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James on Prayer

I don’t entirely agree with him, but nonetheless we continue our exploration of James’ letter and as always it is worth beginning with an understanding of who the writer was, why and for whom they were writing. James was the brother of Jesus and the leader of the council in Jerusalem and it is thought that he was writing to those Jews who had embraced Christianity but who were dispersed throughout Palestine and as far away as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. They were suffering affronts and persecutions from the orthodox Jewish community and much of his letter is about patience, endurance and faith in the face of trials and oppression.

“Are any of you suffering?”, he asks. And it is true isn’t it that at times when things are going wrong we instinctively then turn to God for help. The accounts of tragedies by survivors frequently include references to their prayers, we pray fervently when someone we love falls ill, we pray for the traffic lights to change when we are running late or for God’s help to find those wretched car keys which must be here somewhere!

In this the conclusion to his letter James is exploring the power of prayer, but where I disagree with him is that sense that comes across of prayer being a reaction:

IF anyone is in trouble they should pray
IF you are sick you should call the elders to pray for you
IF you are happy you should sing songs of praise.

But what about all the times in between? I would prefer to encourage a life informed by prayer always - true spiritual living. I am in this respect more of a Benedictine, wishing wherever possible to devote prayerfully all we do, work, rest and play. This need not be onerous or bookish or time consuming for prayer is a constant conversation. As you leave the house, silently pray for the things you are to do that day, when you enter a place pray briefly for the encounters you will have, the people you will meet, the things you may learn, give thanks for the food we receive, thank God for the beauty you see around you and at the end of the day pray for the rest you need.

In this way our prayer becomes a permanent presence in our lives and not only, as the intercessions used to say, for “special intentions.” Of course the special intentions are still there, we still need to react to the unexpected, but when we are pulled up by the emergence of trouble, illness or tragedy not only will our reflex be to FIRST pray but we may find that we have already prayed without realising it.

Thomas A Kempis states the difficulty well in Book 3 chapter 30 of the Imitations of Christ:

The title is “On asking God’s help and the certainty of his grace.”

“Come to me when all is not well with you. Your slowness in turning to prayer is the greatest obstacle to receiving my heavenly comfort. For when you should earnestly seek me, you first turn to many other comforts and hope to restore yourself by worldly means. It is only when these things have failed that you remember that I am the Saviour of all who put their trust in me and that, apart from me there can be no effective help, no sound counsel, and no lasting remedy.”

But then, A Kempis was a monastic


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