“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.” (James 5:16, ESV)
In the 1700s, a great revival broke out in America. The record of this revival indicates that at its foundation were the prayers of righteous leaders. It is reported that George Whitefield would spend hours and sometimes all night praying over an event. The prayers of righteous people are powerful in the work of the gospel. As a pastor, I have always hoped to be part of a true revival. Oh, I have seen the Lord move in many ways, but nothing like the reports which others have reported. Perhaps the issue is that we are lacking powerful and effective prayer.
James indicated that many people need healing. In the case of revival, they need spiritual healing. For that reason, righteous people need to pray. However, he gives us a vital prerequisite to this type of prayer. It is confession. I have never pastored or attended a church where people followed James’ teaching in this verse. I have never experienced people honestly confessing their sins one to another. However, I have heard of churches that experienced this type of thing from credible witnesses.
One such church was experiencing true revival. At their services people were publicly confessing their sin. People were praying for them to be healed. People were going to others and seeking forgiveness and restoration of relationships. The revival did not stop for days. It just kept going and going.
I also met a pastor who began with a small congregation of about a dozen people. Every Wednesday evening in his prayer meeting they would cover an issue of life from the Bible and then pray. In these times they, under the conviction of the Spirit, confessed their sins to one another and prayed for one another for spiritual healing. People outside the church heard about this and joined the meeting and they too experienced spiritual healing.
The meeting of this group of twelve believers also had an influence beyond their own little village. Some of the people who visited the little congregation’s meeting came from remote towns and villages. After a while they asked the pastor if something like this could be started in their own village. Soon, small churches were popping up throughout the region. What was the common thread for all of this revival? It was prayer, the prayer of righteous believers that included confession of sins to one another.
When titled this devotion as the church’s forgotten discipline, most probably jumped to the thought that I was speaking of prayer. Yet, that is only part of the problem. I believe that most in Christendom have not just forgotten corporate prayer, but also the prerequisite of which James wrote, that is mutual confession of sin. This forgotten discipline has left the church’s prayer life void of effectual power. The major problem as I see it is that this type of activity just cannot or does not happen in the larger context of the church’s main Sunday worship service.
What is the solution? How do we fulfill the command that James presents to the church, to confess sin and pray for one another? It can only happen in the context of a smaller community of believers. I believe that every believer should be part of a smaller group of believers within the local church. It is in these small community groups that people have the time and comfort level to confess their sins one to another and to pray for one another that they may be healed.