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The Power of Prayer

James 5:3-18

by
Eddie Ee

Prayer is a privilege, I think of the song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and the words that are written:

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,   
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

These words written by Joseph Scriven in 1855 to his mother who was separated from him in Ireland. These words were first written anonymously and were not credited to Scriven until thirty years later. This man suffered so much grief in his lifetime. His first blow was when his fiancée drowned the night before they were to marry. Having recovered from this, he moved to Canada in 1846. There he met and became engaged to Eliza Roche. In what seems too amazing to be coincidence, Eliza, too died shortly before their wedding. Following the death of his second fiancée, Scriven started helping the aged members of the community and penned the beautiful lines of this hymn. Without the power of prayer, Scrivens life would have held less meaning and the same holds equally for us each day as well.

No subject has greater prominence in the Bible than prayer, yet too many Christians are indifferent to prayer. Prayer is both a privilege and a command. Philippians 4:6, “Be careful for nothing but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  In the verses that we are looking at today, James is urging us wherever we are, whatever our situation, to live our lives facing God in prayer. What a tremendous challenge!

The first point that James highlights in chapter 5 and verse 13 is that we have duties unto the Lord in times of good and not just bad. A major problem that confronts us today is that we are fair weather Christians; we only allow God out of the box that we have put Him in, when we need Him. He becomes the “emergency button” when some disaster threatens. For the most part we have no problem dropping to our knees in times of need or distress, but we often overlook to praise and give thanks for the wonderful things that God has done in our lives. We need to look at this another way as well. We may pray for our deliverance out of a situation that looms just ahead of us, but what if it is not to be avoided? To often we cease to pray when we are not spared the unpleasantness that is soon to overtake us, and in so doing we miss out on the blessing of feeling the Lord’s comfort as He stands by with us and assists us as we endure.

The second point James highlights is the fact that prayer needs to become a greater portion of our life. We need to pray for ourselves, we need to pray for others, and we need to come to our brothers and sisters and ask them to pray with us and for us. We should not fear calling for help. James writes in verses 14 and 15:  “Is any sick among you? 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 shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up and if he hath committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

If we are ill, whether physically or spiritually, it is our responsibility to call on the church to pray for us. It is the churches’ responsibility to respond to the prayer needs of others. Yet there are many amongst us who hold back for the simple reason that we are concerned about the impression that others in the congregation might have. We all know the thoughts. There goes brother and sister so-and-so to ask for forgiveness of sin; their lives must be consumed with sin. May God forgive us for those thoughts! Perhaps the prayer request is for spiritual strengthening, perhaps there is a minor health concern, and perhaps there is a sin issue involved, the business that needs to be done is between the one that requested the prayer and our Father in heaven. Our duty is merely to lift them up so that their needs be met, nothing more.

There are many times when request need to be of the silent variety, however there are also times when pray concerns are not shared because of the fear that they, at times would become fuel for congregational gossip. We miss out in so many instances where we could have prayed more and had more prayers spoken on our behalf. Prayer is such an effective means of our communication with our Father that Satan would stop at nothing to keep us off of our knees and lifting our petitions toward heave

 

The third point that James highlights is found in verse 16, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The last part of the verse highlights that prayer is powerful.  James statement offers several important suggestions about the power of prayer. The phrase ‘effectual fervent’ comes from the Greek word Energia, from where we get our English word - Energy. Our prayers get their energy from God. James does not stop there but goes on to explain what he means by ‘effectual fervent’ with an illustration, in next two verses.

Verse 17 and 18, “ Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”

The power of Elijah was prayer! Elijah prayed, and it did not rain; he prayed again and it did. Both prayers involved daily living. Rain in Palestine came from the Mediterranean Sea. Elijah knew which direction to look. He looked upwards - towards God. Here is another precious thought: ‘Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are’ - we tend to make biblical heroes “superstars”. On the contrary, they were humans just like us. God listened to Elijah; God listens to us.

Does God answer prayers? Yes! Every faithful Christian’s prayer is answered. God answers “yes” as in the case of Elijah. Hannah prayed for a son (I Samuel 1:11) and God blessed her with Samuel and other children. Hezekiah prayed to live; God added 15 years to his life in (Isaiah 38:2-5). The answer is yes when it is the will of God.

“No” is an answer too.  Many Christians tend to deny this as an answer. As parents, we can perfectly understand why we cannot always give our children everything they ask. Yet, we are unwilling to accept a “no” from our heavenly Father. God told His precious Son  ‘no’ three times in Gethsemane. God told Paul ‘no’ three times concerning his thorn in 2 Corinthians 12:8. In prayer we need to trust God’s answer whether we like it or not.

“Wait” is another answer too many of us would not want to hear. In Luke 1, we read of a fascinating account.  Zacharias and Elizabeth were faithful but they had no children. Elizabeth was barren. They prayed for a child for years and when an angel promised a son to Zacharias, he was not pleased. Why? Because he wanted that child twenty years earlier! Too many of us ask God to go by our time schedules. God has the perfect sense in timing. Zacharias and Elizabeth had been unwilling to wait upon the Lord but look at the son God gave them - John the Baptist. He gave them the perfect son for a perfect mission in the ‘fulness of time.’ God answered Jeremiah’s prayer in Jer 42:4-7 but He waited 10 days to do it. Jesus Himself is a model concerning persistence in prayer. Here’s little poem that depicts just that,

Cease not to pray 
And if the answer tarries
Wait. God will come
And He can never come too late.

The third answer to our prayer is a substitute. He gives us something different from what we asked for. Moses prayed to enter Palestine. God disallowed his request but He did allow Moses to view it from Pisgah. In John 11:43-44, Jesus did not return to heal Lazarus but He did raise him from the dead. When parents cannot give their children what they want, they sometimes substitute the better. Paul raised this issue in Romans 8:31-32, “What shall we then say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

If God does indeed answer prayers then why are some of our prayers not answered? The reason that our prayers are ineffective and powerless is because there are several hindrances that prevent our prayers from reaching God. God had spiritual laws that govern prayer. Ignorance of these laws and how they operate in prayer, as well as other parts of the Christian life can be devastating. Failure to understand these laws causes some to become disheartened when their prayers are not answered.

Have you ever written a cheque and filled it all out properly and forgot to sign it?  Legally that cheque is worthless without a valid signature. Similarly, our prayers are  invalid if it is not addressed to God, our Father (Matthew 6:9). Also, our prayers must be in the name of Christ. This is clearly stated in John 14:13-14, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

The second prerequisite to effective and powerful prayer is a forgiving spirit. In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Bitterness and anger is growing in the church pews, in our school systems, in the world. This bitterness and wrath hinders the effectiveness of prayer. Col. 3:19 says, “Husbands love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” Could bitterness grow at home as disobedience and hinder prayers?  This is made clearer in 1 Peter 3:7, “… ye husbands …giving honour unto the wife … that your prayers not be hindered.” Read Mark 11:25-26,  ‘When ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.’ A forgiving spirit is necessary to walk on heaven’s sod. If your prayers seemed hindered, check if you are bitter, angry, or unforgiving.

The third requirement is that our prayer must be in harmony with God’s will. 1 John 5:14 states, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.” The model prayer that Jesus taught the disciples in Matt 6:10, “… thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Often we presume we know God’s will, and this is not always true. Never forget the Sovereignty of God.

The next requirement is that we must pray in faith. James 1:6-7, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” Faith means taking God at his word in the face of impossible odds. God promised to give Abraham a son when his own body was as good as dead and Sarah’s womb was barren (Romans 4:19). It seemed impossible. But “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform (Romans 4:20-21). How sad today, we pray many words and then worry. Worry and anxiety is a type of doubt. Doubt is a type of fear. Do we pray and go home and worry and reach for the valium or the sleeping pill? The writer of Hebrews 11:6 tells us simply that without faith it is impossible to please God. In Matthew 21:22, it is further reinforced. “And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” If you are going to invest in prayer then believe. We believe our feelings? We believe the circumstances? We believe our eyes?  We trust the banks, why not trust God? People believe when they see, but Christians must believe and then see.

The fifth prerequisite is humbleness. In Luke 18:9-14, we read of a parable of two men going up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee showed no humbleness only hypocrisy in his prayer but the publican showed true remorse. He humbled himself before the Almighty. Jesus declared that the publican “went down to his house justified…for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Prayer is not a vehicle to display one’s proficient use of descriptive words or a means to inform God and scorn man. William Barclay puts it this way :“When a man thinks more of how he is praying than of what he is praying, his prayer dies upon his lips.”

The sixth requirement is that we must practise righteousness and keep his commandments. In Psalm 66:18, there is a warning. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” God is not looking for perfect hearts but pure hearts. If a cow eats green onions out of the field, it will have bad breath, but there is something else, the cow’s milk will have a terrible taste. Not only does the cows breath stink, but the cows’ product will smell and taste bad. Similarly, if our hearts are filled with sin, our prayers will not be “sweet aroma” but an “abomination” to the Lord. Prayer without obedience will not work because ‘he that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” (Proverbs 28:9). In Isaiah 59:2, clearly reveals that our sins have separated us from God and our sins have hid His face from us that he will not hear. This is also reinforced in Micah 3:4. There are many examples in the Bible that tells us that sin and failure to keep God’s commandment result in God not hearing our prayers. King Saul is one prime example. In I Sam 28:6, the Lord refused to answer him because of his disobedience and sin. If we are not living the way that God wishes for us to live, and we pray for His blessing upon our life, is our prayer going to be effective? If we pray for more prosperity and yet fail to give a portion back in return, can we really expect to be blessed financially? It says in 1 Peter 3:12, “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and His ears attend to their prayer.”

In conclusion, many of you may have heard of the Muslims’ “Five Pillars of Faith.” Five times each day, orthodox Islamic believers bow in prayer. Once in the morning, at noon, once in the late afternoon, once at sunset, and right before they retire for bed, they have prayer. They kneel, place their foreheads to the ground and offer their prayers toward their holiest city of Mecca, the home of Mohammad. It is quite a unifying ritual for them, knowing that all over the world Muslims are doing the same thing, bowing toward the same holy place. I couldn’t help but think of that Muslim practice when I read James 5:13-18. People, wherever they were and whatever they were doing, coming to a time of prayer. The Christian’s prayer is certainly different. It is not a five times a day fixed ritual. Our physical position is not fixed, nor is our prayer directed toward a particular city. But the standards required of a Christian’s prayer are much more than these mere rituals and vain repetitions. As Christians we need to go forward, realising that men ought always “to pray and not to faint.’ (Luke 18:1); we are to pray everywhere (1 Timothy 2:8) and pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Brethren, our prayer life is the barometer of our relationship with God. As Christians, we do not have a choice. We either pray or perish. The New Testament Church was a praying church (Acts 2:42; Acts 4:23-31). You will never find a praying church that is not a growing church. Satan fears nothing from prayer-less studies, sermons and work. He laughs at our work and mocks our wisdom but he trembles when we pray. There is power in prayer.  Believe it!

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