James continued writing about prayer in 5:16 - Therefore "confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." The text plainly states that we should confess our sins to each other. Do we do that? We should, though it must be left up to the individual as to whom exactly he chooses to confide in and how often (e.g., one's spouse, a brother or sister in Christ, an elder, a preacher, etc.). We all should have Christian friends with whom we can trust to confess our sins and have them pray for us.
Why do we need to confess our sins to each other? So that we may be healed spiritually (i.e., forgiven) and so that we will be better equipped to properly pray for each other's weaknesses. Obviously, when we sin against someone we have a duty to repent and confess that sin to them (and to God - I John 1:7-9). If we fail to do such, we cannot be forgiven. However, the type of confession called for in James 5:16 seems to go beyond this duty.
Some might rightly wonder: if all Christians are to confess sins to "one another", would it be wrong to encourage people to confess their sins publicly in the church assembly? It certainly would not be wrong although in some cases it may not be wise.
For example, pretend that I sin against a brother in Christ by stealing from him. He later finds out and comes to me seeking my repentance and his property. If I penitently confess my sin to him and the Lord, restoring what was rightfully his, then we can and should pray for each other. In this particular case, confessing my sin before the church isn't going to be productive of any good--thus, why bring it up? The matter has been resolved among the three parties involved (he, myself, and God). But, if he comes to me and I refuse to repent, then according to Matthew 18:15-18, he should involve other Christians in his efforts to seek my repentance. When other Christians or even the entire church learns about my thievery, a public confession on my part is surely in order (if I am to be restored). It is reasonable to suggest that our sins should be confessed publicly to the extent that they are known publicly by others. If the church knows that I've been stealing, then they also need to learn when I repent of such so they can once again warmly embrace me as a brother.
The end of 5:16 declares - "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." - Do we believe that? Do we believe that the effect of a righteous man's prayer is great? We might believe it intellectually, but if we aren't putting it into practice then we don't really believe it! To pray fervently is to petition God repeatedly, to plead before Him, to beg! Do we do that in our prayers? We need to! As Luke 18:1 teaches, we "always ought to pray and not lose heart."
James continued in 5:17,18 - "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit." James completes this passage on prayer by citing an example of the power of prayer--Elijah. His purpose in mentioning Elijah might be because some might have thought that Elijah was able to accomplish so much through his prayers because he was some mysterious, heavenly figure; they thought he was more than just a man and that his prayers had extra power consequently. James corrects their thinking and tells them that Elijah was an ordinary person. That should encourage us! If Elijah's prayers that he offered earnestly to God were answered, then ours will be too! Elijah had the same human frailties that we all have, but God heard him when he prayed. Thus, we can be assured that God will hear us also if we are righteous and if we pray fervently, according to His will, and without doubting.
Before we close, let us sum up the verses on the subject of prayer from James 5. Christians should find comfort for their trials through prayer. In the first century, the physically sick were to avail themselves to prayer and the miraculous power of healing found in the hands of the elders of the church. Christians are to confess their faults to one another and pray for each other. The fervent prayers of a person who keeps God's commandments are powerful.