Doing Means Praying
Rev. Bryn MacPhail
Here we are in our final week of studying the epistle of James. We know very well
by now, that the epistle of James is all about "doing". That is to say James is concerned with whether or not we are living out our faith--James
wants our "walk" to match our "talk", he wants us to "practice what we preach".
In this epistle about practical living, it should come as no surprise that James ends
his letter with the topic of PRAYER.
In this letter, James has given us many admonitions--we've been told to "bridle our tongue"(1:26), to practice "(good) works"(2:26), and to avoid worldliness(4:4). We've also been exhorted to "be patient"(5:7) as we wait for the results of submitting to God(4:7).
And it was said last week--"being patient" doesn't mean sitting on our hands. Being patient requires PRAYER.
James asks the question, "Is anyone among you suffering?"(5:13). Is there a more relevant question than that? We all suffer in differing ways
and in differing degrees. Some of us are suffering physically--battling disease or
the deterioration of our bodies. Many of us--probably all of us--struggle spiritually.
If you don't, I'd sure like to know your secret. For our sinful, self-centred ways
are not easily set aside.
Many of us suffer in our relationships. We all know what a strained relationship looks
like. For some of us, we struggle to get along with our boss, or maybe it is our
co-workers. Some of us suffer in our relationships with our parents, while others
suffer in our relationships with our children. Some of us fight with our siblings, and
some of us suffer even with our spouses.
The question, "Is anyone suffering?" is indeed an appropriate one. And what should be our response to our suffering?
"Let him pray"(5:13), James says.
No, James doesn't write a "How To" book to help us deal with our suffering. He simply
says "pray". The answer is simple, but let us not call it simplistic. To say that prayer
is a simplistic response to suffering is to doubt the power of prayer. And to doubt
the power of prayer is, of course, to doubt God.
Does this mean we will always get what we pray for as long as we have faith? No it
doesn't. James has already challenged us to check our motives(4:3) when we pray,
and Christ Himself insisted that we pray for the Father's will rather than our own.
So what is the Father's will then? When we are suffering, what are we to pray for?
Here is part of the answer. When we are suffering it is the Lord's will that we PRAY
FOR ENDURANCE. When we are suffering, we may
pray for healing--and James does exhort us to do just that--but it is difficult to
know whether healing is the Lord's will or not.
We do know for certain, however, that it is always the Lord's will for us to walk
closely with Him. And one of the ways we walk closely with Christ is by clinging
to Him in the midst of suffering. We have to scroll back to last week's text to see
this--verse 10 says, "As an example, brethren, of SUFFERING and patience, take the prophets . . . Behold
we count those blessed who ENDURED". Blessed are those who endure. James wants us to pray for strength and endurance.
Now James doesn't want to give us the impression the God is merely some "supernatural-fixer-upper"--He
is called "Father" for good reason. Not only should we turn to God when things are
going poorly, but James reminds us to remember God when things are going well. James asks the question, "Is anyone cheerful?"(5:13) and he reminds us to "sing praises" to God--to thank God for the blessings we experience.
James then returns to the issue of hardship. Under the general category of "suffering", James exhorts us to "endure"(5:11), but now he is more specific. James asks, "Is anyone among you sick?". And while James had previously exhorted us to endure in our suffering--in fact,
his opening statement to us was an exhortation to remain joyful in the midst of hardship(1:2)--James
now admonishes us to seek help.
James doesn't simply give us permission to pray for healing--he insists that we "call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over (us)"(5:14).
This is no token prayer either, James says that "the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick"(5:15).
A qualification is necessary here. I have come across Christians who would say that
if you pray for someone who is sick and they are not healed then you did not have
enough faith. These Christians err when they say this because what they are doing
is putting faith in their faith.
We must remember that NOWHERE in Scripture are we called to have faith in ourselves,
and that EVERYWHERE in Scripture we are called to have faith in God
. And to have faith in God is not merely believing that He can heal, but that He wills
Let's be honest. For reasons beyond our comprehension, some people are healed while
others are not. The important thing to remember here is that people who are healed,
are often healed through prayer. That is James' message. When our prayers for healing
mirror God's will and timing, the "sick" will indeed be "restored".
James appears to switch gears when he turns to the topic of sins in verse 15. James
says, "if (one) has committed sins, they will be forgiven him". It is as if James makes a link between sins an illness.
This is an assumption the Pharisees wrongly applied to every case of illness. Jesus
corrected them by declaring that illness was not necessarily connected to sinfulness(Jn.9:2,
3). We all know this to be true even from experience--we know this because most of us would be sick this morning. Mercifully, we don't get sick every time we sin.
Now after saying all that, I don't want to gloss over what James says. His point is
that one's sins may very well be an issue. The apostle Paul's first letter to the
Corinthians, chapter 11, describes how some became sick and even died from their
sins(1Cor. 11:30). In Acts chapter 5, it is recorded that Ananias and Sapphira died because
of their sins . . .
This is serious stuff folks. . . We must not take our sin lightly. Sometimes in my
prayers, I find myself negotiating with God--reminding Him that there are worse sins
than what I am committing. But this is a poor approach to dealing with sin.
What we should be doing, James tells us, is "confess(ing) our sins to one another . . . so that (we) may be healed"(5:16).
This is the difficult part. The fact that we sin embarrasses us. We all want to grit
our teeth and determine to sin no more, but this seldom happens. We can't do it on
our own--that is why we are the Church--we need one another's support, we need one
another's prayers to overcome sin.
Overcoming sin is an important issue here. Not so much from any direct connection
to the illness, but most certainly sin is always connected to OUR PRAYERS.
Sin is a communication barrier between us and God. Therefore, if "faith" in God is required of us, sin becomes a central issue. For James says, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much"(5:16). "Righteous" here doesn't mean perfect, it means right in the eyes of God--it means no barriers
Yes, there is a sense where Christians are declared righteous once and for all in
the eyes of God, yet there is another sense where we bob in and out of righteousness
according to our present state of sin. For this reason I've developed a routine for
Sunday morning--from the minute I hit the shower at 7:30 until the first person arrives
at St. Andrew's at around 8:30, I'm praying
. And I'm not just praying for anything--I'm praying for FORGIVENESS for all my sins.
I'm petitioning for God's mercy, that He would wash me clean--for unless I'm washed
clean my prayers and my sermon will lack the presence of God. And if my prayers
lack the presence of God they're going to lack effectiveness.
So James leaves us with the exhortation to "pray". This is no simplistic exhortation--prayer is powerful. Prayer changes things. Yes,
the Lord's will is what will prevail in the end, but the Lord often chooses to accomplish
His will through prayer. Let me say that again: the Lord often chooses to accomplish His will through prayer.
Perhaps I should let James have the final word: "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much". Amen.