The Praying Life Part One
Topic: Prayer Passage: James 5:13–5:18
Pastor Allen Snapp
Series: Faith Works
The Praying Life Part One
As James wraps up his letter he chooses to focus on the importance of prayer in the believer’s life. What’s on his heart in these parting words, and because his letter is inspired by God, is on God’s heart too, is that we pray. Eight times in six verses James highlights prayer: when we should pray, with whom we should pray, the effectiveness and power of prayer. In fact, James packs more into these closing verses than we can really cover in one message, so we will spend our last two weeks in this letter looking at the importance of prayer.
But before we go any further, let me address the elephant in the room. Many Christians struggle with prayer. They struggle with doing it and they struggle with wanting to do it. Because of that, when we hear the word pray, we don’t get excited, we get guilty. “Yeah, I know, I don’t pray enough. Busted!” Prayer is like evangelizing and flossing - none of us do it as much as we should.
So can we get this guilt thing out of the way by admitting that none of us prays enough? We don’t even know what “praying enough” is, we just know we don’t do it. Where is the line between not praying enough and praying enough? Maybe someone here prays two hours every day but my question to you is, why don’t you pray three hours a day? Three is a much more biblical number than two. Jesus said watch and pray one hour, but Paul blew that out of the water when he said, “pray without ceasing”. We don’t really know where the line is but we know we don’t pray enough. We don’t pray long enough, or hard enough, or specifically enough, or with enough faith.
I want to get that out there because I don’t want this message to be a “you should be praying more than you do” pile-on-guilt kind of message. God isn’t trying to guilt us, He’s trying to grow us. God doesn’t want us to pray because we feel guilty if we don’t. He wants us to see the incredible blessing and power and opportunity that prayer offers.So this morning I want us to take these verses and see the big picture of prayer, and next week as we finish our time in this book, we will unpack two important and potentially confusing and controversial aspects of prayer that James mentions. But big picture, James is encouraging us to
- Weave prayer into the fabric of our everyday life
Pray when you’re hurting (is anyone among you suffering?). Pray when your heart is happy (Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise). Singing praise is a happy kind of musical prayer. Is anyone sick? Call for the elders to pray for you. Are you caught up in some sin? Confess it and be prayed for.
The big picture is whatever is going on in your life, bring God into the picture through prayer. Prayer isn’t complicated, it’s not hard, and it doesn’t even have to be long. Martin Luther said, The fewer the words, the better the prayer. Jesus also encouraged us not to ramble on and on repeating ourselves in prayer but to ask with simple faith.
Prayer is talking to God. And listening to God. Are you hurting? James says, pray. He doesn’t tell you what to pray, that’s not the point. Bring God into your pain. Let God know that you’re hurting. Ask Him to take the pain away. Ask Him for strength to endure the pain. Ask Him to teach you in the midst of pain. There’s no one right thing to pray, pray your heart and listen for God’s heart. Prayer is built on our relationship with our heavenly Father and prayer helps build our lives into our heavenly Father.
The other day I was driving Matt to school in our 2004 Honda Odyssey minivan and I could tell that its transmission was slipping but then we came to an intersection where we were making a left at the green arrow and the car wouldn’t move. I stepped on the gas but it wouldn’t budge. Cars are lining up behind me waiting to turn, and I can’t go anywhere! And because we’re in a busy intersection there’s no way to get out of the car and push it to the side. After sitting there through two or three changes of the light, I waved the cars behind us around us cause they were just sitting there. Then I got back into the van and I said to Matt I don’t know what to do. I didn’t want to call a tow truck or the police – I just didn’t want to go down that road. So I was a bit paralyzed for a moment. And in that moment one thing I did was say a quick prayer. Just “Lord, help us. I don’t know what to do.” All of a sudden I just turned the engine off and started it back up, not expecting that to do anything, but sure enough, the gears engaged, the car started to move and I got Matt to school in time! I had to turn the engine off two or three more times but finally I limped the van to my mechanic’s shop. I’m sad to say that after 241K miles of faithful service, the Honda Odyssey is dead.
My prayer didn’t heal the van, I think it did open my mind to the prompting of the Lord to turn the engine off, but most importantly it brought God into the situation. This is really important when you’re hurting, a lot of times we turn to everything else but God. James says, you suffering? You hurting? Pray. Invite God into your pain. Sometimes He’ll change the situation causing the pain, sometimes He’ll comfort you in the pain. But no matter what God chooses to do, inviting God into your pain makes all the difference.
But prayer isn’t just for hard times. Are you cheerful? Is your heart happy and life is going great? Sometimes it’s easier to forget God when you’re on the mountaintop and everything is going great then in hard times. Bring God into the fabric of your life when life is good by praying praise to Him. Thank God, praise Him because He’s the source of everything that’s good in your life. It all comes from Him. Connect the blessing with the Blesser.
James then goes on to mention two specific life situations we should invite prayer into: when we’re sick and when we’re in sin. He says call for the elders to pray when you’re sick and confess your sins to one another and pray for each other when sin is the issue. What James says about these two situations, when you’re sick and when you’re in sin raise some important questions that deserve a little time.
- Why elders? Why oil? Why does James say the prayer of faith will save them and the Lord will raise them up? What does that mean? Does it mean that everyone will be healed if the prayer is prayed with faith?
- And what about confessing our sins to one another? Aren’t we supposed to confess our sins to God? What does that mean?
We’ll try to answer some of those questions next week. The big picture is that James is saying to weave prayer into the fabric of our everyday lives. When you’re hurting, when you’re happy, when you’re sick, when you’re struggling with sin. Bring God into every aspect of your life by weaving prayer into the fabric of your life. That’s one big point James is making here. The other big point James makes is that faith is an important part of effective prayer. So weave prayer into the fabric of your life and…
- Weave faith into the fabric of your prayers
Not all prayers are equal. The great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon said, brothers and sisters, one warm, hearty prayer is worth twenty of those packed in ice. I fear that much of our prayer is lost because we don¹t sufficiently throw our hearts into it. Nothing heats prayer up more than faith. Weave faith into your prayers, stir up faith in your prayers.
James doesn’t say that when elders pray for the sick that the prayer heals them. He says the prayer of faith will heal them. To stir up our faith, James then says the fervent prayer of a righteous person has great power. Prayer isn’t a formality. It isn’t an emotional crutch for weak people. When God’s people pray, power is released. God’s power. But that prayer needs to be heated up with faith.
Faith is a vital component of every aspect of our relationship with God. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is crucial to pleasing God. Faith is essential to our being saved and having a relationship with God at all. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins so that we could be completely forgiven and cleansed of all guilt. We don’t do anything to deserve God’s forgiveness, it’s all of grace. But that grace flows to us through faith. Eph. 2 says we are saved by grace through faith. Faith is the conduit through which God’s grace flows to us. When Paul told the Philippian jailer, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, you and all your house, what he’s saying if the jailer would put his faith in Jesus, all the grace and love and mercy and salvation God offers would flow to him and overflow to his household. We are saved by grace and grace alone. But faith is the conduit, the channel, through which that grace is accessed.
Faith is essential to the power of God flowing through our prayers. Elijah didn’t just say a half-hearted prayer, he prayed with intensity until he saw God start to move. God told him what He was going to do, but still Elijah saw his own intense prayers as a necessary part of releasing God’s power. He told Ahab it was going to rain, and then he prayed like mad for it to rain. He know what God was going to do, but he prayed with intensity for it to happen. Faith isn’t a formula, it isn’t complicated, it’s praying with the warmth of intensity borne of believing God. And when we struggle with believing God, we pray with warmth and ask God to help us. See, praying with faith isn’t about getting our prayers just right as if God will only hear and answer our prayers if we get everything: the words, the intensity, and the faith, just right.
ILL: I can remember years ago that vending machines that took dollar bills were very particular about the condition of the dollar bills. I think they’ve gotten a lot better lately but some of you might remember that if your dollar bill wasn’t perfectly flat – if there was even one wrinkle on it – the vending machine would spit the dollar back out at you. You’d flatten it out and try to work that wrinkle out and try again. And God help you if your dollar bill had a corner ripped off. You would die of starvation before that Snickers bar would drop down!
Some faith teaching makes it sound as though prayer is a vending machine and faith is the coin. If you put the right amount of faith in, and your faith is pristine and perfect, then you can pull the lever and get whatever you want. If you pray for something and it doesn’t happen then something is wrong with your faith. You don’t have enough faith, you aren’t confessing it right, you must have doubted in your heart. Under that teaching people work hard to try and straighten and flatten their faith in the hopes that the prayer vending machine will accept it and give them the answer they want. God help the person whose faith is weak or dog-eared or wrinkled with fear or doubt. According to this teaching, God will reject such faith and spit those prayers right back at you. Try again!
But prayer isn’t a vending machine and faith isn’t a dollar bill that we pay to God and get what we want. Faith is a gift from God that helps us believe in Him and trust in Him even when our hearts are tempted to doubt. Some days, we’re like Elijah on the mountain combatting the prophets of Baal and saying there won’t be rain for three and a half years. And other days we’re like Elijah sitting alone saying, “I can’t go on, God. I’m hurting God. I’m doubting Your plan, God. I’m afraid, God.” A lot of times our faith is like the man who asked Jesus to heal his son: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Jesus didn’t spit his request back at him because there was doubt mingled in his faith.
Prayer is communing with God, our loving heavenly Father. And faith is believing Him. It’s confidence in Him. So when we come to God, our faith may be weak, it may be dog-eared, it may be wrinkled, but we’re not trusting in our faith, we’re trusting in our Father. Elijah was not a perfect man – Aron Osborne preached an excellent message on Elijah when he was here in October. He was a guy with a nature like ours. He doubted, he feared. We read about his fears and doubts in 1 Kings. He feared Jezebel. He doubted that God could use him again, he asked God to take his life. At that point he was probably deeply depressed.
And in that place, when his faith was dog-eared, God met him. God spoke to him in a still, small whisper. And God said, “I’m not done with you Elijah, get up and get going and I will show you what’s next.”
James wants us to see – God wants us to see – that prayer is powerful. He wants us to get a vision, to get a glimpse, of what prayer can do and the difference prayer can make so that we want to pray. So that we’re excited and motivated to pray. When we get that, we’ll see the value of weaving prayer into the fabric of our everyday life, and the value of weaving faith into our prayers.
Is there something going on in your life and you need God’s provision, His healing, or His intervention and you’d like to be prayed for? If you would like prayer, I’m going to ask you to raise your hand right where you are and those around you to gather and pray for you. Share briefly what you’d like prayer for.