Many, if not most Christians faithfully use this passage to uphold The Power of Prayer, but it's not quite as simple as that! How many people reading this have fervently, even feverishly prayed for a brother, sister, father, or mother to be healed of their particular affliction & the afflicted one just got worse or somehow passed away? This could engender questions ranging from 'why God' to thinking that there is no God! The one who prayed that prayer in faith may end up anywhere from being angry with their Heavenly Father to believing that everything they had been taught was 'total bullshit, man!'
As with all such passages of Scripture, these words must be read in the context in which they were written! James, the brother of our Lord was writing to his afflicted brethren in the Jerusalem Church as well as those scattered abroad, comforting them to the fact that though the Jews had almost wholly rejected their Messiah & the Day of the Lord was near ( James 5:9 ), it was not too late; if they actively prayed for the conviction & conversion of their fellow Jew, these would be saved from damnation if & when they repented from that sin. This is not to say that these words are not at all applicable in this day & age, but it's not quite as simple as most Christians seem to think; we cannot offer just any prayer to our Heavenly Father & recieve the answer we want!
Jesus told His disciples, 'whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive' ( Matthew 21:22-this was the incident involving the fig tree that withered & the possibility of mountains moving )! You might think, 'well, if we can't believe the word of Jesus, what can we believe?' Good question, but again, one must take into account the immediate context of Jesus' words! Jesus was not telling His disciples that anything was possible if they just believed, as many parents tell their children in this day & age; He was not telling them that if only they had faith, they could move literal physical mountains! He was signifying to them, as His brother did later, that those adversaries they were up against were nothing to be afraid of; against the awesome Power & Majesty of Almighty God, their enemies were like dead fig trees!
As one who is afflicted daily & I know I am not the only one or the worst, I'm pretty familiar with the notion that 'if you just had enough faith, you'd be healed of your affliction'! if we're not careful, we might be tempted to murmur & complain, even to begin to think thoughts such as those above! However, when we recognize & realize the context & meaning of these words, we can see that they were aimed at those first century Christians, those who were enduring the transition between the Old & New Covenants, or Ages!
Many Christians like to wear their ( individual ) faith like a badge, 'on their sleeve', so to speak! This can range anywhere from sporting the Christian 'fish' or Christian bumper stickers on your car to wearing t-shirts with a 'Christian' message on them ( even special Sunday go-to-meeting clothes are suspect ). In most cases, the wearer& bearer of these messages is sincere about their faith, their belief, but most also fail to realize that it is not these signs that prove their faith to others, but what they do with that faith.
The faith that the disciples of Jesus exercised in the first century was enough to metaphorically & really move mountains & wither fig trees! As Lord of Creation, Creator God Himself, caused the fig tree to wither, just as He healed many of similar afflictions & even raised the dead, all seemingly against the laws of nature. He did this, not to show His disciples what they ( individually ) could do 'if they just had enough faith', but to prove to them & others the True Power that He wielded; with a word, as with those He had healed & raised from the dead, He could simply say the word & their adversaries would be destroyed, or removed!
Faith is not simply believing; faith is active, believing that something is & then acting on that belief! It is not enough to simply believe, for James also said 'Even the demons believe-and tremble' ( James 2:19 ); one can claim to believe whatever they want, but if their actions tell us otherwise, we are within our rights to call 'bullshit!' The Badge of Faith is not claiming ( confessing & professing to be a Christian ); the Badge of Faith is being a Christian, following in the footsteps of Jesus & doing what He did ( John 14:12 ), not by focusing on the correct doctrines so we can go to Heaven when we die, but by doing what is right, by giving what help we can, wherever & whatever!
The Prayer of Faith is not some magical mantra that is at our disposal;it is not some formula that we may use to solve our every problem or overcome every difficulty ( although it often has that effect )! The apostle John wrote to his brethren, 'Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us'; again, this is not just some magical mantra, if we can only discern the Will of God, we can pray for whatever we want & it will be done for us. It's not quite as simple as, 'whatever happens, it was God's will', but yet again, it's not formula that we can follow to 'git'er done'! When we actively pray according to what we know to be God's will, we will be blessed with, not everything we might want, or lust after, but with everything we need!
Charles Haddon Shank