Posted by Pastor Phil Huebner
10th Sunday after Pentecost
1. At all times
2. For all people
3. With all confidence
Text: James 5:13-18
For all the evils that go along with technology in this world, there is plenty of good that comes with technology too. Perhaps one of the greatest blessings of technology is that we are able to stay connected with friends and family around the world.
To say that starting a brand new church and school in Palm Coast was difficult for my wife and me is quite the understatement. But perhaps one of the harder things has been being separated from our families living 2,000 miles away in Wisconsin. Many of you know what it is like to be separated from family.
But this isn’t the old days where we would see each other once every few years and hope that the Pony Express gets our letters to each other eventually. Technology has made this much easier. Both grandmas and grandpas can see pictures of their grandchildren in Emails or on Facebook. We can see each other and talk face to face with Skype. We can call. We can text. They can watch videos of my sermons or school graduation services. Airplanes and highways make connecting relatively easy, too.
There’s a certain comfort in being able to talk to family. If you need to talk, they are just a phone call or Email away. If you need comfort in tragedy, they are willing to listen. If you need to share joy, they are happy to rejoice with you. If you need help, they are always right there listen.
Yet sometimes family and friends fail. They get busy. They have to work. They live too far away. They don’t have time to help. They don’t have money to help. Some don’t have good relationships with their families at all.
This is a problem. Family may change or not have time or move away or pass away. Friends may change or not have time or move away or pass away. But though they change, I still have problems. I still need someone to talk to. I still need someone to listen. I still need someone to help. What am I to do?
This morning we hear the words of James in the second lesson and we are greatly encouraged. There is someone who is always there for us. There is someone who never changes, who always listens, who always helps. God!
Best of all, you don’t need an airplane to get to him. You don’t need to send him an Email and hope it doesn’t go to junk mail. You won’t get his voicemail. You actually don’t need technology at all.
Do you need someone to talk to? Do you need someone to listen? Do you need someone to help? It’s really very simple! Pray!
One of the problems with having friends and family a long ways away is time. How do you find the time to talk? If I’m free, they might be busy. But if they’re free, I might be busy. With crazy calendars, soon you realize that you haven’t talked in a very long time and you are out of touch.
Prayer often works the same way. But the problem is not with God. He’s always there. He’s always available. He’s always listening. The problem is with us. If we are out of touch with God in prayer, it’s not his fault. It’s our fault.
Usually it’s the crazy calendar excuses. “I’m so busy. I don’t have time for that. There are a million different things on my mind. I want to pray, but I usually forget. I get so tired.”
But these excuses are just that—excuses. And bad ones too. Am I really too busy to take 30 seconds before a meal? Am I really too busy to pray on the way to work? Am I really too busy to pray while I walk or run or bike or do yard work? Am I really too busy to take a minute or two here or there? Am I really so busy that I can’t pause the DVR in bed before I get sleepy to pray for a few minutes?
God commands in the Bible, “Pray continually,” or “Pray without ceasing.” What exactly does that mean? Well it doesn’t quantify an amount of time, but I know I’m not even close to praying continually.
Lack of prayer shows a lack of trust in God. It’s as if we think he won’t hear us or won’t help us or doesn’t care about us. God invites us to speak to him as dear children speak to their dear father, yet we use our excuses to say, “Sorry, heavenly Father, I’m a little too busy to talk to you.” Then we complain when nothing gets better in our lives.
What a loving and gracious God we have, who forgives all these sins! Despite our negligence and incompetence in prayer, he still invites us to speak with him. The blood of his Son Jesus covers over all our sins and opens the communication lines to heaven. We don’t need to pay a monthly service fee. We don’t have to earn talk time. Jesus paid the price with his life and death so that we can talk to God at all times. And that is what he invites us to do.
You get that feel of “any time” and “every time” from James in the second lesson this morning. Listen to what he says: “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray.” If you are in trouble, pray! If you are happy, pray! If you are sick, pray!
The way the paragraph flows he easily could have kept going: Are you worried about your job? Pray! Are finances tight? Pray! Does your marriage need strengthening? Pray! Are your kids crazy? Pray! Is work tough? Pray! Making a tough decision? Pray! Need a boost of joy and peace? Pray! Want stronger faith? Pray!
This is the greatness of our God. Because he has forgiven our sins, our Father is always ready to listen. No call waiting. No busy signal. No failed WIFI. No blocking and tiling on Skype. He is always there to listen and always there to help. So listen to your God’s loving invitation and Pray! Pray at all times!
There’s another litmus test you can do for your prayer life. One is how often you pray. But another test is to examine your prayer ratio sometime. Here’s what I mean: With all of your prayers, try counting sometime how often you say the words “I” or “me” or “my” and compare that to how often you mention someone else’s name in your prayers. (By the way, your family only partially counts because that’s still within the realm of “my.”)
Maybe occasionally we will pray for a friend who is in trouble, or someone else at church we hear is having surgery. But how often do you pray for other people at church, maybe even going right down the church directory list? How about the families of your child’s classmates? How often do you pray for your coworkers? Your mayor? Your president? Not only is our prayer life sometimes rather scarce, often our prayer life is often rather selfish.
What a loving and gracious God we have, who forgives all these sins! Thankfully we don’t see any such attitude in Jesus. He wasn’t selfish, he was selfless. He gave himself to pay for the sins of people who constantly think about themselves. He prayed for others. He lived for others. He died for others.
Such selfless love leads us to be selfless, both in how we live and how we pray. Listen again to some of the encouragements from James, starting in verse 14: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Now and then I have people who get a little upset with me. “Pastor, you didn’t visit me in the hospital when I was sick! You didn’t pray for me in church.” But many times I have to respond, “When were you sick? I didn’t know you had surgery. Why didn’t you tell me! I’m happy to visit or pray for you, but I’m not a mind reader.”
James reminds us that if we are sick or in trouble or need help, we should tell others. Tell your pastor so he knows. Tell church leaders. Tell other church members. Tell friends. Then we can pray for one another.
The example James gives is of someone sick. He’s not saying in these verses that we have the power to heal. He’s also not saying that when I visit you in the hospital that I should dump a bucket of oil on your head and you’ll be alright. Often oil was used like medicine to dress wounds and help heal back then. In other words, we should use medicine and also pray when we are sick.
Even if it isn’t sickness—if it’s sins we are dealing with—James reminds us we can have the Christian connection with other people that we can feel comfortable confessing our sins to each other. And when we admit our wrongs to each other, we can look forward to hearing about forgiveness from each other.
This is the wonder of our Christian family. We can pray for anyone, about anyone, with anyone at any and every time. So Pray! Pray at all times and Pray for all people!
An active prayer life is difficult, isn’t it? It’s hard to remember to pray at all times. It’s hard to remember to pray for other people on top of that. Unfortunately, those aren’t even the hardest parts. The hardest part is praying with confidence.
If you do happen to remember to pray, how often do you believe that God is listening and going to help? How often do you believe that God will give what you ask for (assuming it’s not a selfish prayer)? Is prayer a last resort—something you’ll try once in a while and see if it works? If it doesn’t, at least it didn’t cost anything, right?
These attitudes show a lack of confidence in our God. It shows that deep down inside we don’t really trust that he will listen, or maybe he doesn’t care enough to help, or maybe he can’t help. But such thoughts that we couch deep in the recesses of our hearts are blasphemous thoughts not even close to the truth.
What a loving and gracious God we have, that he will forgive even these sins too! His love and care for us are in fact so great that he was willing to die for all of us. His power is in fact so great that with one death he was able to defeat Satan and take away the sins of the entire world. That very same love and care for us and that very same power are what he uses to gladly hear our prayers and answer our prayers. We can pray with confidence.
Listen to James as he gives us one more example, starting at the end of verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”
“Oh, but I’m no Elijah,” you say. “He was God’s prophet who had something special happen at a special time,” you say. But James reminds us that Elijah was a man just like the rest of us. He was a sinner too. Yet he was able to stand before God as a righteous man because God had forgiven all his sins. God didn’t answer his extraordinary prayers because he was so great or because he prayed so hard. God answered his prayers because the prayers of believers our powerful and effective. They are powerful and effective only because God in his grace listens to his people.
You are actually just like Elijah. You are a sinner like Elijah. But you have been declared righteous for the sake of Christ like Elijah. So like Elijah, God will listen to your prayers and answer your prayers. That makes your prayers powerful and effective.
This is the greatness of our God. Not only does he invite us to pray at all times, not only does he invite us to pray about all things and all people, but he also invites us to pray with all boldness and confidence. The love he has for us in Jesus proves that he’s willing to listen. So Pray! Pray with all confidence.
Not many know this story I’m about to share . . . Most of you know about our annual kids carnival and how successful it has been. It was our first grand opening event back in 2007. We had 177 people show up the first year. It was such a success that we thought we would try again.
I was very anxious about year two. We talked a lot about how great it would be if we could maybe go from 177 to 300 people. That would be an incredible blessing. We prayed hard. We planned big for 300.
That day I woke up and the sky was completely overcast and gray. It did not look good at 9am for our 1pm carnival. It was such a big event for our church as we were trying to get our name out and reach out to people. Rain would have been devastating.
I specifically remember praying that morning with great fervor and great frequency: “Lord, please don’t let it rain. Your will be done, but please don’t let it rain. I’m praying with the boldness and confidence of Elijah. You made it stop raining for three and a half years for him. I know you can do it for four hours for us. This event is for you and your kingdom and our church. Take the rain away and bless the event. Your will be done.”
By about noon it was completely sunny and cloud free. By 1:30pm, 30 minutes into the event, we already had 400 people walk through the doors. We finished that year not even having close to enough supplies for the 750 people that showed up for the event. (And now for year seven this year we are planning on 4,000-5,000 people attending!)
Now some might say, “Well that was a lucky coincidence.” Some might say that. But I would say, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective,” because our loving and gracious God listens to and answers his people.
But he doesn’t just do that for Elijah. Not just for me. Our loving and gracious God listens to you too. So Pray! Pray at all times! Pray for all people! Pray with all confidence!