THANK GOD FOR PRAYER
By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D. © 2010
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 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. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
Thanksgiving Day is this week. Did you know that America was the first nation in the world to set aside a day of the year to give thanks to God for our blessings. I know that we’ve been in a recession and unemployment is up, and housing sales are down, and all that, but we still have a lot to be thankful for. I think that too often we overlook the little things, the daily blessings in our life that we take for granted and fail to thank God for.
For example, how many of you rode to church in a nice warm vehicle of some sort today? Most of us do this every day and we don’t think about the fact that there places in the world (even here in the United States) where people walk miles to get somewhere.
When I was a boy in the early 1970’s the only vehicle we had was a white 1970 Ford F-150 pickup truck. It had a vinyl bench seat. Imagine what that was like on those curvy West Virginia roads. We learned to buckle up just to keep from sliding back and forth across the seat and banging into the door or the driver.
Sometimes I had to ride in the open back of the pickup truck on long trips. We didn’t know anything about safety back then. The only seat we had was a tire, and we were glad to have it. If we complained my mom would say, “You are lucky to have a tire. Children in China don’t have tires to sit on.” Everything was compared to children in China. I wondered what the Chinese parents told their children.
My dad would pump the brakes for no apparent reason. Each kid would end up smacking against the cab of the truck. I think he was just doing it to make sure that we were all still there. He counted the number thumps against the window and said, “Yep, they’re all there.” It would get cold on the back of that truck. Sometimes we’d open of the little window between the bed of the truck and the cab and poke our head in. “Man it’s warm up here. You can’t even feel the rain.” As someone who rode in the back of a pickup truck in the dead of winter, so cold that I couldn’t feel my hands or feet, I can tell you that every morning I go out to my Kia Sorento with the leather heated seats, navigation system, and surround-sound stereo, I thank God.
I’m just saying that too often we overlook the little things, or perhaps we should say we fail to appreciate the daily blessings that we become so familiar with until we no longer recognize or thank God for them. In our text there is one theme that is repeated seven times in verses 13 through 18—prayer. Prayer is something that we can and should engage in every day, but how often do express thanksgiving for the fact that we are given the honor of boldly approaching and conversing with an all-powerful God any day, anytime, anywhere, and we can do this with the knowledge that God is listening?
I want us all to consider how thankful we should be for the awesome privilege we have of praying to God knowing that He hears and answers prayer. Look at the text with me today.
I) WHEN TO PRAY
Notice the repetition of the words “pray” and “prayer”. James tell us to pray when we are suffering, pray when we are sick, pray for forgiveness of sins, and pray for one another. How many of you have gone through a time of suffering, when no one else could do anything, when it looked like there were no answers, when it seemed like everything was about to fall to pieces and you didn’t have the answers, but somehow something down deep inside of you said, “Pray”?
You didn’t have the money for the bills, you didn’t have the answer for the situation in your marriage, you didn’t know what to do about your children, you were lonely and you were suffering, crying in the midnight hour, your heart breaking within you, your hope almost gone, but them something inside you said, “Pray”!
The doctor said there’s nothing that can be done. The lawyer said the marriage is over. The boss said the job is phased out. The bank said they’re foreclosing on the house. The devil is whispering in your ear, telling you to pack it in and give up on God. But then, in the midst of the storm, there’s one word that rises up above the waves and silences the wind and thunder in your mind, because something in you cries out, “PRAY!" Don’t quit, don’t stop, don’t despair, don’t doubt, but drop to your knees and pray until heaven’s windows rattle, the enemy is sent running for cover, and the answer pours down like rain on the parched soil of your soul. Thank God for prayer!
I’ve been there. I’ve experience suffering in my life. I know what it is like to be at the end of my strength standing on the precipice of disaster thinking that I was one step away from the point of no return, but then something said, “Pray”!
At one point in my life, after an accident that resulted in surgery and several days in the hospital, I found that I had tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and no insurance and no way to pay. I was at the point of despair and I remember calling my mother to ask if I could move into the old mobile home back in West Virginia, because I just knew I was going to go bankrupt. I’ll never forget her words as I told her my situation. She said, “Mark, you haven’t God a chance yet.”
I realized she was right. I hadn’t even prayed. I had heard the bad news and I was ready to throw in the towel. As a result of her words I began to pray. Thank God for prayer! By the time the dust settled the hospital wrote off the $20,000 I owed them, the doctor reduced his bill, and the church I was pastoring paid all the remaining bills because I was working on the church when the accident occurred. Not one penny came from my pocket, and I believe it is all because I prayed, God heard, and the answer came quickly.
James said in verse 13, “Is anyone among you suffering?” That word translated suffering is from a Greek word that means to suffer trouble or misfortune. You may be suffering emotionally, or suffering financially, or physically. Something tragic may have happened in your life. You may just be lonely, wondering if God has anyone for you. I may not know the source of your suffering, but I know the source for your answer and He invites us and instructs us to pray, to approach the throne of grace boldly, to ask in His name, to agree in prayer, and then to trust Him to work it out.
In fact, the very next phrase in verse 13 anticipates an answer. (Look at it with me.) He begins by saying, “If anyone is suffering, pray,” and he continues, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” Notice that cheer and singing follow suffering, and the only thing between the two is prayer. You may be one prayer away from your cheerful breakthrough and the renewing of your song. The Psalmist said, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19).
Not only should we pray when we are suffering emotionally, or financially, or relationally, but James tells us that when we are sick, we should pray. Look at verse 14, “Is anyone among you sick?” I know there are the hyper-faith people who think that if they have enough faith they’ll never get sick, but for us regular people sickness is always a possibility that we have to face and a reality that we have to deal with.
James said that when we’re sick, we should pray. In fact, James said that we should call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over the sick, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Anointing with oil symbolizes the healing power of God on sick body of the individual. In the act of anointing, when done by faith and in prayer, something powerful is released in the body of the sick. James said in verse 15, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”
It’s not the person praying that is doing the healing, it’s not the oil, or the even the words of the prayer itself that is raising up the sick, but the prayer of faith touches the heart of God and Who extends His hand of healing and raises up the sick. Prayer is powerful, not because of who we are, or our faith, but prayer is powerful precisely because our prayers are offered up to an omnipotent God who responds to us when we pray.
There is, however, something that can hinder that healing flow, and that is sin. James encourages us to confess our sins, and when we pray the prayer of faith, if we have committed sins, they will be forgiven and healing will follow. But James doesn’t stop there; he is compelled to expand upon this point in verse 16. He says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” In Matthew chapter 9 verse 2, Jesus told a man, “Your sins are forgiven,” and only afterward in verse 6 did Jesus say, “Arise and walk.” Sin can hinder healing in our lives if we allow it.
This is not to say that everyone who gets sick has sinned. The disciples asked of a blind man, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus said, “Neither of them. This is just an opportunity for God’s work to be revealed through him” (John 9:2-3). So while sin can be at the source of sickness, and sin can hinder healing, personal sin is not always the source of sickness in our lives. Sometimes sickness is just part and parcel of the human condition. We still abide in mortal bodies. One day this mortal shall put on immortal, and this corruption shall put on incorruption, but until that day and until that hour, we vulnerable to sickness. But while we are vulnerable to sickness, we are not powerless or helpless. We can pray and heaven will hear and answer when we pray in faith and when our prayers are not hindered by sin in our lives.
If we are sick and we know that we have sin in our life, we need to confess it and get it under the blood so that the healing hand of God can begin to move in our life. We need to pray, “Search me and try me, oh Lord, and if there is any sin in my life, bring it to my remembrance that I might confess it and find forgiveness in You.”
Notice that the response of the church to a brother or sister who confesses sin is not judgmentalism, is not condemnation, is not censure or criticism, but the response of the church to someone who confesses that they are carrying the weight of sin in their lives is that the church members pray for one another and healing follows.
The text implies that we are to confess to one another wrongs we may have perpetrated against one another. Then, after we have forgiven and prayed for one another, healing power flows. Jesus said in Matthew 18:19 “. . . if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.” The place of agreement is the place of powerful prayers, and that power will only be released when we love one another and are willing to forgive one another for wrongs we may have committed against one another. So James said to confess and forgive and see the healing power of God move in our midst.
Often when we stumble and fall to temptation we want to hide it, deny it, or conceal it, but James said to reveal it, that is, to confess it and pray for one another. The only remedy, when sin is hindering our healing, is to plunge that sin beneath Calvary’s crimson flow until it becomes as white as snow and open up the windows of heaven over our life.
Thank God for prayer. I don’t have to carry around a guilty conscious, because I can pray. I don’t have to live with a secret sin hanging over my head, because I can pray. I don’t have to allow the enemy to build a stronghold in my life upon the rubble of my failures and sins. I can pray and know that the blood of Jesus cleanses me from all unrighteousness and makes me fit again for service in the kingdom of God.
Prayer is not just a ritual or a good habit. James said that prayer is powerful. In verse 16 he says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” We can have confidence in the power of prayer. We can pray with the knowledge that something is going to happen, situations are going to change, healing is on the way, because God said in Psalm 91:15, “He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”
Sometimes when we can’t help another person and we don’t have the answer for their dilemma we will say, “Well the only thing we can do now is pray.” And we say it like it is the last resort and the lowest item on the list of options. But the reality is that the first thing we should do is pray. Sometimes we have not, because we ask not. Jesus said to his disciples, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). We need to be quick to pray because when we do, we will be amazed at what God will do in response to the prayer of faith.
If you are here today and you have a need in your life, would you slip your hand up? For those of you who lifted your hand, James tells you and me, “Pray.” We don’t have to have a seminary degree. We don’t have to be a preacher. All you have to do is pray with faith and trust God to move on your behalf.
James gives us the example of Elijah. He says:
17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
In other words, if God would do extraordinary things for Elijah, a man just like us, then God will do it for you today, and all you have to do is pray and believe.