November 23, 2014
James 5: 13-16
Prayer in all Occasions
Consider that you are working on a project at home and find you need a particular tool or a certain part in order to complete it. Maybe you are doing some holiday baking and realize you are missing an essential ingredient. What do you do? Call a neighbor for the proverbial cup of sugar or to borrow a tool? Get in the car and make a quick run to the store? When you have a problem, you seek a solution. The means to your solution is perhaps a phone call or a car ride to get what you need.
In the same way, James gives us three scenarios or occasions that prompt us to seek God. Prayer is our vehicle for sharing with God just as a car or a phone call becomes a means for us to find a particular item we need. James says that we pray when we are facing trouble. We give God praise when we are happy. When we are sick we ask others to pray for us in order to find healing. If our sickness stems from sorrow over sins, we confess our sins and pray for each other. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
James speaks with some authority on the subject of prayer. The historian Jerome wrote in the fourth century that, “James the brother of the Lord… prayed on behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels’ knees.” To go on to verse 17 in our scripture lesson, James wrote that Elijah prayed earnestly, and his prayers were effective. James was so impressed with the quality of Elijah’s prayers that he sought to follow his example. Old Camel knees spent a lot of time in prayer.
I’m not telling you anything new to remind you that prayer is a privilege. In all the occasions of life – from sickness, disappointments, danger, or death, to the joy of a job promotion, the gift of a child, receiving comfort, or gaining a new friend – both the good and the bad are reasons to be in fellowship with God through prayer. We worship God well as we share both the sorrows and the joys.
When people have to endure hardship and sorrow, they cry out to God for help. Prayer is our source of comfort in times of suffering; what would we do without a channel for asking God’s help? No one can be so far beyond help that God cannot lighten his burden. No one could be so broken-hearted that God is powerless to bring relief.
The trouble, however, is that when one is so immersed in suffering God seems to be on some distant planet. They are stuck in panic mode; they give in to their fears and become overwhelmed by pain. It feels as if life and indeed God, has turned against them. In their pain they forget to pray, or think that God must not be listening. They begin to question God’s goodness.
On the other hand, when we are happy, it is natural that we should have a skip in our step or a song on our lips. A little whistle pops out, along with a smile on our face. It would seem that prayer is only natural here too. Paul writes in Ephesians 5: 19-20 – Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Happiness is not a problem, but in the midst of this calm and even good period of life, we can forget to give thanks to God. We get caught up in the pleasures of the moment. We begin to believe we are the authors of our own good fortune. As we enjoy the good times that life brings, God is left on the sidelines.
Suffering as well as happiness can interfere with our desire to stay in close fellowship with God. Maybe in the tough times we realize how much we need the Lord, but in happy times we delude ourselves into thinking that we are in control. Take a back seat, Lord, and wait until I need you.
The third part James speaks about is prayer for one who is sick. This is one areas especially where we need to intercede in prayer on another’s behalf. It is tough praying when you are feeling sick, because your attention is stuck on how awful you feel. To pray for another who is sick means a lot – in order to direct one’s attention back to God and restore hope for healing.
I want to add a word of caution, however. Prayer offered in faith gives control to God. We pray, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” We pray because we are confident in God’s goodness; we believe God will do what is best, and we commit our cause into God’s hands. We pray for healing, but we give God the glory in whatever circumstances God gives us. Healing may come, but we are blessed with peace and wholeness through faith in our savior, Jesus Christ.
We may pray in faith for one we love, but we cannot turn God into a puppet doing our will. God instead may reveal issues that need to be addressed for healing to occur. Are there any destructive habits that are keeping you bondage and preventing you from finding good health? When Jesus healed the man who could not walk, he first told the man his sins were forgiven, then commanded him to get up, take up his mat and go home.
James wishes us to grow in our commitment to prayer, whether we are suffering or happy or thankful or sick. James also wishes us to grow in a commitment to pray for others, because that’s what Jesus did all the time. Jesus never bypassed an opportunity to pray for someone.
If there is anything I would like you to take home today, it is a greater desire to pray – wherever you are or however you feel, and to feel more comfortable in praying for others. I share a real-life story from another pastor about a man named John Brewer, who manages a computer-repair shop.
He would not call himself a theologian, but he ministers to people as he meets them through his business of fixing computers. If he senses a need, he asks if he can pray for them. He will then take the initiative of praying right then. I’m going to say that he prays in ways that are sensitive to the person’s need, prayers that take down barriers rather than putting more up, and that’s important. His prayer is not to prove his holiness, but to join with another in asking God for help.
One day John met a truck driver in his shop. John could tell the man was troubled, but the man didn’t talk a whole lot. After John prayed, however, the man opened up and began telling John about his struggles in life. On another occasion, John helped a woman take her repaired computer to her car, and that kindness released a wave of tears as he prayed for her. John Brewer believes that asking others to pray for them has changed his life. Because he prays, he has become more understanding and accepting, more compassionate and vulnerable.
On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, make the decision to become more of a person of prayer. Jesus prayed for his friends and disciples. He prayed for all believers, and for those who nailed him to the cross, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Jesus got up early, before dawn to pray. He prayed late into the night once his work was all done. He prayed before making a big decision, and before a miracle was done.
It is good to pray to give thanks, but as James reminds us, there are many opportunities for prayer. Pray if you are happy and pray if you are in trouble. Pray for those who are sick, and pray to confess sins. Pray for each other for healing and wholeness. Pray without ceasing, pray trusting in God’s goodness; pray in all occasions.