Reading daily devotions from Our Daily Bread, I was directed to read James 5. This passage deals with the prayer of a righteous man (person.) My reading this morning caused me to consider the connection between the prayer of a righteous person and its immediate context. The previous comment is about confessing sin to other believers and praying for each other. The prayer here is related to the confession of sin. It makes most sense that the prayer is for forgiveness of the confessing believer.
How interesting that I, along with most of Christendom, have applied this truth about prayer being powerful and effective to the accomplishing of signs and wonders.
Further challenge to my usual read, the reference to powerfully-praying Elijah points to binding and releasing. Elijah prayed and God bound up the regular rainfall. He prayed again and God released the pent-up precipitation. Our Lord Jesus Christ told Peter that, in connection to his confession of the God-revealed truth of Jesus' Divine Messiahship, He was issuing the "Keys to the Kingdom." With them Peter would bind and release things on earth in conjunction with them being bound/released in Heaven.
When we confess to a fellow believer, we see the sign of our forgiveness from our Heavenly Father in the face of our brother/sister.
Their prayer for us in this exposed, shame-filled and doubt-vulnerable moment binds up the power of the hidden sin to dominate our thoughts and behaviors. This praying brother/sister binds up our heart and spirit broken by the guilt of failure and breach of trust. They bind the ability of our Enemy to exploit our weakness into an enslaved cycle of defeat. We now have an ally in our personal struggle with temptation toward this sin.
Simultaneously to the binding power of prayer, this fellow Christ-follower at the time of our confession releases as well. We experience forgiveness as a release. We are set free from the culpability of our wrong--committed or omitted. This prayer releases assurance of reconciliation into our spirit. A fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit empowers us to "go and sin [in this particular way] no more" as our sister/brother releases it in prayer.
One last touchpoint can be seen between the powerful prayer and confession of sin. The person declared powerful and effective in pray is the "righteous." James could have referred to a devout person or a Spirit-filled person or a gifted person or a believing person. His choice of righteous ties directly into the covenant of grace God offers through Jesus Christ. Righteous carries the connotation of "right behaving or rightly relating to the Law." This covenant keeper stands as a foil to the rule breaker. The concern here is not miraculous proof of God, but rightly relating to God.
Elijah stood for God in the covenant of Sinai as he confronted Ahab, Jezebel and the 400 prophets (all who had abandoned YHWH for Baal) there on Mt. Carmel. The drought and the rain were a call to return to the LORD and renew the Covenant He offered. This call culminated in the challenge to follow whichever deity answered prayer by fire. While spectacular and miraculous, the emphasis of the passage is a renewal of covenant relations with the True and Living LORD.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective in dealing with sin. God uses our Christian community to effect forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us all humbly open ourselves to this means of grace so often abandoned by Protestantism.