THE POWER OF PRAYER Trinity
James 5:13-20 21.11.21
What does genuine faith in Jesus look like? That is the question that the letter of James is answering. What does it look like when someone is sick?
James writes: “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. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (5:14,15)
So, is it lack of faith if you go to the doctor? Or take medicine? Or when the elders pray for you and you are not raised up off your sick bed? It looks like that, doesn’t it?
What if James is talking about something bigger than being physically sick and being physically healed? That can’t be, because there is nothing bigger is there? Isn’t our line “If you’ve got good health, you’ve got everything.” What if there is something bigger?
Jesus thinks there is something bigger. When the paralysed man was lowered through the roof, the first thing Jesus said him was “Your sins are forgiven”? Can that have been more important than being able to walk again. It was more important by light years.
You may leave this world paralysed but forgiven and be fully healthy and rejoicing for eternity in the new heaven and the new earth. Or you can leave it fit and healthy and unforgiven, and perish eternally after this world. Of course there is something more important than being well or looking well.
The church to which James was writing in the first place was missing something very important. Back in 4:1 we read of fights and quarrels between the people in it, and in 5:9 we read that brothers were grumbling against one another.
Now it seems that some of them are sick. Was that a direct result of their being out of sorts with one another. It might be. We know that body, mind and soul are all linked and what goes wrong at one level impacts others. When there wasn’t proper care for each other in the church at Corinth, Paul said “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Cor 11:30). Maybe it was like that.
Might it be that God has sent some sickness just to stop them all in their tracks, as a kind of wake up call, so that they would think more deeply about life and the issues they face in the church.
What we do know is that physical sickness is not the big deal. Look at the words that James uses from verse 15 on:
> sins have been committed that can be forgiven (15b)
> sins must be confessed so that healing may come (v16a)
> people have wandered from the truth and must be brought back (v19)
> so that souls are saved and sins are covered (v20).
The migraines and the cancers are not his focus. The big deal was the sins that were now condoned and had become part of their life, needed to be dealt with. The healing and the raising up they need is not recovery from sickness, but recovery from accepted sins.
Healing people is nowhere in any of the job descriptions we have for elders. Nowhere are we told that the prayers of elders have special power to make sick people better.
We do know that the charter for elders is that they are to “keep watch over the souls” of those in their care. How?
· By teaching and applying God’s Word to people.
· By helping people to come to repentance.
· And by praying for people in their care.
· And by speaking of the grace of God that forgives and changes.
When God answers their prayer, people are raised up out of sin, find the joy of forgiveness, and are restored to one another. If you think that isn’t the best kind of healing, you need to think again.
Like us, these people would have wanted healing from sickness. It would be stupid not to. It would be very foolish to want it too much, and missing a golden opportunity to learn and to reflect on life and to change.
Their vulnerability in their sickness was at least a chance to think about where their lives were: Are there sins to be confessed? Are there relationships to be restored? Is it time to ask the elders to come and help them do that well, and with a good outcome.
Now let me pause there for a moment.
· Am I saying that we don’t really suffer in sickness, or that we should just suck it up? Not at all.
· Am I saying that God is not concerned about our pain? No.
· Am I saying that we shouldn’t call out to God for help when we are sick and suffering? No, again.
· Am I saying that God never heals anyone physically, in answer to prayer? We know from Scripture and experience that he does.
What I am saying, and what it seems to me that James is saying is that
Ø When there is sickness, don’t waste it. Take it as an opportunity to stop and take a look at things you might skip over when everything is going well. Take advantage of the bumps in the road.
Ø As much as your sickness will allow, think about the biggest things – is there a relationship to be restored? A pattern of respectable sin that needs to be exposed? Is this a chance to grow stronger in faith in the goodness of Jesus?
Ø If you need someone to help you do all that, then call them in. If there is an issue of bad relationships in the church, call in the elders who have the oversight of the church. As you own up to your part and call to Jesus for mercy, ask them to pray as well, confident in God’s promise that “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
You might need to call the midwife, but in situations like this, call those who will minister to you spiritually. Don’t miss the chance to find the healing that you need most.
If the elders have a leading responsibility for the health of the church, what is the role for the rest of us? What should we all be doing? Two things:
1. Go to god in prayer
v13 People who are suffering or who are cheerful (or anything in between) should pray.
v14 The elders of the church should pray.
v16 We should pray for one another.
vv17,18 Saints of God like Elijah the prophet have always prayed.
Do we have to be told to pray? Yes, because we’ve come to believe that we can fix what needs to be fixed, or at least tough our way through problems. Unfixable sickness is a wake-up call – you can’t! That would be a good lesson to learn in sickness, wouldn’t it?
We need to be told to pray because sometimes things are going so well, we forget prayer or sideline it. God says in verse 13 to pray when things are bad and when they are good, because he is a God for all seasons and for everywhere in between suffering and being cheerful.
Maybe we think we need to become a super-Christian to pray and be heard. But James says that Elijah “was a man with a like nature as ours” (v17) – he doubted and despaired and self-pitied just like I do. God heard him and answered, so don’t hold back because you are a nobody or have failed badly.
Or maybe you say “Since God has planned all things, there is no point in praying.” That would be using God’s words against himself. He says that he has planned all things AND he tells us to pray. Whether we understand how that works or not.
I think it is a mistake to say that prayer is powerful to change things. No – God’s plan is eternal – to change it for any reason could be only because there was something wrong with it at the start. What we do know is that our praying is part of that plan. He has planned not only what he will do, but how he will do it. Part of the ‘how’, is to stir us to ask for what he has planned to do.
Had God planned for it not to rain for three and a half years? Sure. He put it into the heart of Elijah to pray for what he had planned – as a means to bring about the very thing he had planned.
Has God ordained that all those whom he has chosen before creation will come to him? Sure he has. How? By means of the gospel we tell and the prayers we pray. The end is ordained, and so are the means to get there.
The power wasn’t in Elijah or in his prayer. The power was all God’s and the plan was all God’s. Elijah got to enter into a great plan as he prayed.
Last Sunday we sang the hymn “Praise to the Lord the Almighty”. One line says “Have you not seen, how your entreaties (prayers) have been granted in what he ordaineth”. Being sold out to the absolute supremacy and sovereignty of God, means not that we don’t pray, but that we do.
Of course the elders must pray, even as they exhort and encourage changes in us all. But so must we all pray. Have you heard God’s Word this morning in such a way that you are resolving even now to pray with fresh commitment and passion?
It doesn’t stop there. Having urged us to go to God in prayer, James says to
2. GO TO OTHERS IN CONFESSION AND FOR HEALING
Verse 16 “Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”
I think James is speaking about more than confessing a bunch of sins to one another, to help one another resist sin, as good as that is. The context here is the quarrelling and fights and grumbling. We are being called to confess our sins against others.
I have insisted on my way. I have argued that I am right, and I will not listen to you. Or I nurse a grudge because of something you said or did. I grumble to others about you rather than speak to you. When you seek forgiveness I refuse it. We know all that happens in marriages, in extended families, at work and in churches.
I think most people here are very, very gracious, but might you be refusing to get off your high horse? Nursing a long-term grudge? Refusing to offer forgiveness? Happy to sit in the same building as others to whom you refuse to speak? A spouse? A sibling? An in-law? Another believer? It cannot be. It must not be.
You’d do anything to guard the physical health of your children, but you are happy to ignore the sickness of a bad spirit and an unwillingness to forgive? You might do something if the other person makes the first move – but that is not what God is asking.
He says to confess the sins that we have sinned against another, and to pray for a good restoration of relationship, regardless of the hurt done to you. Could anything be more clear than “confess your sins (not his) to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (v16) Without waiting for the other person to get it right.
What? Admit my sin, even though it is the smaller part, and I feel justified for doing what I did and saying what I said? Yes. There is no fine print here that says “Confess your sins … unless …”
Don’t despair of that every happening. Pray for it. Pray hard for it, and look to Jesus to work powerfully, James says.
When this is not fixed, someone is living a lie – someone is in danger of “wandering from the truth” (v19). Sins that Jesus dies for are dredged up time and time and time again, when in fact they should be covered over (v20).
I don’t want to say more lest I complicate what is really very straightforward.
I started by asking what real faith looks like – not the pretend kind or the only-on-the surface kind of faith.
1. Real faith prays, and prays with confidence, and prays with delight knowing that God made our prayer to bring about big and gracious things that he has planned to do and to give.
2. Real faith says the health of the church of Jesus matters … that being restored to others by way of deep confessions matters … that bringing people back into right relationships by confession and by covering over sin, matters, so that we do not just say we are one, but we really are.
If God is speaking to you through these words he has written, don’t settle for less, will you? Give up your arguments against praying and give up your pride that won’t let you confess your sin. There is too much at stake not to.
Friends these things are not nothing. They are big. By them we will taste fresh grace from God, and the kind of healing that raises us up in a way that is nothing short of miraculous.
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