James 5, Part 2 Jim Erwin
March 11, 2018
I am amazed at the number of superhero movies and TV shows that keep getting produced. The most recent one was Black Panther which I haven’t seen yet-but between Marvel and DC Comics, they just keep cranking out more superheroes and more movies. For example, in the highly anticipated upcoming Avengers movie this May, it’s reported that there’s over thirty-four superheroes in this one movie. How can you get your head around that? I understand Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Spider-Man but when we start getting to Ant Man or Vision or Groot or Doctor Strange-who has the power of strangeness?-it’s starting to become a stretch. Of course, on the other side of the superhero world you have Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and all the X-Men. It’s a lot to keep track of-to keep all these superheroes sorted in your head. But obviously money talks and over the years superhero movies have made more than 25 billion dollars at the box office, with 2017 being a record year of 4 billion. That’s a lot of tickets being sold to watch superheroes on the big screen. So based on those numbers it’s clear that as a society we’re enamored with superheroes. We love to follow their stories from humble beginnings to becoming someone of great power and skill who can take on the bad guys and accomplish amazing, superhuman things at breathtaking speed we could never dream of. Basically superheroes are everything we’re not-which is why we love them. They’re extraordinary people and we’re just normal people. But the reason I bring this up is because James is going to talk about a superhero in chapter 5. Even back in his day of the first century, people loved superheroes or larger than life characters. But obviously he’s not talking about one of the Avengers, he’s talking about one of the prophets. And his whole point isn’t that this prophet is some sort of person far beyond us, who has powers we could never have and can do things that we can’t. James is saying that this seemingly larger than life, legendary superhero is someone like us and we can follow in his example.
Open your Bibles to James 5 as we’re going to wrap up our series in this book today. My thanks to Pastor Eric for preaching last week. I like how he started off talking about board games. My favorite game was also Risk and I can certainly remember playing the Game of Life that he mentioned-but as he said real life is nothing like the Game of Life and we have to live with eternity in mind. Of course, as Eric pointed out from James 4, our lives are like that morning fog that vanishes when the sun comes out; they’re like the smoke from an extinguished candle that quickly dissipates into the air. That’s a sobering thought. It’s a powerful reality we have to understand about ourselves. Our hope isn’t in this life. We don’t put all our eggs into the basket of this life because it doesn’t last-it’s a mist that’s here and then vanishes. So where we do put our hope is in the Lord and His return? Did you have a chance to memorize this week’s verse? If you have, let’s say it together-James 5:7a. Now patience is never an easy thing. James reminds us of Job-talk about the guy with the superpower of patience! He lost his home, his wealth, his health, and his family, even his wife and his friends were giving him a hard time. Job was at rock bottom-and yet he patiently trusted in the Lord-verse 11. James is reminding us that God knows what He’s doing even in the midst of hard and difficult circumstances of which Job well represents. God can be trusted, His purposes will be accomplished, He’s got it under control and all will work out in His perfect timing-so what’s our role? Look at verse 13a. James is saying our role isn’t to call the shots or figure it all out or demand our way; our role is to pray-verse 13. Those two things are polar opposites-but the point is that prayer includes both. So Point 1: What’s the Priority of Prayer: In joyous times, difficult times and everything in between. It covers all ends of the spectrum. In this last section of the book, James breaks down prayer into two areas-the priority and the person.
We begin with the priority and James is saying that it ought to be prayer-and it shouldn’t be grumbling or complaining-verses 8-9. There’s a convicting statement-but ask yourself what do you spend more time doing-patiently praying or constantly complaining? Do you spend more time talking to God and earnestly bringing your problems to Him or do you spend more time grumbling to others? We won’t share our answers to that one. But grumbling is often our normal, natural response to trouble and suffering, but James is telling us as believers to pray instead. Just think about grumbling for a moment-what does it consist of? Using your mouth to tell others how bad your situations is. What’s prayer? Using your mouth to tell God how bad your situation is-and that’s the fundamental difference. Speaking to others about your problems or difficulties can be a source of comfort as people seek to encourage you-but if you’re not careful it can quickly turn to grumbling, which is very dangerous because grumbling is all about woe is me, how life’s unfair and you don’t deserve this suffering, that you’ve tried to live as best you can so something like this shouldn’t be happening and you’re mad it is and angry at God. Now obviously no one likes suffering or difficult times, but grumbling and complaining focus on the here and now and reveals a lack of trust in what God is trying to accomplish in your life. Remember verse 11b? All suffering in the lives of God’s children will accomplish His purposes. Suffering didn’t just happen randomly or show up unexpected-just like with Job, God has intentionally and purposefully brought that suffering into your life-and prayer acknowledges that. Prayer acknowledges God’s purposes and His sovereign control and even though you say, Lord, this is awful. I don’t like it, grant me relief from this suffering-you can also say-but I know you’re in control, Lord, so please shape me and mold me through this because I know you have a purpose for it. That’s how we’re to pray in times of suffering.
Think about it this way-prayer communicates your trust in God. Prayer gives you the opportunity to get on board with what He’s trying to teach you. Sure it’s one thing to read about trusting God in your Bible and even believe it in your heart-but prayer is that opportunity when you can verbalize back to God that you are trusting in Him, that you do recognize He knows best and you’re on board with His will. For example, it’s like the difference between telling your spouse you love her versus saying-She knows I love her, I don’t need to tell her. Yes, she does know that-but verbalizing it is what it’s all about. It’s the same with God-He wants us to verbalize and communicate our love and trust to Him. And nowhere is that trust more proved genuine than during times of suffering. Of course, He's okay with us praying and asking Him to remove the suffering. He wants to hear our hearts, but prayer gives us the grace we need to endure when He chooses to let the suffering linger. That’s how Paul prayed-2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Paul is saying that God doesn’t always take away the suffering, but He always strengthens the one who is suffering. And maybe you’ve experienced that before-not necessarily the removal of suffering but the grace and the strength to endure it. That’s exactly what happened to Jesus. Remember how He prayed-Luke 22:42-43. God didn’t take away Jesus’ suffering, even though Jesus earnestly prayed and pleaded to Him. God let the suffering stay-but He strengthened Jesus in the suffering. And it’s no different for you and me. What I love about this example of Jesus and the example of Paul is that they both immediately turned to their Heavenly Father in prayer. And that’s precisely what James is telling us to do-verse 13. So back to Point 1: What’s the Priority of Prayer: In joyous times, difficult times and everything in between.
When was the last time you prayed when everything was going great in your life? When was the last time you praised God during the joyous times when things were good? The reason I ask the question is because I think that’s when we most forget to pray. I don’t know about you, but I’m the first one to pray when times are tough. When I’m struggling or really challenged or unsure of what to do or how I’m going to get through something, I’m praying. I’m on my knees because I have no other options. Suffering drives me to pray. But when I’m cheerful and happy and full of joy and everything is great in my life, somehow prayer doesn’t seem as important. It’s as if the need to pray has lessened because I’m so caught up in the peace and happiness in my life that I don’t feel like I need anything from God-All’s good, Lord, I’ll check in with you next time things start to go bad. You’ll definitely hear from me then, Lord-but in the meantime I’m having fun so talk to you later. Don’t we do that? It reminds me of college. When did I call home and talk to my parents? When I needed something or when I spent too much money on late-night pizza and hanging out with my friends that I couldn’t pay my rent or tuition bill. Hey, Mom, Dad, how’s it going? And they saw right through it-How much do you need, Jim? But I wasn’t good at calling home when things were fine to just catch up and chat with my parents about college or classes, I usually only turned to them during my struggles and the hard times. But God wants us to talk with Him just as much in the good times. To be a people who thank and praise and worship Him when life is joyous and cheerful. Think about Psalm 23:4. I’m definitely praying to God at that spot in life when I trudging through the valley of the shadow of death. But am I praising God in Psalm 23:2-3? Am I thanking God when His peace is flooding my soul, when I’m basking in the green pastures and being refreshed by the still waters? Am I saying, Lord, you are so good and so gracious. All of my joy and peace comes from you. I praise you for your sovereign guidance and provision in my life, for all that you’ve blessed me with. We should be praising the Lord just as much in the joyous times, as we’re crying out to Him in the difficult times-Psalm 34:1-3. Challenge yourself to praise Him when life is good and not forget Him, to acknowledge that He’s the source of all your goodness and joy.
Of course, James says to pray about everything in between-back to Point 1: What’s the Priority of Prayer: In joyous times, difficult times and everything in between-and so he goes on to describe another common occasion to pray which is illness-verse 14. Now we’ve armed our elders with bottles of oil, so go ahead and call them! But what James means is that rather than the oil being something medicinal or sacramental that contained special powers, the anointing with oil was symbolic, representing the healing power of God that comes from the Holy Spirit who indwells and watches over believers. It points to the elders bringing encouragement and comfort and strength to a sick person as they visited with him or her and prayed over them for healing. Look at the power of prayer-verse 15. As you read this it might seem to suggest that God’s going to heal anyone who exhibits faith-but we know that’s not the case because it denies both Scripture and experience. I’m sure we’ve all prayed for someone to get well and they haven’t; maybe they got worse or passed away. It doesn’t mean that our prayers weren’t earnest enough. Faithful, godly people die of illness often, which is simply a part of our broken, sin-cursed world. The book of Revelation says that the new heavens and new earth are the place where sickness, disease and death are forever gone. But here in this earth those things are very real. So James is saying to pray for each other’s illness and ask for healing and ultimately ask for God’s will-that’s what we’re supposed to being doing as a church-whether it’s with your small group or with a friend or calling the elders to come over. We’re called to pray for healing and recovery when people in our church family are ill. But how did James say it-The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick. And when James mentions faith, he’s shifted from the physical to the spiritual. Certainly if it’s God’s will, He will physically save the sick person and raise their body back to health, but far more importantly the Lord saves us from the spiritual death we deserve in our sins. You see faith in Christ saves us from our greatest sickness, which is sin-specifically the penalty of our sin which is eternal separation from God in hell. It’s a very serious issue. So while someone may be healed physically if it’s God’s will, someone with faith in Christ will be healed spiritually as they confess their sins and turn to Him. That’s what James is talking about-verse 15b. The sick person in this passage who asked for prayer also had a contrite, repentant heart that desired to confess his sins before the Lord. This is someone who not only realized he was physically sick, but identified the depth of his spiritual sickness. So look at how it continues-verse 16. Sometimes that will result in physical healing-and praise God when it does-but it always results in spiritually healing, which is salvation in Christ when someone turns to Christ and asks to be saved and healed of their sins.
So it’s certainly worth praying about physical healing for others. The text is telling us to do so-and we have some important requests listed in the bulletin. But James is getting to the heart of the issue when he speaks of confessing sins and being forgiven. He’s going from the physical to the spiritual-and that’s how we ought to pray. When you pray for unbelieving friends or family or co-workers who are ill or needing surgery or awaiting test results, do you pray that they will recognize the spiritual sickness of their sins and turn to the Lord? Jesus said in Matthew 9:12. He was using this image of sickness of talk about our sins-so do you pray that way? Lord, let their physical healing point to the spiritual healing they desperately need. May they see you as the Great Physician who not only cures their body, but cures their dying heart and brings new life. I don’t know about you-but I’ve been guilty about just praying for someone’s illness or surgery and neglecting to pray about their spiritual life. Lord, let their surgery go well-which is a fine prayer-but I failed to pray for their soul, that through this difficult time of surgery or sickness they might grow in the Lord and find comfort in Him or they might turn to the Lord and be saved if they don’t know Him. This is how James is commanding us to pray. I like what Robert Law said about prayer way back in 1909. He was a Scottish minister in Edinburgh and in his book The Tests of Life said-Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in heaven, but for getting God’s will done on earth. That’s how we’re called to pray. To say, Lord, let your will be accomplished here, might you heal the hearts of the lost, might you build your kingdom and carry out your purposes. And the next verse captures the mightiness of prayer when it says-verse 16b. When James writes these words, he means for this to describe anyone who reads it. We’re not to say-Yes, when a righteous person prays it does accomplish much-I better call my pastor or my friend who’s a prayer warrior and get them praying. Certainly those people can pray-but James wants you and me to get on our knees and pray because-verse 16b-and as followers of Jesus that’s who we are. This last part of verse 16 is our final memory passage in James.
So Point 2: Who’s the Person of Prayer: You and me praying fervently and faithfully. This passage is meant to drive home the truth that prayer isn’t a job for the super spiritual, super saintly people who have a better connection to God. Not at all. James wants us to understand that prayer is for every believer-because as a follower of Jesus having trusted in Him you’ve been forgiven and declared righteous. So the prayer of a righteous person is your prayer because you’ve been made righteous in Christ. And it’s a prayer with great power. The question is do you believe that? Do you believe that your prayers have great power as they’re at work? It’s incredible to realize they do, or they prayed long enough or hard enough, but the reason isn’t because you’re some sort of great, eloquent prayer, it’s because prayer goes directly to the God of the universe. In his book, Brothers, We are Not Professionals, John Piper says-Prayer is the splicing together of our limp wire to the lightning bolt of heaven. I love that quote. He’s saying that we’re nothing more than a wire just hanging there. There’s no threat of being electrocuted or anything-there’s not any power or electricity of our own coursing through-but prayer connects us to the greatest power source imaginable-the lightning bolt of heaven, meaning the power of God. Remember the classic 80’s movie Back to the Future? It was so good-but Michael J Fox and the doctor rigged up the car-the DeLorean-so that it would get hit with the lightning bolt precisely as it struck the clock tower-and then bam that car flew down the street hitting 88 mph so it could go back in time! The lightning bolt had all the power and they needed to harness it. That’s exactly what prayer is. God is all powerful and we need His power harnessed in our lives-verse 16b. Again-this isn’t because you’re a powerful prayer, but because you’re praying to a powerful God! Huge difference. Don’t buy into the myth that certain people are more effective at prayer than others. It’s not true. The prayer of any believer who honestly speaks to God is powerful because God is powerful-John Piper, p 53:
When we depend upon organizations, we get what organizations can do; when we depend upon education, we get what education can do; when we depend upon man, we get what man can do; but when we depend upon prayer,
we get what God can do.
One translation of verse 16 says-Tremendous power is made available through a godly man’s earnest prayer. God doesn’t desire eloquence, He desires earnestness.
And this is where we come to our superhero. Look at verse 17-18. That’s some serious answer to prayer-no rain and then a bunch of rain. Don’t you wish your prayers could affect the weather! But we think of Elijah as one of the greatest Bible characters. He was the guy who fought the prophets of Baal and called down fire from heaven to prove that God existed and their god was false. He battle Ahab and Jezebel, he raised the dead, multiplied the widow’s oil and food, feasted from the hands of angels in the wilderness, outran Ahab’s chariot, foretold the future, spoke with God in the cave, and then left earth in a whirlwind by riding on a chariot of fire that came down from heaven, and he showed up in the New Testament on the Mount of Transfiguration visiting with Jesus. Talk about a miraculous, legendary, superhero life. He was considered the grandest and most powerful prophet Israel ever had. He’s like all four Avengers rolled into one! But listen to his prayer from 1 Kings 18:37-39. Elijah didn’t say anything special or do anything superhuman-he simply prayed that God would reveal Himself to the prophets of Baal and demonstrate His power-and that’s exactly what happened. Elijah’s prayer wasn’t centered on himself, it was centered on God’s glory. Despite all of the incredible things God had him do, Elijah was just an ordinary man praying to an extraordinary God. That’s what James is telling us-verse 17a. I have that phrase underlined in my Bible so I don’t miss it or forget it. We are no different from him.
In fact, the same goes with David and Paul that we’ve looked at this morning. Sure you could say that they’re superheroes from the Bible-but it had nothing to do with their own power-it had everything to do with God’s power at work within them. Remember what Paul said-we’ll put it back up on the screen-2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul wasn’t a superhero anymore than Elijah was, anymore than you and are. He was a weak, normal, ordinary human just like us-but he let the extraordinary power of God rest upon him. And you and I can too. Back to Point 2: Who’s the Person of Prayer: You and me praying fervently and faithfully-because prayer harnesses us to the power of God that can accomplish amazing things; things that glorify God and build His kingdom. If you look back at verse17-in the Greek it literally reads Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed with prayer. James is being really redundant-prayed with prayer. Our English translations will say prayed fervently or prayed earnestly but James is being redundant because he’s trying to clearly make the point that Elijah prayed-and he wasn’t distracted, he wasn’t doing something else while he spoke to God, he didn’t have something else on his mind or wasn’t trying to multi-task or juggle ten things at once. His heart and mind were focused on God and he prayed. And that’s exactly what you and I are called to do. To have honest, focused, earnest conversation with God. It doesn’t have to be fancy or poetic. God’s not impressed with how many big theological words you can squeeze into your prayer. In fact, God’s not even impressed with how long you pray-as if a thirty minute prayer somehow does more than a five minute prayer. He just simply wants to hear from your heart. He wants you to say, Lord, might Your will be done in my life and in the lives of the people I’m praying for. Might You answer this prayer in a way that glorifies Your name and helps us to grow in You. Accomplish Your purposes through my prayer. That’s it. But how often are we distracted or not focused or just saying words to say words? Warren Wiersbe, p 384:
Many people do not pray in their prayers. They just lazily say religious words, and their hearts are not in the prayers.
Might we be a people who pray from the heart! Anything half-hearted won’t do. If you find your mind wandering or your mouth speaking lazily-which we’ve all done-then stop, refocus and pour out your heart to God. At the bottom of the bulletin, you’ll see the question-God wants me to be praying about _____. What would you put in there? What’s He laid on your heart? He wants you to talk with Him and believe that He will accomplish supernatural things you would have never imagined!