James 5:16 | NIV(1984) | Other Versions | Context
Many years ago I did a wallpaper design for one of the walls in my church building, the ‘prayer wall’. I was the one who made the design, but technically I was just following orders of the staff in charge of the project. ‘Put this verse in’. ‘Use this image’. So in the end, there was the second part of this verse in it indeed; and today mixed emotions came to me as I stared at this wall while waiting. I was very young and inexperienced as a designer back then – it was about 4 or 5 years ago, plus I was probably half-hearted about it, so it was only when I happened to be staring at it today that it really struck me that the verse that I placed on the wall was James 5:16. I’ve walked by this wall thousands of times over the years, but I’ve never paid much attention to it – most designers don’t really like to look at their past works especially from when they were still young, inexperienced and unskilled. As I was reflecting I thought to myself – I probably didn’t understand what was a righteous man back then – well, at that point in time, I probably didn’t even know what prayer really meant. In this study, we will examine these things and more, as part of my reflection from an old design of mine.
Therefore confess your sins to each other – Christianity is rather unique from many other faiths in that, there is this body of Christ, this fellowship of Christ, in which we as brothers and sisters in Christ are connected in the sense where we can easily lift people up or stumble people with our words or actions – we are held spiritually accountable to each other. This could mean sins committed against each other; or even personal sins that nobody else knows about – confess them to each other so that we can be lifted up and aided in our repentance and reconciliation with God.
and pray for each other so that you may be healed – The preceding verses suggest that this verse continues on the same topic and is referring to those who are sick. Hence, confess your sins to each other if you are sick, and pray for each other so you may be healed. After all, the word therefore in this verse makes it necessary that we look at the previous verse, and Is any one of you sick? from verse 14 adds on to this idea. In many instances in the Bible, sickness has been used metaphorically to symbolise spiritual illness or weakness – It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick [Mark 2:17]. If you have a physical ailment (or mental, for that matter); don’t keep it to yourself and suffer alone when you can gain support and prayer coverage and strength from your brothers and sisters in Christ around you. If you are spiritually ill, all the more you shouldn’t keep it to yourself for you’ll simply get more sick. Prayers of interception for one another in the fellowship of Christ is a beautiful thing. I would like to believe that it is a powerful act as well.
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective – What is a righteous man? We often get confused between a righteous man and a good man. Paul differentiates it for us in Romans 5:7 – Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. In other words, a good man is being right with humanity. A righteous man is being right with God. A righteous man is at times good, but not always, because what God values and what humanity values differ. Humanity wouldn’t care so much for a righteous man, but for a good man, they do. Either way, we are told that there is no one who does good good [Romans 3:12] and no one righteous [Romans 3:10]. But are there not righteous men named in the Bible? Yes, there are – Job [Job 1:8]; David [Psalm 18:24]; Noah [Gen 6:9]; Abraham [Gen 15:6] etc. If there are no righteous man, why were they called righteous in the Bible? Romans 10:6-10 tells us that we are made righteous by grace through faith. If you would have faith, by grace you are justified, and are deemed righteous. In that case, according to this verse, your prayer will be powerful and effective. In other words, if you have faith in God and if you have faith in God for whom all things is possible, when you pray, things will happen. Perhaps not how you expect, or perhaps not to your knowledge, but things will happen. It is scary to pray as a matter of routine, without any belief in the things that could possibly happen due to your prayer. If you do not believe in the power of prayers, why do you pray?
In hard times, I pray that you would cling onto prayer. Be faithful in prayer [Romans 12:12|Article] in good times and in bad times. Sometimes it is easy to doubt the effectiveness of our prayers, especially when years have slipped by and nothing has happened. Let us remember that God listens to our prayers, without being our slaves. He is not a slave who does everything we wants for us; but he is our master, who listens patiently to our pleas and requests and finds the ultimate need behind our confused prayers and quietly goes and fulfill our ultimate need while we’re still unaware. Even if you do not live to see it, even if nothing happens according to what you expect, I’m sure God will in his own way comfort you. Cling on to prayer. Never stop praying. Never stop praying for yourselves. Never stop interceding for others.
It is a quiet regret on my part that I made that wallpaper at a time when I’m neither matured enough spiritually nor skilled enough technically to create a wall that will really make others want to pray when they see it. Well, I do believe in design as a medium and tool that is like a bridge to connect people to the word of God. I strongly believe in that. But even so, just like how the wall struck me today, I’m sure in the past 5 years, the Holy Spirit may have used it to bless one or two other people. Even if no-one else has been impacted by it, I have.
And that makes the design worthwhile already.