Being Joyfully hopeful and faithfully patient amidst affliction goes against my deepest (and selfish!) nature. It is easier for me to turn myself over to anger, frustration, despair, or self-pity. I want to give up, give in, let go, or just walk away. And then the Holy Spirit calls me to pray. What should be a first resort is all too often a last resort for me.
James 5:13 says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.” James is saying that regardless of our current situation, be they happy times or sad, be they difficult or easy, we need to be praying. The paragraph for which this is the lead sentence has been abused by many over the centuries as a pretext for precepts that are not biblical. We do not have space here to debunk those errors. The main theme of verses 13 to 18 is prayer; prayer by individual believers, by elders, and by the congregation. It is attempting to deal with spiritual depression, spiritual weariness, and spiritual weakness. It says that the antidote for all of those is prayer.
The reason this can be an answer is that prayer is one of the channels that God uses to build our relationship with Him. As we get to know the character of God through studying about Him and His ways in scripture, we can more likely pray in accordance with His will. There are many reasons to pray. We can pray in worship to God. We can pray in thanksgiving to God. We can pray in confession to God. And we can pray to God asking for His help in circumstances regarding ourselves or those we know and love. The challenge in that last case, is accepting answers that are not what we want. We appreciate the “yes.” We are less appreciative of the “wait” or the “no.”
Yet, in all of those answers to my prayers, whether I agree with the answer or not, God is building a relationship between Him and me. If I trust that God loves me comprehensively, then I can believe that God is using prayer as a means of building a relationship between Him and me. I can have a different attitude about prayer that is more than just “dumping my garbage on the altar of God and walking away.” I can look for how God is responding. I can attempt to see how God is leading and guiding. In every relationship, there are two ends. Through prayer, I can pick up my end, expecting the response from God.
God values that relationship so much that the blood of His son was not too high a price to pay for that relationship. I need to value that relationship more, and one of the ways that I can do that is through prayer.
Thanks be to God that prayer is always available to me as a first resort!