MS Week #42: Prayer

Brad Libolt speaking on James 5:13-17. These verses highlight prayer and Brad reminds us of the role prayer plays in our walk with Christ. It is how we communicate with God, how we can be intentional with Him and grow deeper with one another. Prayer is important, powerful, and necessary.

  • I grew up in a really small town. My school was tiny too. It was a K-12 school, so everyone from kindergarten up to seniors in high school were in the same building. I went to school with the same people. As you can imagine, we were really close. We had birthday parties together, played sports together, had classes together, hung out together, we did everything together. Then graduation came. We all graduated high school and were preparing to go our separate ways. Some went to college, some went into the military, some stayed in our home town to work, but we all did something a little different. After I came to Eugene for school, I started losing contact with the people who I had known for 13+ years of my life. These people who I had grown up with, who I had done everything with for thirteen years of my life, started drifting away. Now, I have relationships with two of them, and they aren’t near as close of relationships as they were when we were in school.
  • The reason they aren’t as close, is because we don’t communicate. We don’t talk near as much as we used to, and for most of my classmates, we don’t talk at all. When we were doing everything together, we were communicating constantly. We knew what was going on in each others lives, in each others families, what our joys and pains were, and we knew it all because of communication. We no longer communicate, and therefore no longer have the same kind of relationships we used to have. We’ve drifted apart.
  • This is kind of how our relationship with God can go. If there is a lack of communication, it can feel like we have drifted apart from God. The difference between our relationship with God and my relationship with my friends from school is that God doesn’t go anywhere. When we stop communicating with God, WE are the ones that drift away. We feel distant, our relationship isn’t as deep, and God doesn’t feel as close. That is on us though, God hasn’t gone anywhere.
  • So, all of this to say that communicating with God is extremely important. And how do we communicate with God? I’ve been saying it almost every week, and I’ll said it again, we believe that God is not deaf, that he hears us, and so we pray. Prayer is so important in our relationship with God. All throughout Scripture, we are given examples of prayer, prayers to pray, and commanded to pray in certain situations. We cannot ignore the necessity of prayer in our walk with Christ.
  • This passage is about prayer. We see 4 different examples of prayer in these verses that James highlights. Let’s dive in and see what James has to say about prayer.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

  • The first prayer James talks about, is the prayer of someone who is suffering. Remember a couple weeks ago we talked about suffering, and we said that even if you aren’t going through some type of suffering right now, you will someday, so again this applies to all of us. James’ advice for someone who is suffering is simple, let him pray. So, when you’re suffering is prayer a first priority or a last resort? Do you immediately drop to your knees and go to God with your suffering, or do you try to deal with it on your own first, and only go to God when your own efforts have failed? If you are suffering pray. Go to God first, the only one who can provide comfort, peace, and security in our time of need. So first, James says to pray in suffering.
  • Next, James goes to the other end of the spectrum. Maybe life is going pretty great for you right now. You’re joyful, cheerful, happy, really enjoying life. Do you give God praise for that? Do you accredit your joy to your own doing or do you give God the credit for the day you’re having? I don’t know anyone who does this better than my wife’s grandparents. Every time we see them, they are so happy. It always encourages me to see how thankful they are to God and how much glory they give to him for the good things in their life. We should be people who give God glory and praise when we are cheerful. And this is a type of prayer, right? A type of communication with God, singing him praise and giving him glory for his love and goodness and grace that he pours out on us.
  • Just in this first verse, we see that on both ends of the spectrum, whether we are suffering or cheerful, our response should be to talk to God. We pray when we are suffering, and sing praise when we are cheerful.

14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

  • We learn a few more things about prayer in these next verses. James says if anyone is sick, then call for the elders of the church to pray for them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. Ok so let’s walk through that a bit. First, thing we should notice, is the calling of elders. Now none of us in here is an elder in the church. So the application is not to be like an elder and go pray for sick people, the application is to call for the elder when we are sick. We should not be afraid to ask for prayer, especially from older people in our life. If we are sick, or suffering, or struggling with something, or just need some comfort, ask for prayer. Ask an elder in the church, ask your parents, ask an older sibling, ask a friend, ask your small group leader. Ask for prayer. 
  • The next thing we need to notice is that the prayer and anointing is in the name of the Lord, and the healing and forgiving of sins is done by the Lord.
  • What this verse is NOT saying, is that we should go around praying for people’s sicknesses, and trusting in our faith for them to be healed. What it IS saying, is that yes, we should pray for people who are sick. BUT, it is not our power or the amount of faith that we have that will determine whether or not they will be healed. That is up to God. God is the ultimate healer, the one who is in control of sickness, disease, and pain. If God sees fit, then he can absolutely heal someone through prayer, but it is because of his sovereignty and power, not the faith of the person praying.
  • It’s like asking your parents for something, say you want a puppy. You can beg and plead and be really nice to them and not do anything wrong and do your chores and clean your room and do everything in your power to make your parents get you a puppy, but at the end of the day it is your parents decision. You have no control over that. In the same way, we can pray all we want, and we should, for someone’s sickness to be healed, have as much faith as possible, but at the end of the day, it is God’s decision whether or not someone is healed of their sickness or not. 
  • Now look at that last sentence, about forgiving sins. We know that not all sickness is caused by sin, but we also know that some sicknesses are caused by sin. For example drunkenness is a sin, and drunkenness can lead to serious health concerns. Gluttony, overeating is a sin, and overeating can lead to serious health concerns as well. So James is recognizing that not only does God want to heal people of their physical sickness, but he wants to get at the root of the issue: sin. 
  • And again, it is God who is forgiving sins. That isn’t something we have the power to do, but only God. And how can he do that? How can he look at someone who is sinful and evil, and tell them they are forgiven? God is a just God, and when people disobey him it is only just and righteous for him to punish them, so how can he forgive them and not inflict the punishment that is deserved?
  • He can only do that because of the cross of Christ. On the cross, Jesus bore the wrath and punishment for our sin. God’s justice that we deserve, was poured out on Jesus, so that you and I wouldn’t have to experience it. God can only forgive sins because the penalty for sin has already been paid by his son on the cross. Sin can’t just be forgiven, it can only be forgiven because the punishment for it was placed upon Christ.

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

  • So, therefore, because God can forgive our sins, we should confess them to one another and pray for one another. The power of confession is incredible. I’ve used this illustration before, but I think it’s a good one, so here it goes again. How many of you have had some sort of cut or gash? It needs to be cleaned properly so that it doesn’t get infected. I went on a mission trip in Nicaragua and I got a cut on my finger. It wasn’t anything serious, but it was kind of deep. It scabbed over and started to try to heal itself, but it had gotten infected. It got super red and puffy, and it was really irritated. It hurt and was super uncomfortable because of the infection. So I remember picking the scab off, and as soon as I peeled it back enough to get to the cut, I felt instant relief. Some nasty puss and stuff came out of it, but it was like instantly the pressure was gone, it stopped hurting, and I was able to clean it out properly. After that, it healed right away and didn’t hurt anymore.
  • I want us to think about sin in the same way. We sin, and we get a cut. If we don’t clean that cut out right away, it’s going to heal over and get infected. An infected cut doesn’t feel good, and neither does our hidden sin. It’s uncomfortable, irritable, and not fun. But, if we confess our sin, it is like ripping the scab off of an infected cut. Instantly we feel relief. We feel like a burden has been lifted off of us and we are no longer uncomfortable. More than just being comfortable, once we confess and get that scab off of there, God can go in and heal it the right way. When we allow people and God in, God can give that forgiveness that we need so we can be healed the right way.
  • So, right now, do you have some sin that is unconfessed? Is there something in your heart that is eating away at you, making you uncomfortable? I’d challenge you to take the step and confess that sin. Rip the scab off. You will feel relief, you will feel better, and once that sin is confessed and out in the open and you are met with grace and love from both the people you confess it with and God, you can be healed the proper way and no longer feel guilt or shame.
  • Now there’s the other side of this. Maybe you’re the person you are being confessed to. Maybe someone comes to you and has a sin to confess. How are you going to respond? Respond the same way that God responds to your sin, with grace, love, and truth. And when we do that we will be the type of people that people will want to come to to confess. We don’t go in shaming or judging them. And then, look at what James says, pray for one another. So that’s the next thing about prayer, is we pray for one another. Our prayers for one another have power, not power from ourselves or power from how faithful we are, but power from God. So pray for one another.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

  • Finally James gives us an example of prayer. He reminds us of Elijah, one of the great prophets of the Old Testament. God did some incredible things through Elijah, and we can read about the signs and wonders he performed in the book of Kings. But notice what James says. He says that Elijah had a nature like ours. He was a normal human dude. He wasn’t a superhero or some type of divine warrior or anything, he was a normal guy who was called to proclaim God’s word to the nations. Elijah prayed for there to be a drought, and there was. Then he prayed for it to rain, and it did. Elijah’s prayers had power, and so do ours, because remember he is no different than you and me.
  • Prayer is important. Prayer is powerful. Prayer is necessary for our relationship with God. Prayer is for every situation, good or bad. We should ask for prayer, and pray for others. Most importantly, though, we need to remember that we can only pray, we can only have a relationship with God that allows and requires prayer, because Jesus took the punishment for our sins.

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