And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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 5:15-16)
People in the church are not alone. Members of Christ's body should be able to count on others for support and prayer, especially when they are sick or suffering. The elders should be on call to respond to the illness of any member (James 5:14), and the church should stay alert to pray for the needs of all its members.
"The prayer offered in faith" does not refer to the faith of the sick person, but to the faith of the people praying. God heals, faith doesn't, and all prayers are subject to God's will. But our prayers are part of God's healing process. That is why God often waits for our prayers of faith before intervening to heal a person.
Whether a believer is healed through medicine or through miraculous means, all healing is ultimately from the Lord. That is why prayers should be consistently offered for the sick (See James 4:3 for an improper attitude towards prayer). The New Testament teaches that sickness may be the consequence of sin (Matthew 9:2), but not invariably (John 9:1–3). Yet when sin is involved, confession is a prerequisite to healing (James 5:16).
Christ has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness. But confessing our sins to each other still has an important place in the life of the church. (1) If we have sinned against an individual, we must ask them to forgive us. (2) If our sin has affected the church, we must confess it publicly. (3) If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess that sin to those who are able to provide that support. (4) If, after confessing a private sin to God, we still don't feel His forgiveness, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer and hear them assure us of God's pardon. In Christ's kingdom, every believer is a priest to other believers (1 Peter 2:9).
The confession in James 5:16 is not necessarily between the sick person and the elders, though this is not ruled out altogether. Instead, this exhortation is intended for the sick person and any person with whom the sick one needs to be reconciled. What does James mean when he states "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." This can mean either that (1) prayer is effective when it is used or (2) fervent prayer accomplishes great results. The illustration of Elijah may favor the latter meaning, for he prayed earnestly (James 5:17-18).
The Christian's most powerful resources is communion with God through prayer. The results are often greater than we thought were possible. Some people see prayer as a last resort to be tried when all else fails. This approach is backward. Prayer should come first. Because God's power is infinitely greater than ours, it only makes sense to rely on it - especially because God encourages us to do so.
Our loving God wants His children to always feel comfortable in coming to Him in prayer. Let us always remember that God knows everything about us and that He wants us to reach out to Him when we are hurting and troubled. God also wants us to reach out to Him in a prayer of praise when we are rejoicing and celebrating. Is God an important part of your life? If not... reach out to Him today in prayer.
References: NKJV Holy Bible, Life Application Bible (NIV), and the Nelson Study Bible.