When you are hungry: eat.
When you are thirsty: drink.
When you are cold: put a sweater on.
When you are happy: “sing songs of praise” (v.13)
When you are in trouble: pray.
That is the sense of what James is saying in his letter as he tries to reinstall the blindingly obvious to a people prone to forget it.
How much trouble do you have to be in before it occurs to you to pray? Daily stresses and strains, illnesses, a threat to your family? Or is it more that you tend to exhaust every other avenue before coming to prayer? It feels like an admission of defeat sometimes, as if we ought to have been able to fix things ourselves but now that we can’t we are going to play our trump card: Almighty God. Perhaps we have been worried about our health and tried pushing the doctors for a diagnosis before they were ready to give one. Asked for the worst case to see how it felt. Asked for opinions from people who knew even less about the situation than we did. Plotted your own recovery.
Many times recapping situations in my own life I have gone over an issue I am working through, checking to see whether there is anything else I could have done…and then it has dawned on me. I had not yet prayed about it.
For many the notion of prayer being the first port of call in trouble is far from natural. Our attempts to solve the situation, manage our emotions and expectations and relate to others comes on the basis of a self-reliant crisis management. We may become less likely to pray than at other times as we allow ourselves to be fixated on the “trouble” itself.
That is not to say that we do not try to work through any trouble – what James is addressing is our attitude going in. Where are we looking for strength, guidance, hope and courage? In coping with and potentially emerging from the trouble, where are our priorities?
James is not giving us a theological hoop to jump through or adding an obligation to be thought of at times when we are least able to think clearly. No he is pointing out to us what should be the natural, obvious and the first thing we do – even without thinking about it – in times of trouble.
Logically we should go to God as sovereign ruler of all creation, master of history.
Emotionally we should go to God as the one source of true comfort.
Most of all, we should go to Him first.