Prayer wins the war
Scripture Text: James 5:13-18 (ESV)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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 one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
Last week, we began looking at the topic of prayer within the final verses in the book of James. As we learned last week, prayer is many thing and is mentioned about four dozen times in the New Testament alone. I’ll give you one quote from last week as we jump into the rest of James 5 – “Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth.”
James uses these five verses to reach out to three groups in the church and briefly talks about prayer with them. Verse 13 addresses the prayers of the individual. Verses 14-15 addresses the prayers of the elders. Verse 16 addresses the prayers of the congregation. We’ll begin in verse 16 and move into Elijah’s life and his example of the power in prayer.
Prayers from the congregation
Scripture Text: James 5:16 (ESV)
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
The last phrase in verse 15 says that if the individual being prayed over has committed sins, he will be forgiven. When the Spirit of God enters a circumstance, conviction of our own sin is the direct result. How many of you are aware of your sin? How many of you know God desires for you is holiness? How many of us fall short again and again?
Verse 16 teaches us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. This healing describes the restoration of our spiritual condition. There is no promise that every prayer for physical healing will be answered how we ask. There is no guarantee that an illness is attached to any our sin. John 9:1-3 gives us an example, “As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Any time the works of God have an opportunity to be displayed in our lives, it always has consideration for our spiritual condition. How many of you give the works of God an opportunity to be displayed in your life?
As verse 16 teaches, it is important that we have regular times of confession and that we keep short lists of sins committed against us. Confession of sin and praying for one another flows together nicely. It is very difficult to pray for another person and remain agitated or angry with that person. The restoration of our souls and our ability to commune with God requires us to confess and forgive. Warren Wiersbe said this about the confession of sin. “We must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. Private sin requires private confession; public sin requires public confession.” How many of you have time carved into your day to confess your sins? How many of you have time carved into your day to give God the list of sins committed against you? I’m going to pick at scab for a moment. Next Sunday, you will gather together for a community worship service. Most likely, you will see a pastor at that service who made a public statement about this church that should not have been said. Many of you were offended by his words and actions. Many of you still have the newsletter that he distributed at the post office. The restoration of your soul and your ability to commune with God requires you to forgive this man. Your refusal to forgive a man who came against you prohibits you from communing with God, it grieves the Holy Spirit and it quenches the Holy Spirit from having free reign within this church.
Without confession and forgiveness, you will never experience the rest of verse 16. The New American Standard Bible translates verse 16 this way, “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” The Greek word for effective is the English word energy. The phrase ‘can accomplish much’ translates ‘is very strong’. A righteous person is one who is doing the will of God and cultivating a right relationship with God.
The verse could be re-written like this, “The energy pouring from the prayers of a righteous person has such strength that the Spirit of God will visibly change lives.”
Are you this person? Do you want to be this person? What is preventing you from becoming this person?
God uses normal people to produce abnormal results
Scripture Text: James 5:17-18 (ESV)
17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gain rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
I want to attempt to walk you through this one account when God used Elijah to produce abnormal results. In First Kings 16, Ahab had become the King of Israel.
Scripture Text: 1 Kings 16:30-33 (ESV)
30And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. 32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
Jump down to First Kings 17:1, which says, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” This was a big deal because a person who spoke to the King without being invited or given permission was executed. Elijah basically hides out at a brook and he receives food from the mouths of ravens every morning and every evening.
Jump down to First Kings 18:1, which says, “After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.’” Elijah isn’t a popular guy at this point and Ahab would like him dead. In verse 17, the two guys meet. Ahab calls him the troubler of Israel. Elijah tells Ahab it’s not his fault because Ahab is the one who abandoned the commandments of the Lord. Elijah then issues a challenge. Go get your 850 prophets and meet me at Mount Carmel. Let’s settle this thing and find out who the true God is.
The 850 prophets have a six-hour worship service that includes self-mutilation, human sacrifices and other things we won’t talk about this morning. None of us would want our kids or grandkids at this worship service. Elijah gives them plenty of time for a response and then rebuilds and prepares the altar of the Lord and prays verse 37, “Answer me, O Lord, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Fire comes down heaven and burns everything. God is on the scene. The 850 prophets are slaughtered.
1 Kings 18:41-46 – “41And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’ ” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.”
The message for this church inside Elijah’s story is this. God is looking for people who will make themselves vulnerable and go against the status quo. God is looking for people who will make themselves vulnerable enough to look at the masses and stand up for the truth of God’s word. God is looking for people who will make themselves vulnerable enough to gather in a space during the worship service and pray out loud that God’s spirit will invade this church. “Let it be known that you are God.”
Are you willing to make yourself vulnerable enough to meet in space during the worship service and pray out loud with others one Sunday a month? Do you care enough about the future of your church that you’re willing to spend time praying for God’s spirit to invade your church?