Question: What is meant by “the prayer of faith” in James 5:15?
James 5:15 reads, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
Does the “prayer of faith” mean that if you believe hard enough in what you want God will give it to you? Sadly, that turns God into Santa Clause and every prayer request into Christmas morning. Prayer offered in faith, on the other hand, is our response to what God has already revealed. Faith is “substance” and “evidence” (Heb. 11:1), not blind hope.
For example, Jesus taught his disciples that they could toss a mountain into the ocean if they believed with certainty it would happen:
Mark 11:23 Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.
Was Jesus worried his disciples would start tossing mountains around like volleyballs simply because they believed they could? No! Biblical faith is based in knowing God and, through that intimate relationship with God, knowing what He wants to do—not what you want God to do for you.
Remember how Jesus prayed at the tomb after Lazarus had already been dead for four days?
John 11:41-43 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Jesus did not make a practice of throwing mountains around, nor did He make a practice of raising everybody who died. Lazarus was raised, according to God’s plan, for a very specific purpose. Jesus already knew what God was going to do in raising Lazarus form the dead; but he prayed aloud so that those standing around would see Jesus’ intimate connection to God the Father. This is the “prayer of faith”: knowing God’s will before you pray, so that you can ask in confidence (1Jn 3:21-22).
When the elders of the church pray over the sick in obedience to God’s Word, God will often bring healing to both the body and the soul (Ja. 5:13-15). But during such times the Lord may also clearly reveal His intention to heal to one or more present. The person receiving that word from the Lord is to pray aloud, confident in God to do what He has promised. Then “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven” (Ja. 5:15).