3/2/02 : James 5:7-20
Nine year old James had a test at school. He realised too late that he should have revised better for it. So he prayed afterwards, 'Please Lord, make Sydney the capital of New Zealand.'
There are times when we all look to God to help us out of a jam. Including those that are of our own making ! God, our Father does love to hear the prayers and to grant the requests of his children, but there is more to prayer than just asking God to rescue us ! We will be using this passage to look at different types and aspects of prayer.
16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
It points to us and reminds us that we have to examine ourselves as we pray and as we come to worship God. We have to ask if there is anything that we have done wrong, or anything that we have failed to do that we should have done. Then we need to bring them to God and ask for his forgiveness.
Important to do that. Do it at start of service so we can come to worship God free from the sin that would otherwise separate us from him.
May have sinned against another person. If so James says in verse 16 that we should confess our sins to one another. Asking for forgiveness if we have wronged someone. Giving forgiveness if we are asked to be forgiving. If we withhold forgiveness that calls into question our own appreciation of the undeserved forgiveness that Jesus secured for us on the cross.
In the right setting, confession of one's own failures and need for forgiveness can be a valuable step in repentance, restoration of relationships, and relief of guilt.
In verse 16 James hints that unconfessed sin can lead to sickness. Whilst not all sickness is caused by a failure to confess sin to God or to the one who has been sinned against, these failures can lead to sickness in some situations. There are cases documented of people having a sickness that has been related to a grudge against someone else, and when they have confessed this and asked God for forgiveness they have been healed.
11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
We need to be patient when we pray. Some prayers take a long time to be answered. Melanie's mum, Judy, has been praying for her postman for three years. Recently he saw an advertisement in their window for the Alpha Course and started expressing an interest in Christianity to Judy & Roy .
Others will only be answered when Jesus returns. James letters was written to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith and expected Jesus to return very soon. Things like perfect peace, justice and healing may not come about until Jesus returns in person.
We are all called to be patient and persevere in our faith. Verse 11 reminds us that God is merciful and compassionate. He has our best interests at heart. We have the example of the prophets and Job as people who persevered in their faith and were honoured by God, even in difficulties.
When we pray things will happen. Even if they will not all happen straight away. William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury said, 'When I stopped praying, coincidences stopped happening !'
This can remind us to praise and worship God for who he is. For his greatness, goodness and love. We can do this in song and in words. We can do this as individuals and as a church. So in our own individual devotions we can sing songs of praise to God. It doesn't matter how good we are at singing ! God loves us making a joyful noise to him.
13 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.
We must spend in thanking God for what he has done. This is slightly different from adoration. There we are giving worship to God for who he is. In thanksgiving we thank him for all that he has done and continues to do for us.
This happiness of verse 13 may be centred on who God is, adoration, or what he has done, thanksgiving. There are so many things that God has done for us. Given us homes, friends, families, food and drink, and, in this country, relative wealth and peace. Ultimately the best gift that God has given us is eternal life through Jesus. We have been bought at a price. The death of God's only Son. Therefore, we belong to God and everything that we are and have are his. To be used for his service and the extension of his kingdom. We have so much to be thankful for.
James mentioned Christians who grumble against each other and counters that with the reminder that it is God's job to judge, and that Jesus will return soon, verse 9. If Jesus was expected soon then, how much closer is his return and judgement today !
We should live our lives aware that Jesus could return today, or tomorrow. The best antidote to grumbling is praise. To look at the many blessings that we have received from God.
Supplication ( Asking )
We are to pray for people. Family, friends, fellow Christians, neigbours, or colleagues. This may include people who are sick. In verses 14 and 15 James mentions the importance of praying for those who are sick.
14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
Four years ago we started praying for Jo, who had 5 or 6 brain tumours. She came to me then to organise her own funeral because she had been given 3 months to live. We asked her if she would like to be prayed for and put her name on the prayer board. Many people prayed for her and, much to the astonishment of her consultant the tumours all disappeared ! She has lymphoma but this is manageable and not life threatening.
So it is important that we pray for people. However, God may not heal everyone. In the last few years we have also prayed for people within our church family who were sick and did not get well. This is because we live in a world which has rejected God and, therefore, we encounter sickness, death suffering, and war. Yet, as we saw earlier, when Jesus comes again he will establish God's kingdom in its fullness and there will be no more sickness, death, mourning, or suffering, because things will be restored to the way God intended them to be. We can be certain that those that we prayed for who have a personal relationship with Jesus have gone to be with him.
In the meantime we see glimpses of God's kingdom. In answers to prayer, in our worship, in our fellowship. We are called to keep going and persevere so we may enjoy the fullness of God's kingdom.
I spoke to someone recently who said that they never prayed for themselves. I think that we ought to. God is 'Our Father' and a father loves to give good gifts to his children. So we shouldn't be scared of earnestly seeking God's will for us. But our motivation for prayer must be right.
A mother overheard her young son praying to God. '...And if you give me a new bike I'll be good for a whole week.'
She went to him and pointed out that it was no use trying to bargain with God because he didn't answer prayers like that.
A few days later she overheard him praying again, 'Dear Lord, please give me a new bike and I'll be good for three whole weeks !'
'Johnny', the mother said, 'I've told you before. It's no use trying to strike bargains with God. He doesn't respond to that type of prayer.'
A few days later she was amazed to discover a statue of the Virgin Mary hidden at the bottom of the airing cupboard. Going to Johnny's room she found a note on the window sill which read ' OK. Lord, if you ever want to see your mother again...'
James says that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, verse 16. He gives Elijah as a dramatic example of this.
It reminds us that we should come before God with great expectations. With earnest requests and not selfish demands. And to remember that God loves us and one day Jesus will return.
C.S.Lewis wrote, 'The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job to do each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.'
Our four headings today are Persevere; Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; and Supplication. It spells PACTS. A pact is an agreement and it reminds us of the many times that God has agreed to our requests.
Suggested Songs : Dear Lord & Father of mankind; Father I place into your hands; I need Thee every hour; Jesus stand among us; Our Father/Millennium Prayer ( see our MIDI page ); Prayer is the soul's desire; Spirit divine; What a friend;