A World of Prayer


On Wednesday mornings, I have the joy of meeting with three Bethlehem seminarian brothers to discuss making progress in our preaching for the good of the church and the glory of God. While reading a book called A Manual for Preaching: The Journey from Text to Sermon, I was impacted by a question we should add to many as we aim to query the text.

The question is this: What is an author doing with his words? This idea behind the question is elaborated by comparing biblical texts to sermons, suggesting that they are not merely conveying information but also aiming to evoke specific responses or impacts in their audience.

Let’s take James 5:13-18 for an example. Here, we see Jesus’ half-brother crafting, shaping, and using his words to encourage us to do something. What’s James trying to do with his words? How is he encouraging us to act? And in encouraging a specific response, how is he doing it?

James and Bob Ross meet at the intersection of what James is doing with his words. Perhaps you didn’t expect Bob Ross to come into the conversation. For those unfamiliar, Bob Ross was a television oil painting artist I watched as a child. His show, ‘The Joy of Painting,’ transformed blank canvases into stunning landscapes in just 30 minutes per episode over 31 seasons. His ability to paint worlds was captivating!

The connection between the two is this: just as Ross created vivid landscapes with oil paint and brushes, James paints “the world in front of the text” using words. With his verbal brushstrokes, James depicts an ideal world under God’s kingship for people to inhabit. His words illustrate a landscape for us to immerse ourselves in, embracing its values and emulating its way of life. This echoes the sentiment of our chancellor that we must penetrate through biblical words into biblical reality and live there.‌

If you haven’t already, pause, open your Bible, and read James 5:13-18 to see what James is up to. Pay attention to what you hear over and over. Did you see it? James emphasizes eight times that prayer is crucial in the world depicted in the text, the ideal world God wants his people to live in. He does so by highlighting three specific characteristics his people should embody.

In 5:13, James paints the landscape of a praying life, calling us to be a person of prayer in all of life.
Are you in trouble? Are you suffering? Are you experiencing hardship, pain, or distress in difficult circumstances? You should pray to your heavenly Father, who is walking with you every step of the way.

‌Are you cheerful? Are you feeling good today? Are you happy? You should open up your mouth and sing praise to your Heavenly Father, a form of praise.

Do you see what James is doing—how he is painting this world in front of the text? In a proverbial sense, he has gone from Dan to Beersheba in the spectrum of the life of God’s people—from troubles to joys—urging us to be people of prayer in all of life.

In 5:14-16, James paints the landscape of a praying church, calling us to do life with a people of prayer.
Are you sick? Call on the elders to pray. Do you have a sin that needs to be confessed? Do so among that body and pray together. In this world that the text paints, we are not just called to be a person who prays but to be found among a praying church, especially in times of trials and in days of trouble.

In 5:17-18, James paints the landscape of a praying theology that calls us to be people with a robust theology of prayer.
We have much to understand about prayer from the world painted in Scripture. The Bible offers abundant insights to shape a robust theology of prayer. How does James contribute to this theology? By portraying Elijah as an example, James shows that we don’t need to be prayer experts to pray confidently for significant answers. Elijah was an ordinary person, just like us. So, why are the prayers of a righteous person effective? It’s not about the person praying but about the God they’re praying to. In Elijah’s story, we see an ordinary individual experiencing the reality of a God who powerfully answers prayer. Prayer from ordinary people is effective because God is effective.

Brothers and sisters, let us continue to live in the world that James paints with his words. Bring all of your life individually and corporately to the Lord in prayer. Be a praying person. Live among a praying people. Be a person with a robust theology of prayer.

Lewis Guest, IV
Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology


Prayer Requests:

  1. Pray that the Lord would make us people of prayer.
  2. Pray for the students preparing to go on mission trips beginning in May.
  3. Pray for the students and faculty as they begin the final projects and papers leading to finals.
  4. Pray that the remaining Serious Joy Scholarships needed to support this year’s students would be subscribed by June 30.