The Living…Stretching…Word of God
“Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16
One of the things that intrigues me about the word of God is the way in which it truly is the living word of God. Not only does it tell us about this earthly life and prepare us for our eternal life, but it literally grows with us throughout our life. Though the word of God never changes, we, thankfully, do. And as we change…as we grow…our needs change as well. And, just as physical growth creates a need for larger sizes, likewise spiritual growth creates a need for greater understanding. I experience this growth every time God alters my well-worn wardrobe. When a familiar verse suddenly feels different, I know He’s done it again. Recently, He moved a button a little further out with James 5:16. (Please tell me you know what I’m talking about. Please tell me you’ve moved a button over so that those favorite pants are still your favorite pants…even though now your shirts will be “outies” and not “innies”!)
For several years, James 5:16 has been a part of my “memorization collection”. True, it was placed there because, on a Bible verse shopping spree I picked it up without much thought…or without thinking about what I would wear it with…but there it was nonetheless, safely categorized and stored alongside my other “purchases”. To be honest, I focused on the words in the second sentence, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” As a result, I only looked at the end without realizing one had to pass through the beginning of the verse to arrive at the “effective prayer” part! Oh the shame! No wonder I didn’t wear this verse well…I had no idea I was putting it on backwards!
Through the alteration process, God led me to look at each word in this verse and to pay close attention to the order in which they came. In doing this, here is how this verse grew before my very eyes…and dug into my flesh:
- Confess – first up, I must be honest with others about who I am, both “in me” as well as “in Christ”. If my goal is effective praying and living righteously, then I need to pull a Maria and “start at the very beginning…it’s a very fine place to start” (Reference to The Sound of Music…best movie ever!) If I am going to ask others to pray for me, then don’t they need to know who I am…not just on the outside but on the inside, too?
- your – next, I need to make sure that what I am confessing is about me…not about others. Too often confessions are made on behalf of someone else. It’s so much easier to identify someone else’s weakness and then say it’s a “prayer request”. This pleases Satan; it angers God. I must stay focused and look in my own mirror, that I may see the reflection of humility.
- trespasses – third, I am to confess my trespasses. It’s important to note that James didn’t say “confess your sins” or even “confess your iniquities”; he said “confess your trespasses”. Here’s why that matters: each word has its own meaning in Hebrew. Trespasses are the minor offenses, they are the breaking of man’s law; they may be purposeful or accidental. Sins are more serious as they represent immoral acts against divine law; and, while they too may be done unknowingly, sins are rebellious acts against God. Iniquities, well, they’re the most volatile; they are those premeditated and continuing acts of disobedience against God; these are the sins that are done with full knowledge and little or no concern for the One upon whom they are flung. In telling us to confess our trespasses, James is reminding us that we all have things to lay down at the feet of Jesus, our Intercessor, no matter how small we think they are. May we never come to a place where we kneel down to pray and fail to see the need to “confess our trespasses”. (Read Ps. 32 to see how David used all three of these terms.)
- to one another – fourth up is the understanding that we are called to confess to other believers, not to the town square! Remember, confession is to be done so that others know how to pray for you (and vice versa), so why would we share our deepest needs with those who aren’t there to lift us up in prayer?
- and pray for one another – this is where the words thus far converge, like water through a funnel. The confession of our struggles and needs is to be channeled to fellow believers so that they know how to pray. That’s it. Confession to man doesn’t bring forgiveness, restore righteousness, or impart salvation. Only God can do that. But it does make for a mighty strong prayer warrior! It does sharpen the tip of the arrows that will be sent out against Satan and his band of unmerry demons!
- that you may be healed. – this is the collection jar that everything so far pours into; the confession of who we are to those who are there for us so that we may say “it is well with my soul”. Covering things up keeps the light out and where darkness pervades, so too does distress, disease, and even death. This escalates the value and importance of true confession and prayer: it’s a matter of life and death. Band-aide prayers? We need to rip them off. It’s time for tourniquet prayers! And, if we don’t know the source of the bleeding, how will we know how to pray? Confess, confess, confess; it’s our spiritual MRI.
- The effective – the definition for effective is “fulfilling a specified function”. An effective surgeon cuts in the right place, removes the right part, and connects the right pieces. Likewise, a prayer warrior prays for the revealed need, intercedes for the recognized hurt, and implores for the renewed hope of a fellow believer.
- fervent prayer- this implies an urgency, a passionate plea. Without an understanding of the one for whom we are praying, how can there be any fervency? Again, we must go mouth to heart (confession) before we can go heart to mouth (prayer).
- of a righteous man – in order for our prayer to be effective and fervent, the one who is interceding must be righteous. Oh, no! We would all be unqualified if it weren’t for God’s reminder of redemption in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Whew! Game on…right after we confess! (This reminds me of the saying, “Don’t point a finger at someone else because when you do, three are pointing back at you!”)
- avails much. – and ten; ten steps to a verse that I formerly thought had only two steps: 1. pray for others, 2. prayer is effective. It concludes with two deafening sounds like the falling of a gavel. Strike one: avails. Strike two: much. When everything leading up to these two words is done, the arising prayer will be profitable…and not just a little, but a whole heaping lot.
To be honest, this new knowledge makes me a little uncomfortable. Growth does that. Children have growing pains, pregnant mothers experience itchy bellies, and chocolate-lovers know the pinch of an unrelenting pants’ fastener (so I’ve been told). Growth always leads to the need for expansion and that leads to new construction which results in zoning issues…comfort zone issues, that is. Having a deeper understanding of God’s word means that any time I don’t stand upon it, I stand against it. But if God said it, it must be for my good…and His glory. So I ask myself, what would it look like to live out James 5:16? What if those around me really knew me and knew how to pray for me? What if I knew the hurts and longings of others so that I could pray effectively and fervently for them? What if prayers became sharp arrows in the hand of God’s archers? What if the church, as a body of believers, really laid hold of this arsenal of truth and lambasted the principalities that threaten to keep us in the dark? What if, indeed! When I think of it this way, my comfort zone widens, my uneasiness fades, and my resolve crumbles. So much for thinking James 5:16 could only be worn two ways! As it turns out, it goes with everything in my spiritual closet…regardless of the season I am in. Now that’s a valuable piece of clothing!