James, again, asks us a question (this again elicits his inner teacher/coach-like features...he knows the answer but wants us to get there). His question, which opens this passage, is "Are any among you suffering?" As if his audience says, "yes," he responds by saying "they should pray." And the same goes for the cheerful (songs of praise is a form of prayer), and the sick. James answers our hypothetical question "when do we pray?" by essentially saying "all the time." We are to pray when we are suffering, when we are ill in body or in spirit, and when we are happy. That pretty much covers it. No matter what season of life you are in, you should pray. No matter what life has thrown at you, you should pray.
If you're like me, words like this at times feel like an admonition, an authoritative warning of sorts. Taken that way, I tend to feel guilty because I don't do what I should do. I think that is somewhere in my "default settings" as a person. But, friends, we don't need to feel guilty for not praying. God is not missing out by us not praying, although God years for us to draw near (4:7-8). Instead, I think we should feel like we are missing an opportunity to be a part of what God is doing in the world, for prayer prompts us for faithful activity on the "field" of life, the world around us. God hears us in every situation. Whether we are happy, sad, angry, or ill, we can come to God.
That is the good news for us, friends. This good news is made stronger through James' emphasis on the communal aspect of prayer. The same outcomes of prayer that we experience privately can be manifested cooperatively as well. There are elements of accountability and support that we receive, also, when we move prayer to a public space. The prayers of the community help to shape that community and it allows the people to become more nearly the body of Christ. Prayer changes relationships and it changes lives. It reorients them towards God, who wants us to draw close.