In the last post (read it here) I explored how prayer is a vehicle of faith “to continue seeing the resurrected Christ and trust in that promise as our salvation regardless of what the temporal outcomes of our prayers are.” In this post I want to observe the communal aspect of prayer that James encourages. So let’s read the passage again from James 5:13-18:
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. 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. 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.
So again this passage is about the intersection of God and faith where prayer is the vehicle of that faith…but this is also a communal vehicle.
In the passage, James asks of us if there is “anyone among you” who is in trouble or happy (v. 13). This phrase is a communal question posed not just to the person in trouble or the one who is happy but to the church as a whole. The word “anyone” is a singular-person while the word “you” is a plural voice meaning “you people.”
We are exhorted to a communal exercise of faith and prayer with two other instructions. First, the sick are told to call the elders of the church who are to pray over them and anoint them with oil. Second, the church is told v. 16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (noting that the entire sentence is in the plural voice).
The question of just how this communal aspect of faith and prayer should be exercised among the local church is another matter, perhaps best answered by every local church community. I will say, as I noted in the last post, that this entire exhortation to prayer is to point us to the resurrection power of Christ and is therefore to be redemptive. So however the instructions of this passage are put into practice, if that that practice does harm or becomes a way to spiritually abuse or control then it is not redemptive and is therefore wrong.
So my aim in this post is to highlight the communal aspect of prayer. We need to hear that because in many cultures we have been conditioned towards individualism, so that faith is about God and I rather than God and us. The saving power of the resurrected Christ that our prayers turn our vision towards is found in community with God and our fellow believers.