26 August 2012
At the conclusion of the message I want to give everyone an opportunity to say something about how they have seen God answer prayer. So keep that in mind over the next few minutes. But first we’re going to spend some time looking at James 5:13-20.
13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. 17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
19 My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, 20 recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.Well, we’ve come to the end of another book in the Bible and next Sunday we’ll be picking up where we left off in Psalm 119 -- at least for a week. But as we wrap things up in the book of James I’d like to hear from you. What is something that you learned from or about James? It doesn’t have to be profound. Or what has God been saying to you through the book of James?
As we’ve already noted the churches to which James was writing were feeling stressed out -- perhaps we might say, powerless and backed into a corner.
And when we’re under stress we sometimes behave badly -- in-fighting, discrimination and favoritism, trash talking, obsession with wealth. And James is trying to bring some divine perspective to the situation.
- He talks a lot about wisdom.
- Controlling your words.
- He draws heavily on Jesus’ sermon on the mount.
- And last week we saw that he makes a big deal out of patient resolve.
Then here in vss. 13-20 he says, Oh and one more thing -- kind of Columbo style -- “If any of you are suffering, they should pray...” (vs 13 CEB)
That is, while you’re patiently waiting for the Lord to do his thing -- while you’re feeling powerless, like you’re a doormat that everyone is wiping their feet on -- you are not as powerless as you think.
Yes, the natural inclination is to think of power in terms of weaponry or getting the upper hand -- outspending your opponents or outsmarting them. But James is suggesting that we not overlook the obvious -- the alternative super power that God gives to his people.
- vs. 13 -- “If any of you are suffering, they should pray.”
- vs. 16 -- “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.”
At the same time there is a renewed interest in super powers -- heroes who tackle big problems through unusual super powers.
Well, in a sense both of those themes converge here in James 5 -- albeit not in a conventional way -- but that is the point. PRAYER IS THE ALTERNATIVE SUPER POWER WHICH GOD GIVES TO HIS PEOPLE SO THEY CAN THRIVE THROUGH THE CHALLENGES LIFE THROWS AT US. (Key Point)
And here in James 5 there are three examples of what prayer can do -- three reasons to go the prayer route over the conventinal “do whatever it takes to beat your opponents”.
The first alternative is found in vss. 14-15 -- HEALING -- both physical and spiritual.
- Can Spider-Man heal someone with cancer?
- Can Superman conquer pneumonia?
- Can Marvel Girl restore sight to the blind? But God can and does all those things -- and we tap into the power to do so through prayer.
If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.“Elders” as used here in this context is probably not a reference to a church office or official position but to the older more experienced people in the church.
Note, too, that he says, “call for the elders.” He doesn’t say anything about calling for someone with the gift of healing -- or someone with a special healing ministry -- even though I’m sure such people existed -- as they do now. He doesn’t say, take the person to the miracle crusade. Rather he says, call the elders.
In regard to the anointing with oil, I see two possibilities here.
Oil was the common solution to anything that ailed you in the ancient world. It was the asprin of the day. And the word translated as “anoint” can just as easily be rendered -- “rub.” And that’s what they’d do if you were sick. They’d rub you with oil.
In that case James would be saying, call the elders, have them apply some medicine, and then pray over the sick person.
But anointing with oil was also the act of consecration -- symbolic of dedicating something or someone to the Lord’s purpose. And given the context, I’m inclined to think that James is talking about anointing in this way.
Sick? Call the people who are mature -- who know how to pray -- and set that person apart for the Lord’s purposes as you pray over them?
vs. 15 --
Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.That is, prayer that comes out of this kind of faithful action -- prayer that deals with sin as well as the illness -- will restore health.
And if their illness grows out of sin -- as sometimes illness does -- not always -- but sometimes... If their illness is rooted in sin they will be forgiven, too. Prayer can lead to physical and spiritual restoration.
The second example of what prayer the super power can do is found in vss. 17-18
Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.That is, prayer can impact the WEATHER -- and by extension reroute all of NATURE.
James goes out of his way to emphasize that the prophet “Elijah was a person just like us.” He wasn’t some kind of super being or divinity or angel or spirit -- but an ordinary man who gets up out of bed every morning, brushes his teeth, takes a shower, and has a cup of coffee. Hey he’s just like you and me.
In 1 Kings 18:42-44 after the great contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel, Elijah prayed for rain to end a drought and a mighty rainstorm came.
Prayer can change the weather, says James.
Now, let me add a note of clarification. I teach a world religions class and in that class we deal with magic -- specifically as it is related to animism. And in some ways what I’m saying here about James 5 could easily be misconstrued as a kind of magic. Magic is something you do in the physical realm to manipulate the powers of the spiritual realm.
You say certain words when you walk into the jungle. You bow in a certain way when you walk through a cemetery. You do a certain dance to bring on rain. That’s magic.
And it might be easy to think that prayer is a matter of learning a certain magic-like formula or set of words -- which you recite -- and in doing do you can manipulate the weather -- or your boss -- or your spouse -- or if you are influential enough the housing market.
But prayer -- as powerful as it is -- isn’t magic. It isn’t so much a matter of manipulating things to get your desired results as it is tuning into what God is doing in a given situation.
Elijah could pray for rain because given the events of the situation he somehow seemed to know that God was ready to send rain.
In praying our goal is to align ourselves with what God is doing -- that’s why it is a potent super power. More about that in a minute.
Then the third example of potency is found in vss. 19-20 -- RESTORATION.
And even though prayer is not mentioned in these two final verses of James, from the context it appears that this is what he is talking about.
My brothers and sisters, vs. 19, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, 20 recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.There is restoration and forgiveness. When you pray for the wanderer -- and subsequently reach out to them -- you are potentially saving their life -- spiritually -- and perhaps even physically. If there are people who have drifted off course -- pray for them -- don’t give up. And certainly, don’t go to battle with them.
In the 70’s and 80’s there were a lot of people who specialized in kidnapping and deprogramming people who had become cult members. That’s physical and psychological coercion to obtain a positive desired result. But James is offering a powerful alternative to these kinds of strategies of the world. Prayer.
PRAYER IS THE ALTERNATIVE SUPER POWER WHICH GOD GIVES TO HIS PEOPLE SO THEY CAN THRIVE THROUGH THE CHALLENGES LIFE THROWS AT US.
And James gives us three examples: healing, nature, and restoration.
Now, I’m also seeing two power enhancements mentioned here. We briefly touched on them but I want to jump back and look at two things which will enhance the effectiveness or potency of prayer.
I’m not saying that God ignores all prayers if these are lacking but that their presence will make your prayers more effective.
The first power enhancement is FAITH, as noted in vs. 15. “Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health.”
Faith is trust. That is, the prayer is an expression of confidence or trust that God is at work in the situation. Regardless of how God heals -- whether it be immediate of way down the line -- when you are praying in faith your prayer is an acknowledgment that God is at work and that you are confident in him.
The blessing isn’t in the end result but the process -- knowing that you are relying on God to deal with the situation.
The second enhancement is RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Look at the end of vs. 16 -- “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.”
Some of your translations might say the “fervent prayer of a righteous man...” or the “earnest prayer of a righteous person.”
Those are both noble attempts to deal with an unusual Greek participle in the sentence. Unfortunately, it creates in some minds the idea that the harder you pray -- the more fervent, passionate you are -- the louder and more energetic -- the more effective your prayer will be. But that’s not really what James is saying.
He is probably saying something like “the righteous person’s prayer in all it’s working as a prayer is very effective.” But that’s very clunky English. So, this is a reason that the CEB, even though it is plain is preferred. “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” Or the NIV is good, too -- “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
The point is that the righteousness of the person praying seems to be a factor.
Now, there is a sense in that we are all righteous in Christ. When we embrace Christ -- and his embrace -- his righteousness becomes our righteousness. What he has done counts toward our account -- so to speak.
But there is another sense in which righteous is used. A righteous person is one who not only believes this stuff but who actually acts on it. That is, a righteous person is someone who engages in right living. He has confessed and turned from his sin.
A righteous person is someone who is used to listening to God -- paying attention to him and his word. So in this sense these are the people you want praying for you because they’re tuned into what God is up to. They will pray for the right things -- and thus experience powerful results.
Practically speaking, the righteous person is good at listening to God and 90% of prayer is listening to hear what God is saying in a particular situation.
And the reason that the righteous person prays so effectively is that through their listening to God -- their sensitivity to his word and what he is doing -- they know what to ask God for. They are spiritually sensitive.
They’re marching in step with God so they can anticipate what God’s next step is.
Now, this does not mean that they are infallible.
Even Elijah, the example that James uses here in vss. 17-18 -- the chief of the prophets -- even Elijah struck out at times.
For example, in 1 Kings 19 -- coming off his great victory against the priests of Baal at Mt Carmel, he runs away from the evil queen Jezebel, flees to the desert, where he plops down under a tree in a deep funk and begs to die -- believing he is the only one left who still serves the Lord.
Sometimes even the righteous miss some of what’s going on -- either around them or of what God is up to.
That’s okay -- no one bats .1000. But when it comes to praying, wouldn’t you want to have someone who is batting .345 rather than someone batting .145.
The righteous person is the one with better standing at the plate and is thus more likely to connect with the pitch. So, the prayer of a righteous person is going to be more effective.
Now, I’m not saying that you should go enlist the services of a righteous person to pray for you -- as helpful as that might be. But wouldn’t it be better if YOU became the righteous person who is praying for yourself and others?
For “The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.”
PRAYER IS THE ALTERNATIVE SUPER POWER WHICH GOD GIVES TO HIS PEOPLE SO THEY CAN THRIVE THROUGH THE CHALLENGES LIFE THROWS AT US.
And the fact is that we’re all feeling challenged. We are all struggling to keep our heads above the water -- and sometimes it feels like there are people out there trying to hold us down below the surface so we can’t breathe.
When that happens the natural reaction is to become combative. But James is offering an alternative super power source. And you don’t even need to be a super hero to tap into. An alternative super power source for ordinary people.
Earlier I mentioned that I want to give you an opportunity to share about how you have seen God at work through prayer. So I want to invite you to do that now. It does not have to be something super spectacular -- it could be -- but it could also be something mundane and ordinary.
Who will go first?
Scripture quoted from the Common English Bible (CEB) ©2011 by Common English Bible