First, James speaks of our need to "confess our sins to one another." For us to do this within the body of Christ, the Church, we need to address issues about confession.
- We need to be confession accepting. What does that mean? It means that we are willing to listen and a trustworthy receptacle for confessions. How do you respond when someone presents you with their struggles?
- Do you take it seriously? Just because it is not your load does not make it a lightweight issue. If we shame one another over sharing struggles and sins, then we are not really strengthening the family of faith through confession.
- That is NOT a call to gloss over sin, though. Sin is sin, and confession of sin together should involve spurring each other to repentance.
- Do you take confession in confidence? Barring what should be obvious--the need to report child abuse and the need to address imminent danger to human life--a confession shared with you should go no further. That includes the gossip-prayer request ring that too often operates in our churches. No, you don't need to tell others "how to pray" for someone else as they struggle with their sins. Keep your curiosity to yourself.
- This should not need repeated, but here: there are, or at least ought to be, two exceptions to your "keep it confident" viewpoint. The first is child abuse of all forms (physical, sexual, verbal). Report that according to your legal jurisdiction's requirements. Your first call is that number. ABSOLUTELY. And never to the accused to investigate it or warn them of it. The second is a little harder to give hard what-to-do, though 911 might be your best option. If there is an imminent threat to the life of another human being, you need to act. That includes reasonable threats of suicide.
- We need to be confession entrusting. That requires us to entrust ourselves to others. You might feel that you cannot confess to those immediately around you because of leadership issues--if there is any validity to that concern, you must find someone else to confess with, and it should run both directions. Do not expect others to trust their vulnerable issues with you if you won't share yours with them.
- As a side note, there are two major areas where we grow in our fellowship with one another:
- Working together. People who labor together for a common cause strengthen their bond. Find good things to do and do them as a church, as a family, as a group.
- Sharing weaknesses together. That also draws us together, as we see that we need each other. Rarely are we drawn together by group bragging, but cooperatively overcoming weakness brings us together.
- From our relationships with each other, we are better able to pray for each other.
- First, because our relationship with each other strengthens our relationship to God by being with his people. We are able to be honest.
- As we focus on the body growing together, we draw nearer to understand the purpose God has called us to.
Now, there's one more thought on prayer I think we need to consider, and it comes from Elijah and his prayer that led to no rain. Consider this: here's a man so concerned for the eternal effects of Israel being in rebellion to God that he prays for no rain. It's an agricultural society, and yet Elijah prays that God be glorified in drought.
The result? 3 and a half years of drought. Crop failures, hunger, struggle. Elijah has to flee. The people hate him. The king wants him dead. James, though, holds forth that the rain fled and returned by the power of God at the request of Elijah.
Elijah chose instead to live with the consequences of his prayers. He accepted the problems that he would face as he prayed for God's will to be done. He recognized that Israel would drift from God if he faltered.
What of us? Do we break off praying when it gets a little harder to be us rather than when God's purposes are accomplished?