The Sweet Incense and Saving Power of Prayer

The Sweet Incense and Saving Power of Prayer

Prayer works, and it is a powerful force. That is what we quickly learn as we read this passage in James 5:13-15 (ESV):

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

Throughout my years of being a Christian, prayer has become a lifeline. I love praying, and I love the power it has in aligning my heart, mind, and soul with both God’s heart and the hearts of His people.  It is one of the beauties of the local church.

But unless a person trusts in the character of God enough to fully believe how prayer works, we can easily miss out on what James is telling us in this passage. We must understand that regardless of His answer, God’s responses to us are what He deems best as He works toward the ultimate good of His ultimate plan. But where there might be mystery to us, there is also power when we participate in the type of prayer James lays out for us in the above passage that Pastor Mike Halstead preached about this last Sunday.

We see another profound picture of this from Paul in one of the letters he wrote from prison to his beloved church of believers in Philippi in Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV):

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Chances are that while you might have heard this passage, you might have missed the context. Paul is not only in prison, but he also wants to make it clear that “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” There is no name it and claim it action happening, but an unwavering and unbreakable trust that in one way or another, God’s intercession into our prayers provide a peace no words can ever describe. It is beyond our comprehension—unmatched by anything the world could possibly offer. Our hearts and minds are safe in His hands, and so are our prayers.

However, there is a warning James offers up to us earlier in James 4:2b, 6b-10 (ESV), that is worth our consideration as well, and that is this:

“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  … ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

In other words, with faith in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and the goodness of God, we must repent of our sins, and walk in obedience toward the only One that can truly forgive. This is where the Gospel becomes real in our lives. Jesus Christ becomes the bridge that makes our relationship with a Holy God possible. And our prayers do not have an expiration date—something we see firsthand in action in Revelation 5:6-8 (ESV) with this incredible imagery John sees in his apocalyptic vision:

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

God’s love for us, and His responses to our prayers are as sweet incense. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Dive deeper into this week’s passage from James 5:13-16, and follow up your reading of it with these five QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:

  1. What does God call us to pray for? What is James getting at with some of his examples?
  2. What does it mean to have a saving faith in prayer?
  3. How does our personal faith in God affect our prayer life?
  4. After reading James 5:13-16, how do you expect your prayer life to change, if at all?
  5. Where has God answered some of your prayers?


James 5:19-20: “Reconciled” / Blog post: “Find the One You Can Help Save

James 5:13-16: “A Prayer Offered in Faith” / Blog post: “The Sweet Incense and Saving Power of Prayer

James 5:7-12: “Wait for the Lord” / Blog post: “Patient Challenges to Our Transformation

James 4:13-5:6: “Like A Mist” / Blog post: “Life in the Mist of Today

James 4:1-12: “Big Problems, One Solution” / Blog Post: “A Struggle We Cannot Overcome

James 3:13-18: “Though It Cost All You Have

James 3:1-12: “Taming the Tongue

James 2:14-26: “Faith and Works” / Blog post: “Faith and Belief Are Not the Same

James 2:1-13: “Favoritism” / Blog post: “God’s Favorite Seat at the Table

James 1: “Wisdom for Wholeness”/ Blog post: “Where Faith and Action Collide