James's first emphasis is on the diversity of circumstances for prayer. Dibelius regards these sentences as declaratives followed by imperatives: "Someone among you is suffering; let him pray" (1976:241, 252). Davids argues well that James intends interrogatives followed by imperatives, as in the NIV. The result Davids describes as "the lively discourse of oral style" (1982:191). It reflects James's desire to engage his readers personally, because he wants so much for them to put prayer into practice.
With a poetic pattern to his sentence construction, James shows that he intends one point with his three questions: Pray in all circumstances.
A. Question: Kakopathei tis en hymin. Answer: proseuchestho.
B. Question: euthymei tis. Answer: psalleto.
A. Question: asthenei tis en hymin. Answer: proskalesastho . . . kai proseuxasthosan.
James's vocabulary also indicates his intention. With general verbs and indefinite pronouns, he keeps the focus broad and inclusive. Prayer is the encompassing instruction, because it is the right course of action for the full range of life-situations and for any one in these situations.
1. Pray in times of trouble. The kind of trouble is not specified; it is a general verb, kakopatheo. "Is anyone among you suffering?" (NASB). Like James's original readers, we might allow the fact of trouble to suggest that God is uncaring or unknowing or unable to help, and so we would pray less. The biblical instruction is the opposite: pray more. Trouble is the very time to pray.
2. Pray in times of happiness. No single cause for happiness is specified; it is a general verb, euthymeo. "Is anyone cheerful" (NASB) or encouraged? Like James's original readers, we might allow times of happiness to make us complacent, and so we would pray less. The biblical instruction is again the opposite: pray more. Happiness is the very time to sing songs of praise.
3. Pray in times of sickness. No particular disease is identified; it is a general verb, astheneo, meaning to be weak or sick. Like James's original readers, we easily feel defeated in times of sickness. Weakness makes us feel hopeless, as if there were nothing to do. The biblical outlook is the opposite: there is something very significant to do, namely, to pray. Weakness is the very time for prayer. O. Hallesby, the great teacher on prayer, wrote, "Your helplessness is your best prayer."
In other words, pray in all kinds of circumstances. "The habit of prayer should be, and indeed is, one of the most obvious features which differentiates a Christian from other people" (Tasker 1983:126).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.