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Faithful Prayers – James 5:13-18


James closes his letter as he began it, with a call to prayer.

In James 1:5, after an opening challenge about joy in trials (which can easily be shown as a description of prayers of praise), he urges believers specifically to pray for the wisdom they need in becoming mature. James informs us that God will give generously that kind of wisdom without blaming us for our lack. The sole requirement is a faithful trust in God’s supply.

Later, in 4:1-3, James addresses the kind of selfish prayers that God does not answer. His confrontation is unmistakable: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (4:3 niv). Prayer is an essential tool, but it cannot be used to manipulate God.

James uses his closing words to describe effective prayer. He details prayer in several forms (praise, intercession, confession) and connects prayer with several other important spiritual disciplines (healing, confession, anointing, correction, praise, and mutual forgiveness).

If we can say that James’s letter summarizes the work of faith, his conclusion focuses on faith’s finest work—believers effective in prayer.

13  Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.

There are many responses to trouble. Some of us worry; some of us vow revenge against those who have caused the trouble; some of us let anger burn inside us. Some grumble.

But James says the correct response to trouble is to pray (see also Psalm 30; 50:15; 91:15). This is not necessarily a prayer for deliverance from the trouble, but for the patience and strength to endure it.

There are three main reasons for not praying when we realize we are in trouble: ignorance, arrogance, and shame.

If we do not know that God wants us to pray when we are in trouble, we are simply ignorant of Scripture.

If we do not pray when we are in trouble because we are trusting in our own resources to get ourselves out, we are being arrogant.

And sometimes we may want to pray but are ashamed because the trouble we are in is our own fault.

James gives permission and encouragement to those who are ignorant. He urges submission to those who are arrogant. And he reminds those who are ashamed that God is full of compassion and mercy (5:11). To all of us he commends prayer.

Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

James says that if we are fortunate enough to be happy, we should thank God by singing songs of praise (see also 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).

Because our praise is directed to God, singing is actually another form of prayer.

These songs of praise can be the formal Psalms from the Old Testament, or spontaneous personal creations that express some aspect of God’s character or our response to him.

The quicker we are to blame God for misfortune, the slower we are to praise God when good things happen. Some of us take our happiness too lightly. We accept it as if it is our due or simply the product of our efforts. In happiness, it is easy to forget God.

But a real appreciation of happy times will lead us to recognizing their source. If prayer is to be our constant communication with God, then happy times should naturally add rhythm and music to our expressions of thanks and praise to him.

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.

One characteristic of the early church was its concern over and care for the sick. Here James encourages the sick person to call for the elders of the church for counseling and prayer. The elders were spiritually mature men who were responsible for overseeing local churches (see 1 Peter 5:1-4). These men would pray over the sick person, calling upon the Lord for healing. Then they would anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Jesus himself instructed us to pray in his name (John 14:14). As the elders pray for this one who is sick, they are to voice clearly that the power for healing resides in the name of Jesus.

Many of the details in this passage have to be consciously applied in our own age. James wrote to people in rather small communities, bound tightly by language and culture. We live in communities marked by isolation—even from people living next door. The early church practiced house calls.

Contact, prayer, appeals to the presence and power of God, expectations of God’s direct intervention, and healing were part of daily life. The life of faith really was a life-style, not a weekend component of a compartmentalized life that fits God into one’s weekly schedule for a couple of hours on Sunday mornings.

A literal practice by church leaders of James’s guidelines for healing prayer would make churches much more personal and effective.

The sick person here is incapacitated physically. Anointing was often used by the early church in their prayers for healing. In Scripture, oil was both a medicine (see the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37) and a symbol of the Spirit of God (as used in anointing kings; see 1 Samuel 16:1-13).

Thus the oil may have been a sign of the power of prayer, and it may have symbolized the setting apart of the sick person for God’s special attention.

More important than the oil itself, however, the key function of the elders is their prayer for the sick person, as evidenced in the verses that follow.

5:15 The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.

The prayer must be from the heart, sincere, with trust in and obedience to God behind it, and with no doubting, as in 1:5-8. The believing is the role of the elders who are praying, not the sick person’s (nothing is said about his or her faith). It is possible that the sick person’s faith is exercised in calling the elders. Also, if there is need for confession, the elders will be able to minister to the individual. The process insures dependence of believers on each other.

The Lord will raise him up.

Not the elders or the oil, but the Lord himself does the healing. Does this mean that every prayer for healing guarantees that God will make the sick person well?

It must be emphasized here that the prayer offered is a prayer offered in faith—not only the faith that believes God can heal, but also the faith that expresses absolute confidence in God’s will. A true prayer of faith will acknowledge God’s sovereignty in his answer to that prayer.

It is not always God’s will to heal those who are ill (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). A prayer for healing must be qualified with a recognition that God’s will is supreme.

It is shameful to find Christians hesitating to pray because God might not heal the way they wish. It is not our role either to decide how God will answer our prayers or to excuse him if our human desires are not met.

Trusting God only as long as he cooperates with our plans is no trust at all. The prayer offered in faith gives God a free hand to work. Because believers have an eternal viewpoint, we can claim the absolute certainty of this promise—God can and will heal, though not always in this world.

In the afterlife God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4 niv).

To limit God’s answers only to this world would indicate that we are trying to make God submit to our needs and desires in this life rather than submitting to him.

There would no longer be the internal conflicts, and fellowship would be strong and supportive. Those who are sick may be healed (nrsv), and the church would be unified in its prayer efforts.

The recent emphasis on small groups within churches has risen largely from a need to recapture some of these basic features of life in the body of Christ that have been neglected.

When Christians are really working to “carry each other’s burdens,” the world does take note, and we come closer to fulfilling “the law of Christ” (see Galatians 6:2 niv). Loving your neighbor as yourself does include, above all else, praying for him or her.

WHY CONFESS SIN?

Christ has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness. But confessing our sins to one another still has an important place in the life of the church.

If we have sinned against an individual, we must ask that person to forgive us.

If our sin has affected the church, we must confess it publicly.

If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess the sin to those who are able to provide that support.

If after confessing a private sin to God we still don’t feel his forgiveness, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer and hear him or her assure us of God’s pardon.

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

The prayer is effective because the person who is praying is righteous. The person is not sinless, but he or she has confessed known sins to God and is completely committed to him and trying to do his will. Again, we can say that the righteous person gets what he or she wants in prayer because he wants what God wants.

The Christian’s most powerful resource is communication with God through prayer. It is the instrument of healing and forgiveness and is a mighty weapon for spiritual warfare. The results are often greater than we thought were possible.

Some people see prayer as a last resort, to be tried when all else fails. Our priorities are the reverse of God’s. Prayer should come first.

Some see prayer as a way to obligate God to give whatever they claim in faith. God is pleased to use our prayers to accomplish his purposes and he delights in answering our needs, but he is never bound by our prayers.

God’s power is infinitely greater than ours, so it only makes sense to rely on it—especially because God encourages us to do so.

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.

Prayer is indeed powerful—remember Elijah? The story is found in 1 Kings 17:1-18:46. Elijah had great power in prayer. A drought came as a sign to evil King Ahab of Israel that the idol Baal did not have power over the rain, God did. And when Elijah prayed, it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Then he prayed for rain, and the heavens gave rain (niv).

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2019 in Prayer

 

Answering the prayer of Jesus


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 Eric/Wendy’s November 2015 newsletter from Kigali, Rwanda

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A little fellow wished to pray but had never been taught how. He, thus, began to recite his ABCs as he knelt. A man passing by overheard the lad and inquired, ‘Son, what’s going on?’ ‘I’m saying my prayers,’ replied the boy. ‘But why the ABCs?’ the man asked. ‘Sir,’ came the answer, ‘I don’t know how to go about praying, so I thought if I said my ABCs God would take what he needed and spell out the words to match my wants.’

With childlike innocence, this little fellow believed in prayer.

Jesus also believed in prayer. In fact, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John compositely recorded several occasions where Jesus went apart to pray. For example, all of John 17 projects a prayer of Jesus which may be divided into four segments: (1) For Himself (17:1-5); (2) For the apostles (17:6-19); (3) For the church (17:20-23); and again, (4) For the apostles (17:24-26).

Let’s focus on ‘Christ’s prayer for the church’ (17:20-23). ‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.’

This pulsates with a plea for harmony. According to ‘Christ’s prayer for the church,’ harmony is a challenging possibility. He prayed that all who believe on him through the apostles’ word might ‘be one…be one in us….be one…be made perfect in one.’

In each of these petitions, the subjunctive mood of the Greek language was used, indicating an objective reality! Harmony among Christians is more than an illusive dream or noble sentiment. Encouragingly, it is a very real possibility.

A case in point to prove such would be the first century church of Jerusalem (Acts 2:42, 44-46). They were united in their support of fearless Gospel preaching (4:24-29). They were united in their benevolent spirit and sacrificial care (4:32). They were also united in their support of church discipline (5:1-12). By example, they established the possibility of harmony existing in the church.

Therefore, the subject of harmony among Christians should be approached with a positive attitude. When it comes to unity in the church, negative slurs [‘Well, that sounds good,’ or ‘It would be nice,’ or ‘That is just youthful idealism’] should be CANNED. After all, success comes in CANS not CAN’TS!

If Jesus’ prayer for the church implied the possibility of harmony in the church, it is a possibility; yea, it is a possibility that challenges every congregation and heart of the church.  — condensed from Harmony Among the Heirs of Heaven, Dan Winkler

Children in Church

  • Three-year-old, Reese: ‘Our Father, Who does art in heaven, Harold is his name. Amen.’
  • A little boy was overheard praying: ‘Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.’
  • A Sunday school class was studying the Ten Commandments. They were ready to discuss the last one. The teacher asked if anyone could tell her what it was. Susie raised her hand, stood tall, and quoted, ‘Thou shall not take the covers off the neighbor’s wife.’
  • Jason sobbed in the back seat all the way home. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, he replied, ‘That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home, and I wanted to stay with you guys.’
  • I had been teaching my three-year old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer for several evenings at bedtime. She would repeat the lines of the prayer after me. Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word right up to the end of the prayer. ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ she prayed, ‘but deliver us some email. Amen.’
  • One four-year-old prayed, ‘And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.’
  • A Sunday school teacher asked her children, as they were on the way to church service, ‘And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?’ One bright girl replied, ‘Because people are sleeping.’
  • Six-year-old Angie and her four-year-old brother Joel were sitting together. Joel giggled, sang, and talked. Finally, big sister had had enough. ‘You’re not supposed to talk in church.’ ‘Why? Who’s going to stop me?’ Joel asked. Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, ‘See those two men standing by the door? They’re hushers.’
  • A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. They began to argue over who got the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. ‘If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, ‘Ryan, you play the part of Jesus!’
  • A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. ‘Daddy, what happened to him?’ the boy asked. ‘He died and went to Heaven,’ replied the Dad. The boy thought a moment and then said, ‘Did God throw him back down?’
 
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Posted by on December 10, 2015 in Prayer

 
 
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