Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 21 2013 - James 5:1-20 – The power of prayer

We spoke yesterday of the overruling providence of God. We may make our plans, but things may not turn out as we intended. We are not in control of every detail of our lives; but God is in control of all things.

God’s sovereign power over all that he has made should be a great encouragement to prayer. James encourages us to pray for those in trouble (James 5:13 – though the call there is for the person in trouble to pray), and to pray for those who are sick. He encourages prayer with the assurance that, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (5:16), and reminds us of Elijah who prayed for drought and it did not rain for three and a half years and then prayed again for rain and the rains returned. The prayer of God’s people is effective because it taps into the power that created and sustains the universe.

But, for most of us, prayer is a great mystery. We have prayed for the healing of those who are sick and they have not been healed; children and the parents of young children have died. We have prayed for those in deep trouble and their troubles have not come to an end, they may even have worsened. For years, we have prayed for dear members of our own family who have yet to come to trust in Christ, and still they are not saved. And it will not do to turn the words of James into an accusation that there was something lacking in the one who prayed – they did not have enough faith; they did not pray long enough… We know from hard experience that prayer, even the most earnest pray, is no guarantee that our petition will be answered as we wish. Nor will it do to affirm that we need, in effect, to add “God willing” to our prayers. To sanctify unanswered prayer with the assertion that what happened (and happens) is always God’s will is a form of fatalism that robs the promises of God’s Word of both substance and comfort.

So we are left with a deep mystery which I cannot resolve but which I have to live with in an attitude of faith and biblical hope. Unanswered prayer does not stop me praying nor does it destroy my faith in God. I believe that, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all … will …, along with him, graciously give us all things" (Romans 8:32). I believe this despite the painful mystery of unanswered prayer. And because I believe it, I am driven again and again to prayer in the confidence that God does hear the cry of his people and that he will answer them.

And I believe that, in the end, the love and goodness of God will have the last word. I believe this because God’s love and goodness have appeared in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us, and is now risen from the dead. He has conquered all the powers of darkness. The day will come when he will return and the pain of unanswered prayer will be removed as he wipes every tear from our eyes. In the meantime, I pray that his kingdom may come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And I pray that I might be used to answer prayer. The triumph of Christ promotes not triumphalism but confidence both in prayer and in the work of the kingdom. Oh, and by the way, at times we do see remarkable answers to prayer.

Lord, teach us to pray – to pray continually, to pray confidently, to pray fervently, to pray in all circumstances. Help us to rejoice in answered payer as evidence of your power and love. Help us to trust you when the prayers of our hearts seem to go unanswered knowing that your redeeming love shall have the last word. As we have ability, help us to be the answer to our prayers, and the prayers of others, as we bring encouragement and blessing to those whose lives we touch.

Peter Misselbrook