When you think about prayer, what comes to mind? Quietly bowing your head, reverently whispering your thoughts, and requests? Folding your hands, using “proper prayer language” (usually sounding like the King James Bible) and lots of words? How about yelling at God? Is that an okay from of prayer?
Probably one of the most beautiful pictures of true honest, heartfelt prayer ever captured on film (though it is in a movie and acted) is from the movie The Apostle starting Robert Duvall. Let’s take a look at this prayer and see what you think about it(Play video clip)
So give me your quick 2 cents on this portrayal of prayer. Is this type of prayer appropriate, disrespectful, honest, offensive, etc?
Today we wrap up our All Day, Every Day series where we have been exploring the book of James, which is a book that seeks to boil it all down and get really practical about what it means to follow after King Jesus and live under his rule and his reign in his Kingdom.
We launched our series with a conversation around the idea of troubles and temptations and whether they serve to drive us to our knees and to the heart of God, or do they serve to drive a wedge between us and Him. The second week we talked about the connection between faith and works, and we came out that these two things are inseparable and need to work hand in hand. Then we took time to talk about the use of our tongue and how we can either use it to bring life or we can use it to bring death. And then two weeks ago, we would have discussed the idea of submitting to God, drawing near to Him and then by definition fleeing from the evil one, if we wouldn’t have cancelled the gathering due to snow. And last week we put our faith into action at Lincoln Middle School and sought to be a blessing to that school.
And so today we wrap up our series in a very appropriate place and an appropriate way, talking about the importance of prayer in the life of the individual Christ Follower but more importantly the importance of prayer, in all its’ aspects in the life of the community of followers of Jesus. And what prayer has to do with All Day, Every day living for the King and his Kingdom.
So let’s look at James 5:13-18 and see what James has to say to us as we seek to be faithful to Jesus and live our lives for Him and His Kingdom.
James 5:13-18 ays, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
The first thing that James is trying to get across to the early Christians is the importance of prayer in any and every situation. Too often we are like Bart Simpson in the Simpson’s episode entitled, “Bart gets an F” in which Bart fails four consecutive history exams and the school psychiatrist recommends that Bart repeat the fourth grade. Bart vows that he will start to do better and attempts to get the resident class genius Martin Prince to help him, but after that backfires, Bart prays for help. That night, Springfield is hit with a massive blizzard and the school is closed, giving Bart another day to study. During the episode Bart gets on his knees to pray and Lisa sees him and quips, “Prayer; the last refuge of a scoundrel” All too often we make prayer the last resort instead of the first resource. And we seem to only pray when things are going poorly. James wants us to pray when we are in trouble. James wants us to pray when we are happy and things are going amazingly. James wants us to pray when we are sick. James wants us to call the leaders of the church and have them pray for us when we are sick. Prayer must surround everything else we do, whether happy or sad, suffering or cheerful. James let us know that in every situation that we face, prayer is an essential element. To live out this all day, every day calling to follow Jesus. To grow closer to God in the midst of trials and temptations we need prayer. To have faith that leads us to action and deed, we need prayer. To use our tongues to bring life and blessing and not death and cursing, we need prayer. To submit to God, draw near to him, and to resist the evil one, we need prayer. And notice in this text the communal nature of prayer….that it isn’t just you and God in conversation. That prayer isn’t just an individual spiritual discipline, though it is that. Prayer is also the coming together of two or more followers of Jesus seeking the heart of God together. That when a community draws together in prayer, it binds their hearts together in a way that hardly can be matched with anything else.
NT Wright says this about prayer, “Prayer is this place where heaven and earth overlap. Prayer is a place where our own present time and God’s future time overlap. A person who prays stands with one foot in the place of trouble, sickness and sin and the other foot in the place of healing, forgiveness and hope.”
One situation that James lays out is in regard to a sick person. This is what he says about prayer and sickness, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.” There are a few things in this part of the text that I’d like to draw out. First, what does he mean when he says “anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord”? This phrase anointing with oil has been interpreted as either seeking the best medical attention possible for the afflicted or as an emblem of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence. In the 1st Century Oil was a common medicine and was used in many instances in which people were sick. In fact Josephus records “during Herod’s last illness, he was given a bath in oil in hopes of effecting a cure.” But more than that, anointing with oil is very simple and yet profound and effective sign of God’s desire to heal and restore people.
Secondly, does this statement by James, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, the Lord will raise them up.” mean that when we pray in faith for a sick person they will be made well? And if they aren’t made well, and in fact die, does that mean we just didn’t have enough faith? I know there are Christians who believe that if you pray for someone and they don’t get better it is because you didn’t have enough faith. But I don’t believe that. I don’t believe there is any guarantee for healing for the sick who have been prayed for in faith. Some people who have been prayed for will be healed in the physical sense- and they will get better from their illness. But some who have been prayed for will die, and will be healed in the spiritual sense..leading to resurrection. And why are some people healed physically on this side of eternity, while others are healed spiritually on the other side of eternity? I don’t really honestly know. That is something that we may never know the answer to on this side of eternity.
James goes on and says, “If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” There is something profound going on in this text. James understands something that all too often that we forgotten. That sometimes the road to healing comes through confession and forgiveness. That sometimes when we are sick, it is actually due to the lack of confession and the lack of forgiveness in our lives. Mutual confession, forgiveness and prayer can bring healing both spiritually and physically. Confession can set us free from the heavy burdens of unresolved sin and can remove hinderances for the work of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand bottled up anger, and unforgiveness can bind us up, cause sickness, and lead to many other body issues. Here me out…I am not saying all sickness is psychosomatic. But that many times the lack of forgiveness and confession can lead to issues within our body and within our minds.
James then turns the corner and reminds his listeners that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” That prayer not only changes me it can actually change things in the world. That there is power in prayer. And one story that James hearers, which were Jewish Christians, would have been familiar with that would show and testify to the fact that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective is the story of Elijah found in 1 Kings 17 and 18. In 1 Kings 17 we see Elijah speaking prophetically to King Ahab, King of Israel, that, “there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” We can infer through this that Elijah was obviously in touch with God through prayer and understood what God was going to do because of the people’s infidelity to Him. And in 1 Kings 18 verse 42 we read of Elijah praying to lift the curse of the drought because of the people’s return to the Lord. “So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” James is making the point that the drought, which came as a judgement on the people of Israel, and the rain which came when they returned to the Lord and abandoned their idols, all happened in the context of Elijah’s prayer. That his prayer made a huge difference in the physical realm as well as the spiritual realm.
Again NT Wright has this to say about the power of prayer and the vocational calling on each and every single follower of Jesus to be about the work of prayer, “Prayer, of course, is not only a task for the ‘professionals’, the clergy and the Christian leaders. Every Christian has not only the right but the vocation to engage in prayer like that; prayerfor one another, prayer for sick, prayer for the sinners, prayer for the nation and the world. If everyone who reads these words were to determine to devote half an hour every day to this task, the effect could be incalculable.”
What questions does James 5 and prayer leave in your mind? What thoughts, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about this Scripture and about prayer? What stories do you have of the power of prayer? And what might God be saying to each of us through this text and what will we do about it? Let’s gather together in groups and dialogue together around this all day, every day spiritual practice called prayer.
1. Share a story of a time in which you experienced the power of prayer. Share a story of a time in which you experienced a time when prayer didn’t seem to “work”
2. What thoughts, questions, insights, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What might God be saying to us as a community and what can we do about it?
4. End your discussion time with prayer.