The Best First Option
Prayer is a very significant part of our lives as believers. Through prayer we share our burdens with God and share the burdens of others. Though prayer we give thanks and praise to God. Through prayer we communicated with our Daddy and he communicates with us.
We dedicate time to get together with our friends, connect with loves ones that are far from here through vide chat, and we make time to have conversation with our kids and spouse. Why? Because we understand that relationships grow with communication and stagnate or die with a lack of it. Prayer, our communication with Yahweh, is something that we must dedicate time to.
We started the book of James with this command:
James 1:5 || 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. [NLT]
We are introduced to the concept that living a life that honors God requires that we talk to God, that we pray to God. We need to learn to ask God for what we need. He wants us to ad is waiting to give us what we need when we lean rot ask him.
Then James says that asking is not enough, we need to ask a certain way. Not with certain words or a certain length. We must ask in faith.
James 1:6 || But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. [NLT]
Later, James tells us why our prayers are sometimes unanswered:
James 4:2b–3 || … Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. [NLT]
We need to pray, but there is a requirement that we are seeking first what God wants for our prayers to be answered. God is not a vending machine where we insert some faith and prayers and get what we want. God wants us to talk to him but not as some spoiled kids who demand their own way and tell their daddy what they want.
So, we must pray. We must pray with faith in God. We must pray with faith in God for the things that will honor God.
As we wrap up the book of James, this topic or prayer becomes concentrated.
James 5:13–20 || 13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. 16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. 19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. [NLT]
Over the years I have challenged myself and others to think about the theology behind statements that we make. For instance:
- we call the musicians that share their talents with us “the music team” and not a “worship team” because ALL of us are the worship team! All of life is meant to bring glory to God and that involves a lot more than music and it involves every child of God.
- You and I ARE “The Church”, so we try not to refer to this structure we meet in as the church. We do not go to church; we get to be the church.
- SIDE NOTE: This coming Saturday we have class called, “Welcome to Church” which talks about this and what it means to be the church. Everyone is invited – just let me know via communication card or text so I can have enough breakfast items and workbooks 😊
When it comes to prayer, I have a list of phrases I am trying to rephrase to match my theology
- Since God is OMNIPRESENT (everywhere) I do not need to ask God to be with someone – he is already there! As a matter of fact, if we have accepted Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit (GOD) living inside us and always with us. Instead I pray that God will make his presence felt or known to the person.
- Here is one I catch Christians, like me, saying all the time, “I guess all you can do is pray” or “You can’t really do anything for me, just pray”.
We make this statement as if prayer is a last resort or the fallback in the event of doing something truly constructive. Think about that.
“Since I am not able to do anything else in my own strength, I guess I can let God handle it from here” It sounds silly like that, doesn’t it?
Look at our passage:
- If you have troubles or are suffering: PRAY
- If you are happy or cheerful: PRAISE (a type of prayer)
- If you have a physical need: PRAY (with the elders)
- Struggling with sin: CONFESS & PRAY
That about covers life, doesn’t it? But these verses can be a bit much to try to memorize, and if we are going to remember the importance of making time for prayer, memorizing verses about prayer can be helpful!
Here is a super easy verse you can commit to memory. I bet all of the kids can memorize this one:
1 Thessalonians 5:17 || Never stop praying. [NLT]
Here is my favorite verse on prayer for people who never, ever use absolutes:
Ephesians 6:18 || 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [NLT]
If you struggle with worry, anxiety and allowing God to have control, this verse is for you:
Philippians 4:6 || 6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. [NLT]
So, basically, the BEST thing we can do and the FIRST thing we should do and the MOST EFFECTIVE way to minister to others is to pray for them. It ought to be on the TOP of the list, not at the bottom.
Going back to our verses in James, there is a phrase that I want to call out for you.
James 5:16 b|| … The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. [NLT]
The prayer of a righteous person.
Who here is righteous? In Christ, we are declared righteous before God. That is our position in Christ because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross:
2 Corinthians 5:21 || 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. [NLT]
James also clarifies that we CAN be righteous in this life, at this moment as well, but the way that we live. In Chapter 2, verses 20-26 James points out that both Abraham and Rahab the prostitute were righteous because their lives were full of works that came from their faith in God.
To interpret James 5:16 in the context of the rest of the book, it might read something like this:
“The prayer of a Jesus-follower who is demonstrating their faith by living a life for God and others has great power and produces wonderful results”.
Great power and wonderful results NOT for our physical well being or our personal comfort, but for God’s mission and his glory.
Some of you are probably going, “Wait a minute, Mike! Just where do you see the mission of God in these verses?”. I am so glad you asked! 😊
James could have mentioned many people who prayed.
- The book of Psalms is filled with the prayers of David, a man after God’s own heart.
- There are the prayers of Nehemiah for the nation Israel.
- What about the desperate prayer of Jonah as he was entombed in the belly of the big fish?
James doesn’t mention any of those, he mentions Elijah. [1 Kings 17-18]
If you read this account, and you SHOULD 😉, you will notice a few things.
- God told Elijah what to do. He told Elijah it would not rain and then later that it would rain, so when Elijah prayed, he was obviously praying inside the will of God.
- Elijah was not praying for his own gain or comfort. As a matter of fact, it was less than comfortable for him and he even had people trying to kill him because of the prayers he prayed
- Elijah’s mission was to draw the people back to God.
1 Kings 18:36–39 || 36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.” 38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!” [NLT]
Elijah was praying that the people would see God, understand God’s love for them and turn back to God. These are Jews that walked away from God to serve other gods.
James, writing to a bunch of Jews, about all the things that can become gods to us: self, stuff, etc, says this at the end of the book:
James 5:19–20 || 19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. [NLT]
He is reminding the Jews that they have walked away from God (and all sin is a walk away from God) and they can turn back to live their lives for God. God is still loving and wanting to draw them back to himself.
Our prayers need to be like Elijah’s – that people will see God and his love for them through our lives. THAT is a prayer that is powerful and effective. That is a prayer that God will answer when we ask in faith. It will start by affecting your life and changing you, and then, as your life aligns with God’s heart, it does a powerful work of accomplishing God’s mission on this earth through you and me.
Spend send time in prayer; thank God that he allows us to be partners with Him in helping people turn to God, and pray that God will give you opportunities to show His love to others and share the good news of Jesus.