The Sufficiency of Prayer-James 5_13-20
The Sufficiency of Prayer
E.M. Bounds was a deep man of prayer. Not only did he pray diligently but he implored fellow Christians to do the same in his writing.
Prayer honors God, acknowledges His being, exalts His power, adores His providence, secures His aid.
Prayer goes by faith into the great orchard of God’s exceeding great and precious promises, and with hand and heart picks the ripest and richest fruit.
God’s greatest movements in this world have been conditioned on, continued and fashioned by prayer. God has put Himself in these great movements just as men have prayer. Persistent, prevailing, conspicuous and mastering prayer has always brought God to present. How vast are the possibilities of prayer! How wide its reach! It lays its hand on Almighty God and moves Him to do what He would not do if prayer was not offered. Prayer is a wonderful power placed by Almighty God in the hands of His saints, which may be used to accomplish great purposes and to achieve unusual results. The only limits to prayer are the promises of God and His ability to fulfill those promises
What the Church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer.
· Prayer is one of those Christian activities that we would confess without hesitation is vitally important to our lives.
· But if I were to ask each of you how much time you spend in your lives praying what would be your answer?
· Would you want to answer?
· I don’t know if I would even want to answer myself.
· On one hand prayer is extremely easy.
· There are no set rules of how long or when you do it.
· You can pray almost anywhere because there is no requirement to pray out loud or with you eyes closed and head bowed.
· Prayer can be done with thees and thous or as a simple conversation.
· Prayer can even be silence before God.
· You can pray as a family, as a group of friends, as a church or all alone.
· On the other hand prayer is extremely difficult.
· We are fighting an enemy that does not want us to pray because he knows that prayer is effective.
· We so often cannot find the time.
· Some times we set rules for ourselves as to how prayer should go and fail to live up to those expectations.
· Sometimes we hear of people praying for hours each day and become discouraged that we could never meet that standard.
· Prayer is too be one of the greatest and most intimate times of fellowship with God by which we intercede on the behalf of others and ourselves, acknowledge the majesty of God and simply enjoy his favor.
· James ends his book on the most fitting note.
· He has implored his readers to live a life worth of their calling, to not only to say they know Christ but live consistently for him regardless of the circumstances.
· In 5:13-20 he speaks about prayer and its effectiveness to maintain the Christian life.
We Can Pray in our Weakness (5:13-14)
5:13 Is anyone among you mistreated? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praises. 5:14 Is anyone among you weak? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
· If a person unfamiliar with the church were to observe the prayers of Jesus’ followers what would they conclude?
· They would observe that Christians pray before a meal in order to some how bless the food.
· They would see that we pray when a friend or relative is sick or dying.
· They would notice that we pray for the weather and other physical needs that will help to make our lives easier.
· They may even see us pray for them, seeking God’s power to help an unbeliever discover Christ.
· There may be the occasional time where they may catch us thanking and praising God for his goodness.
· In my observations of Christians praying it seems more times than not prayer times are seeking God for needs.
· Is that all bad…absolutely not but it is not balanced.
· Prayer to God is more than praying for great aunt Sally and her arthritis or that the weather holds off so that our trip to the zoo will go well.
· Prayer should be praise to God as well as expressing our need.
· It should be about praying for sickness and God’s sustaining grace.
· It should be about praying for the lost and thanking him for saving our souls.
· It is gratefulness for the hope he gives us and asking him to restore our faith in times of trouble.
· It has been common for interpreter of these verses to think of James addressing physical sickness.
· The context though does not support this interpretation.
· The word in Greek that has often been translated ill or sick has in other passages of Scripture been translated weak or weary.
· Given what James is addressing…suffering physically, mentally and spiritually in their faith it is better to translate them as weak or weary.
· James is not addressing a disease or other illness, he is speaking about our spiritual condition in the midst of facing adversity.
· When he calls the church to pray in all circumstances he is telling them that when you are being mistreated you should pray.
· When everything is going well and spiritually you are close to God pray and praise God.
· If you find God to be distant and seemingly non-existent because you have had no relief from your anguish then you should pray.
· James tells his followers that when a person is weak he should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil.
· Again this is not a call for the sick to receive healing although calling the elders to do so would not be out of line Scripturally, but James is concerned for those that feel that God is distant.
· If you are is despair and God does not seem to care, if you feel your spiritual life is ebbing away and it frightens you then call the elders of the church and they will pray when it seems that you cannot.
· When we are weak and cannot seem to appeal to God on our own we need to rely upon those in the church who have been through many of the hard knocks of life.
· They have seen suffering and come to trust God even more.
· They have a wisdom that comes from seeing God faithful and can impart to you their faith so that you can see how great God really is.
· The Elders of the church first and foremost are to be spiritually mature and attuned to God men that want to help you to see yourself clear of your circumstances.
· So when times are tough and your spiritual life is weak, call upon those who are spiritually strong.
· When life is hard turn to Jesus who can make your burden light.
· If you have praise in your heart express it to God and glorify him by expressing his goodness.
Sir George Adam Smith tells how he and his guide were climbing the Weisshorn in the Swiss Alps. It was stormy and they were making their climb on the sheltered side of the peak. When they reached the summit, they were filled with the exhilaration. Sir George forgot about the fierce winds, leaped up and was nearly blown over the edge to the glacier below! The guide grabbed hold of him and exclaimed: “On your knees, sir. You are safe here only on your knees!”
We Can Expect Results from Prayer (5:15-16a)
5:15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is weary and the Lord will raise him up – and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 5:16 So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be restored.
· The thing that is so profound about a simple conversation with God is that it contains the promise that God is listening and he will answer.
· James makes it very clear that the person that is going through troubles and is tempted to falter can expect that God will save them.
· James is still talking about the intercession by the Elders.
· As they come in faith knowing that when they pray for God to strengthen and encourage a person He will deliver and answer their prayers.
· It is interesting that the reference to faith is on the part of the Elders.
· When a person is in spiritual despair it is difficult to see through the circumstances.
· It is extremely difficult at that time to have the faith to believe that God can do anything for them.
· But if they have the strength to call upon others for help it is not their faith that is needed but the faith of those asked to pray.
· When God raises up a person who is in this condition it is a truly remarkable occasion.
· The idea of being raised up is that the person has been previously dead or asleep.
· The idea in Scripture is that when a person is without God they are spiritually dead although they may be physically alive.
· So it is with people who are Christians but have lost their hope in God.
· When someone is spiritually weak they have fallen and are unable to get up.
· They are caught in a pit of quick sand that will not release them
· It is as James describes; they have fallen asleep spiritually and must be awakened.
· So metaphorically speaking, James is saying “ are you feeling spiritually sleepy? Are you having trouble standing up, looking alive, living upright for Jesus?”
· He calls us to seek help by prayer and to rely upon those who may intercede for us.
· James then addresses one cause of Spiritual defeat that requires prayer and intercession.
· He states that there can be times that our unwillingness to be obedient to God-to sin will cause us to become spiritually weak.
· Often it is not the initial problem or suffering that brings us down spiritually but how we respond to God.
· It is the sin reaction that makes a separation between us and Christ.
· James assures us that if we in the midst of our weakness and spiritual despair seek forgiveness for our sins we will be forgiven.
· But he goes even farther in that he commands the church to rely on one another even in their sin.
· They are to be willing to share with one another their sins so that they may be spiritually strengthened.
· John MacArthur writes: Maintaining open, sharing, and praying relationships with other Christians will help keep believers from bottoming out in their spiritual lives. Such relationships help give the spiritual strength that provides victory over sin. And they also provide godly pressure to confess and forsake sins before they become overwhelming to the point of total spiritual defeat.
· When can we expect results in our prayers?
· Results in our prayers come when we bring them to God in faith.
· We can see our prayers answered when we pray for God to forgive us of our sins.
· We can see the prayer of Spiritual victory come when we allow others to pray with us in our trouble.
Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary to Zaire, told the following story. “A mother at our mission station died after giving birth to a premature baby. We tried to improvise an incubator to keep the infant alive, but the only hot water bottle we had was beyond repair. So we asked the children to pray for the baby and for her sister. One of the girls responded, ‘Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the sister so she won’t feel so lonely.’ That afternoon a large package arrived from England. The children watched eagerly as we opened it. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed so earnestly started to dig deeper, exclaiming, ‘If God sent that, I’m sure He also sent a doll!’ And she was right! The heavenly Father knew in advance of that child’s sincere requests, and 5 months earlier He had led a ladies’ group to include both of those specific articles.”
We Can see Power in Intercessory Prayer (5:16b-18)
The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness. 5:17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and there was no rain on the land for three years and six months! 5:18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land sprouted with a harvest.
· James is still referring to a person who has faith that God can and will answer prayers.
· We can pray for the situation we are in and do it with confidence knowing that he will respond.
· If we are unable to have the faith in prayer it is our task to seek the help of those in our church who do have the faith it takes.
· James refers to the person who’s prayers are effective as having righteousness. The word used here has the idea of one being upright or having high standards.
· In other words the prayers of a person that is not caught up in sin will be able to have confidence that their prayers will be effective.
· The person that is struggling through sin and is having trouble in it cannot have this same assurance.
· But when we think that this something only for the super human James reminds us through Elijah that this is for the ordinary person.
· Elijah was no super human, in fact even after defeating the prophets of Baal and seeing God answer his prayer he doubted God’s care and protection.
· He was only human but he was also sensitive to God’s Spirit and wanted to live obediently to God.
· When he prayed for the rain to stop it did not rain. When he prayed that it would begin again it did.
· James is trying to make it perfectly clear to his readers and to us that if our souls are weary we can have restoration.
· Our lives may be parched, dry and cracked.
· We may feel as if we will never grow, see new life or endure.
· With answered prayer comes spiritual rain that will renew the soul and bring a spiritual harvest to our lives like nothing we have experienced.
· There is a tremendous call here in these verses for each of us to pray on behalf of others.
· There will be days where you are too weak physically and spiritually to have the faith needed to pray with confidence.
· There will be days where I will need the prayers of others because I can not go it alone.
· When we face troubles it can drag us down, depress us and leave us parched but others can come along and pray for us and refresh our souls.
An intercessor means one who is in such vital contact with God and with his fellowmen that he is like a live wire closing the gap between the saving power of God and the sinful men who have been cut off from that power.
We are given an Example of Prayer (5:19-20)
5:19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, 5:20 he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
· There can come times in each of our lives, for we are all at risk where we can be so spiritually desperate that everything seems lost.
· There are countless stories of people that have lost hope in God.
· This may very well be your story or the story of someone you know or love.
· James ends his book with the same concern that he began it.
· He desires that the people in the church would live authentic Christian lives even though they face many obstacles and need to overcome hardships.
· His solution is not to stand alone.
· In his context of prayer he gives us a situation where someone has wandered from Christ but is not abandoned.
· This person is not left to wander this life alone.
· We are not told how much time has passed; was it days, weeks, years or decades?
· We are not told because it is not important.
· What is important is that as Christians we do not give up on one another.
· There is never a situation where a person cannot be redeemed.
· If we ever come to the place where we think that there is not hope and that a person cannot be restored it is you and I who have the problem.
· Walking in obedience is not easy for any one of us.
· The call that James places on us is to not only believe the truth but to live the truth.
· If that is ever going to be possible for anyone of us it will require that we stick together.
· It reminds me of the defense mechanism of the northern musk ox. When they are threatened by a predator they gather their young and surround them creating a circle facing their adversary. This way they are able to see what their enemy is doing from all sides. The weaker are on the inside while the stronger are protecting them and also looking out for each other. They lower their heads positioning their horns in such a way as to ward of any attack.
· That is the church. A place of protection and restoration; a place of healing and care.
· When we care for a spiritually weak person in that kind of manner we can know that God being the faithful God he is will restore that person.
· They will see their faith restored.
· They will come from their wandering path
· They will recover their soul from death and will be forgiven.
A few years ago, an angry man rushed through the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam until he reached Rembrandt’s famous painting “Nightwatch.” Then he took out a knife and slashed it repeatedly before he could be stopped. A short time later, a distraught, hostile man slipped into St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome with a hammer and began to smash Michelangelo’s beautiful sculpture The Pieta. Two cherished works of art were severely damaged. But what did officials do? Throw them out and forget about them? Absolutely not! Using the best experts, who worked with the utmost care and precision, they made every effort to restore the treasures.
By His sovereign grace, God can bring good out of our failures, and even out of our sins.
· As a church we need to have the attitude and actions that come from the unwavering belief that although we all may stumble and some of us harder than others that there is no one that is beyond hope.
· Our love must extend beyond anyone’s capacity to fall or run away.
I had for many years had the nagging presence of the Holy Spirit telling me that my prayer life was inconsistent. I had tried journaling for a while and other methods. I was part of an accountability group for a while but that ended with my departure from that town. It was a constant struggle.
When I entered Seminary in the fall of 2004 I was struck with the overwhelming conviction of my disobedience by not dedicating myself to prayer. I resolved and prayed that before I re-entered ministry I should be consistently praying. This was to be a tall order in my mind for consistency had not been a strength up to this point. For the first year and a half of Seminary I found myself praying quite a bit but more in response to trying to learn Hebrew and get my assignments completed. It was not until a friend I had made in Seminary moved to Niverville that things began to change. Three days a week in the morning we met for prayer and we continue to do so to this day. Without a shadow of a doubt it has brought me new life but I could still do better. Besides the three hours a week we spend praying I need to take time alone each day to pray and that is a goal I have.
I also want to see us as a church praying together. It is my hope that in our care groups prayer will be a major part of your time. Also as we establish our Eldership that these individuals will meet together regularly to pray. Hopefully as we dedicate ourselves to prayer corporately we will also dedicate ourselves to prayer individually.
I do not think it is a stretch to say that our church, families, and we as people of God rise and fall spiritually upon our prayer life or lack there of.
· If you struggle with prayer look to the people around you, no doubt there are many who feel the same way.
· Do you believe that prayer is essential?
· Do you understand that you need people to pray for you?
· Do you recognize that there are those in this room who need you to pray for them?
· We have families, friends and a nation lost in this world who need us to pray.
· We have those who are finding God distant who need us to pray.
· When will we recognize that prayer is not a starting point or an ending point it is the whole point.
· May we be a people of God who’s knees bear the calluses from making prayer a priority.