, or on the other side, think it’s the worst sin of all. But James encourages us to confess it to one another.

So, just so that you don’t think I’m once again doing the same thing we always do by minimizing my sin, I not only struggle with eating pizza rolls, but with gluttony as a whole. And I struggle with egotism and greed. I struggle with indulging in the things of this world that matter nothing for eternity. So, please pray for me, that I would be healed.

Now, I don’t want you to worry right now. I’m not going to have anyone confess their deepest, darkest sins to anyone this morning. I simply want you to think about this: the next time you’re tempted to dismiss your sin as no big deal, ask for prayer instead. Because prayer is powerful.

But I want you to notice something. In addition to telling us to pray for another, Scripture is clear that the prayer of a righteous person is even more powerful. Look at the second part of verse 16.

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16b)

The Bible names several reasons why our prayers might not be answered the way that we want. It could be because we don’t believe God will answer, or because we pray with wrong motives. Or sometimes it’s because we don’t even pray. But here, James alludes to how sometimes our prayers aren’t answered the way that we want because we haven’t been living righteous lives.

I think Tim Hawkins said it best.

[Tim Hawkins video]

It’s kind of silly how we pray sometimes. We pray for our food when we continue eating unhealthy foods. We pray for healing when we keep abusing ourselves. We pray for circumstances to change when we keep perpetuating the circumstances we’re in. And it’s true that God can do the miraculous, but it’s also true that God wants us to take a step of faith in order to believe that He’s going to do the miraculous in us.

But of course, ultimately, none of us live righteous lives. We’re sinners. So how can we expect God to hear us? Well, let’s look at an example of when God did hear someone. Verse 17.

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. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17-18)

So Elijah is given as an example. Elijah is a great example of a man of faith in the Bible. He followed God. He spoke what God wanted him to speak, and did what God wanted him to do. And when he prayed, God answered his prayer.

And yet, it says in verse 17 that Elijah had a nature like ours. In other words, he’s not a righteous person either! Elijah is a sinner, just like we’re all sinners.

You see, the only way that God hears any of our prayers is because of God’s grace.

I think Elijah is being given as an example of a righteous person so that we can better understand God’s grace. A righteous person doesn’t become righteous by their own efforts, but through God’s grace.

Jesus is the only truly righteous person who never sinned. And He’s interceding for you in heaven even now. He’s praying for you, that you would be strengthened and healed, and forgiven of your sins. From the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

You see, I think just as Elijah prayed for the rain, so that the earth produced fruit, Jesus prays for us so that we might produce fruit. And he calls us all to fervently pray for one another, joining Him in His work, so that we might all be healed.

So here’s what I want to challenge you with this morning. I challenge you to pray, not because you feel guilty because you haven’t prayed enough, but because you see that God answers prayer. Pray that God would heal you and your neighbor. Pray that God would help you and your neighbor through your circumstances. Pray that God would forgive you, and your family, and your neighbor for whatever sins you’ve committed.

And then, believe that He does. But don’t believe it because of how righteous you are. Believe it because of how righteous Jesus is. Believe it because God is good, and God answers prayer, especially the prayer of the Righteous One. Jesus is the Righteous One, and through His death on the cross, we’re made righteous by grace through faith.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

James is one of the most simple and practical letters in the New Testament written to encourage and instruct believers. The fact that this letter is in the Bible is interesting, though, because it actually almost didn’t make the cut. Some well-known Christians throughout history didn’t like it or think that it measured up to… (read more)

Bible Passages: James 5:16-18
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