“Prayer Works” James 5:13-20
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, September 26, 2021
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” That’s a quote from Corrie Ten Boom and a great question for us this morning. What is prayer for us? Do we understand prayer as we should?
James wanted the church to understand the power of prayer. In his letter, he asked if any of them are suffering, sick, or just full of praise, knowing full well that their church, like any church, contained people with all of those needs and more. Knowing the answer is yes, he instructed them what to do about those needs–pray. As we’ve heard throughout these seven verses of James, the context for their prayers was church. Those who were suffering were to pray. Those who were sick were to go to the elders in the church and have them pray and anoint them with oil. And those who had praises were to sing their prayers of praise to God in church. For those who needed forgiveness, they were to seek it by praying and confessing their sins to one another. James told them what would happen when they prayed like this as a church, offering up their prayers in faith: the suffering and sick would be healed and the sinful would be forgiven.
To illustrate his point, he reminds them of the prophet Elijah and what happened when he prayed in faith. Elijah, a human just like them, had powerful results when he prayed for it not to rain, a request that kept the rain away for 3.5 years. And then he prayed for it to rain and it did, bringing a great harvest. I’m sure the local farmers were appreciative of that but probably encouraged Elijah to go pray somewhere else for a while.
The lesson here from James is that prayer when done in the right way and in the right context, is a powerful thing. James would have us know this for our church here today; that God has great things to do about our needs and in our lives today. I read a quote from Richard Trench this week that fits with James’ words and what God does with our prayers: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance . . . it is laying hold of his highest willingness.” (Archbishop Richard Trench. Source: Philip Yancey, “Grappling with God”) That’s good to know as we gather to pray. God is not hesitant to answer us but is ready to bring results.
So we must understand the power of prayer. If James were to ask us the same questions he asked the church he was writing to, the answers would likely be the same. We have the same needs, don’t we? Some of us are suffering, visibly or invisibly. Some of us are sick and much in need of healing. Some–ok, all–of us are sinful and in need of forgiveness. And some are just in need of expressing praise and thanksgiving to God. There are also needs in our neighborhood and city we are to pray for, especially with all the recent news of shootings, gang activity, and other violent crimes in our city. So, yes, we all need to pray.
To do so, we should remember a few things about how we are to pray. First, we should realize that prayer, while something we can do by ourselves, is best done with each other, as a church. We all know the words from Jesus about “where two or more are gathered in my name . . .” but that doesn’t mean we always tap into the power of that reality. Like most everything else in our individualistic world, we have a DIY approach to prayer. We suffer in solitude. We keep our sicknesses private. We carry the burdens of our own sins. We give testimony of praise by ourselves. But real help and results come when we get together with each other as a church and pray together. Did you catch the “one another” phrases in our text? We shouldn’t overlook them. God’s help and hope come when we pray with and for “one another.” This is why we often have a time of confession in Worship on Sunday mornings. It’s why we always have Prayers of the People and Testimonies of Praise. And you can know that the elders of our church are always willing to pray for you if you ask. Prayer is such a vital part of our gathering together, which is another great reason for being here each week.
When we do pray like this, the rain may not stop or start, but we can know what James has written will happen: “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” Those are reasons enough for us to get to praying.