If you knew James way back then you might have known him by the nickname he had, “Camel Knees” because he spent so long on them … praying – his knees were calloused.
When I spent some time in India years ago my host woke me really early to get to a prayer meeting. I yawned on the way as we drove and felt quite virtuous until he told me they had an earlier one but nobody could wake me. We walked across a train track with sharp stones that dug into my feet through my shoes but Paulose walked across in bare feet. His feet were tougher, and when I went into the little room where they were praying already I saw everyone’s knees were tougher than mine too.
When I went to the end of the street to kneel down in memory of George Floyd – 8 minutes and 46 seconds not only made me think and pray for justice, it made me realise how little time I spend on my knees!
We have seen that James writes for us a series of tests, to see whether our faith is real or deluded. Tests like temptation, not being prejudiced, controlling our tongues, tests of how we spend our time and money. The patience test. This is James’ final test = The Prayer Test.
When Do We Pray?
James starts by saying pray when you’re suffering, afflicted, sad, and in trouble. Or when you’re happy (which covers a lot of life really—the word in the original language means cheerful, feeling great), pray then! Sing a psalm, praise God. The word here could be translated “twang a chord.” When you’re up. You can pray.
Sometimes we pray a lot more when we are in trouble than when everything’s going well. I may struggle with prayers I think are unanswered, but forget about the countless blessings and prayers he did answer, while I just get on with enjoying them.
Some people say “I never saw a miracle,” but how many prayers have been answered in your life? You don’t know.
You don’t know because it doesn’t always have to be spectacular to be supernatural. You don’t know, because it doesn’t always have to be instant to be a miracle. You don’t know because some of the answers are still on the way. And you don’t know because you didn’t pray every prayer that’s been answered in your life.
I remember a time everything was going so well in my life; my family, ministry, finances. One day I was thanking God and said, “Why are you blessing me so much right now?”
Suddenly I had a kind of flashback to a conference I was at, where after hearing a speaker I’d gone up to the front and said “Yes please” to God, to respond to whatever it was the preacher had said God wanted. That’s a very good thing to do by the way; remember James said don’t just hear the word, do something.
Then I remembered some guy hovering around behind me on the prayer team. I didn’t know him, total stranger. He didn’t say anything to me, he just put a hand on my shoulder but God said, “I am answering his prayer.”
Maybe you didn’t even know that you’re on their prayer list, perhaps someone in your family, but then “it just so happened” you got that job, you got better, or the ultimate blessing—you came to know the Lord Jesus?
(Read Luke 17:11-19)
Whenever I read that story, I picture Jesus’ face, and I see sadness. Disappointment. Because so often when I’m stuck and desperate I cry to God. Then something happens. And I am happy again, but I don’t go back. I don’t draw a line from the answer to the One who heard me and helped me. I just keep walking because I’m more like the nine than the one. I don’t come back and say thank you.
James says pray when you’re sad. Sing praise and pray when you’re happy.
And pray when you’re sick, or you know anyone who needs healing. Pray. Get other believers to pray too. Leaders in the church, get them involved to pray with you. Pray “over” the sick person it says, and anoint with olive oil as a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power with you.
He says the prayer of faith shall save the person. Sozei means “will bring wholeness”—future tense . “The Lord shall raise him up,” future tense again.
Sad, happy, or sick? Pray. Down, up, or knocked sideways? Pray.
Is your life situation included in that? In fact, and this is really important, the tense James uses means we should read it, “Keep on praying.” Spend more time on your knees.
Anything you’re sad or sorrowful about? Keep on praying. Everything going great? Keep on praying, put the worship on. Feeling sick? Know anyone who is? Keep on praying!
Spend more time on your knees. When the going gets tough, toughen up your knees! Keep on praying!
Do you know anyone who’s turned away from God, James talks about here too, pray they’ll come back! Don’t give up on them. Keep on praying. Is it you? Have you “wandered from the truth”? Got stuck in a pattern of sin? Come to Jesus today. Confess it to God, he knows anyway. Jesus’ love, his blood shed on the cross to pay the price “covers a multitude of sins.” Don’t keep on sinning. He says they can be forgiven. So keep on praying!
James is saying here, whatever’s going on, keep prayer ongoing. All the time, about anything and everything. Nothing’s out of bounds, or out of office hours for heaven. Our job is to pray, and God’s job is to answer. He loves to answer! He has promised so many times in the Bible that if we pray, he will answer.
Do We Believe in the Power of Prayer?
James wrote in Chapter 1 when you pray don’t be double minded. Have confidence, expect a miracle! Now he says why: Because the prayer of a righteous person is “powerful and effective.” Literally that reads, “Righteous prayer works powerfully.”
Do you think your prayers are powerful? Do we believe that?
I know some of us, when we read this, the voice inside says, if we are honest: “No. Because I have been praying for that person who wandered away from the truth to come back for so long, and there’s no sign they are coming back like James says.”
Others want to believe that your prayer works powerfully, you want to believe it or you wouldn’t still be listening, yet at the same time doubt is biting at your ankles. You’re thinking, But I prayed in faith. I even got the elders round, they got the oil out and prayed. But she just got worse. He died, she died.
That’s sometimes been our experience in the last couple of years. Over the years, I have seen some miraculous “Yeses” from God in answer to prayer. Everyone loves a Yes. But if you have that heavy heart when you heard those words from James that seem so certain, I know exactly what you mean. Because I’ve been at so many of the bedsides of the people we prayed for. It’s been me doing the anointing, and the burying.
We were all praying so hard we ran out of prayers, cried so hard we ran out of tears, and anointed so much we ran out of oil. James says, “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.” So, did I not pray in faith? Was that the problem? Or if it’s true that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” were our prayers weak and ineffective, because we weren’t righteous? Maybe we need some new elders or fresh oil because these ones aren’t working? Did we fail the prayer test?
Well again, we can see here that the promises were in the future tense, and there’s comfort there for me because I do believe that now the Lord has made those people well, better than they ever were: because I believe he has raised them up by his power and they are in his presence surrounded by his love and glory.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop praying for miracles. I’m not putting the oil away. I’m not putting all the healing off until heaven, because Jesus himself said we should pray “Let your kingdom come—and your will be done on earth—as it is in heaven.”
So if you ever hear I am really sick, pray that I get better right away! Get the oil out! Okay? I’ll do the same for you!
Do We Persevere in Prayer?
But what if the prayer test is not whether or not I get the answer I wanted. What if the prayer test, is to keep on praying anyway? Whether I’m sad or not, will I keep on praying? Whether I am happy or not, will I keep on praying? When someone else is sick, will I keep on praying?
So my knees get hard, but my heart stays soft. Rather than letting the opposite happen, where my heart gets hard toward God, so I get up off my knees and walk away. Because all the way through James, a word has come up so many times, through every test, trial, and temptation. The word, “persevere.”
There are so many books on prayer. Powerful Prayer!,Prayer That God Answers!,How To Pray, Ten Secrets of Effective Prayer!, Prayer that Changes the World!, and Praying Longer, Bigger, Stronger, Mightier! I’ve read so many of them.
I even wrote one a few years back but I didn’t think it was good enough, mainly because my prayer life never seems good enough. Maybe I should finish it and call it, How To Not Pray Very Well.
But what if the prayer test is not “Power”—but it’s “Persevere.” I could write a short book on that. If I didn’t give up—How to Keep On Not Praying Very Well. A best-selling title for sure! A book about not giving up on prayer, just yet. Not giving up on God.
I bet some of you could contribute a story or a chapter too. A book about spending another minute or so on my knees. Pray one more prayer. Not telling God what to do, but saying, “Lord I don’t know what to do. But my heart hurts. And now my knees are sore too. But I’m going to keep on praying.”
What if the prayer test is just “praying.” C. S. Lewis, in Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, wrote about whether or not we should just give up on “asking” prayer. Should we stick with just “adoration” as some were saying. He disagreed, saying the clearest asking or “petitionary” prayer in the Bible is that which the Lord Jesus himself uttered as he sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemene.
When he asked that he would not have to drink the dregs of the cup of wrath against our sins, as he died for us on the cross: “He asked, but did not get what he asked for,” Lewis says. But “He asked with a reservation—‘nevertheless, not my will but thine.’ This makes an enormous difference.”
All the way through James, we have heard echoes of his older brother’s teaching, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. And what does Jesus tell us about prayer?
Ask! Seek! Knock! Again, the tense means it’s not a one off—“Keep on asking, seeking, knocking and the door will be opened.”
Ask. And keep asking. Ask until there’s an answer. And “No” is an answer, too. And “Wait” is an answer. Ask believing God can do it and he cares. Ask specifically. Ask again.
George Mueller who founded orphanages in Bristol and became famous for a life of miraculous provision for them said, “The great fault of the children of God is, they do not continue in prayer; they do not go on praying; they do not persevere.”
The test of prayer, is to keep on praying. Don’t give up, kneel down. Sad, happy, or sick. Keep on praying.
Sometimes I don’t know how to pray. Sometimes I don’t know WHAT to pray. Anyone else?
But I find to write out some prayers helps me focus. I put the worship on and start to praise God for who he is, before getting into it for what I want out of it. Some things start to happen, when you keep on praying.
Have a list of people and situations you’re going to keep on praying for. Make a note of them. Put everyone on your family on the list. I pray for my grandkids because their world is shaping up to be challenging in ways I never had to face, and they need the Lord so much. If you need to forgive someone before you can pray for them, confess that to God. Don’t put their name on the list if they might find the list. Who else should we keep on praying for?
James says I can pray for people who are suffering and sad, people who are happy and glad, people who are sick and need a miracle. I can pray for those who have wandered away from God—lost and alone in this world, people who need his grace and love to come and turn them around and bring them home to the Father. Write those names down.
What job has God given you to do? Keep on praying for that. For the ministry, the ways you’re going to serve him. Keep on praying.
Pray for the church as we keep moving forward. We need wisdom from above! How are we going to meet and gather in the future? What needs to change? What has to stay the same when everything is changing? What needs to stop? What needs to start in the weeks and months ahead?
Keep on praying for me. Please. For the staff and the elders. Pray for our mission partners around the world and here in the UK.
C.H. Spurgeon said, "We should pray when we are in a praying mood, for it would be sinful to neglect so fair an opportunity. We should pray when we are not in a praying mood because it would be dangerous to remain in so unhealthy a condition.” I love that!
We’ve not even got into what’s going on in the news. So much there! How often do we pray about what is happening in the news compared to how much we worry or complain about it?
Keep on praying for our nation. The Bible says “First of all” we should pray for leaders, not so much so that the economy is fixed, but it says so the good news is not hindered.
Keep on praying! “Take it to the Lord in prayer”—and all the time, keep on listening. “Casting all your cares on him, because he cares for you.” Pray with an open Bible and an open heart. Look for a promise to receive and remind God of. Listen for a prompting or a prophetic direction he wants to remind you of. Keep on praying!
Like Elijah: “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.” The thing James wants us to know about Elijah is this. He was only human, just like us. BUT he prayed and miracles happened.
What was the secret? How did he pray? Well we’ll see the next time that he stood up in his nation, which had gone away from God, and declared that it wouldn’t rain except at his word. That was one kind of prayer, a prophetic declaration of what God will do. He will stop the rain. Then, three and a half years later, he got on his knees and prayed again, and the rain came.
How did Elijah pray? This gets translated that he prayed “earnestly” or “fervently” in most of our translations. But do you know what it actually says? “He prayed with prayer.” It just repeats it. “Elijah prayed, praying.”
Is that it? Really? The big secret. Yep. Elijah was just like you and me. He prayed, praying. He just kept on praying.
When you read how that miraculous rain came at the end of the three years, we see how it happened.
1 Kings 18:43 in the Message Version: “Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bowed deeply in prayer, his face between his knees.” Notice that—tough knees, praying knees. “Then he said to his young servant, ‘On your feet now! Look toward the sea.’ He went, looked, and reported back, ‘I don’t see a thing.’ ‘Keep looking,’ said Elijah, ‘seven times if necessary.’”
He prayed, praying. The servant keeps going, sees nothing. Another lovely day. Not a cloud in the sky. Like every day for over 900 days! Elijah stays on his knees. He doesn’t go and look himself. He prayed, praying. And praying and praying. And praying one more time.
And sure enough, the seventh time he said, “Oh yes, a cloud! But very small, no bigger than someone’s hand, rising out of the sea.” “Quickly then, on your way. Tell Ahab, ‘Saddle up and get down from the mountain before the rain stops you.’”
When you pray for rain, do you take an umbrella? That’s what faith looks like. Things happened fast. The sky grew black with wind-driven clouds, and then a huge cloudburst of rain.
There’s something about that number seven in the Bible. It means perfection, completion for the Hebrew people. Seven days for God to create the world. Then rest, because it’s all done. God finishes what he started.
After God saved Noah and his family then he put a rainbow as a sign in the sky to commemorate it. How many colours in the rainbow?
Joshua had the people march for seven days with seven priests around Jericho before the walls fell down as they blew on seven trumpets. What if they stopped after three or four? They kept on marching.
Elisha told Naaman the leper to wash in the Jordan river how many times? Seven. What if he stopped at number six? I don’t know. But he kept on washing.
Revelation is full of sevens—54 sevens! Because God is going to answer every prayer, when he brings history to completion, soon. Seven Spirits of God, seven churches, seven golden lampstands and Jesus holds seven stars as he walks among them, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls. Every seven means, God finishes what he started.
So keep praying. Pray, praying. Pray again now! That’s how you pass the prayer test.
Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”