Today we come to the last in our series of sermons on the book, or letter, from James, to the twelve tribes, a reference to the OT tribes of the Jews who believed in God. But James is writing to the people in the original twelve tribes who had heard of Jesus and accepted him as the promised Messiah. Not all of them did Jesus as the promised Messiah, there are still Jews today waiting for the Messiah.
…. And in case you think we’ve missed out the last two verses of the book, it was covered under the heading “Attitude”, do you restore or condemn people, four weeks ago.
But this letter is to those who believed in Jesus and were trying to follow his way. James’ letter is a letter of encouragement and instruction to them, as it is for us Christians today. You may have noticed that each week, the focus was titled: “James, wholehearted devotion to Jesus.” And each week posed two opposites. If you look at the A5 sheets given out as you came in, you’ll see them listed there. (See list at the end) In the middle of the list is the topic, and on the right and left are the polar opposites of response. It might be interesting to draw a line from one extreme to the other and see where on that line you think you are! So the book of James is a good short list to check up on our progress in development as Christians.
Today’s focus is prayer, and the opposites posed are: faithful or flaky?
Good prayer is summed up in v. 16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”. And in the previous verses look at the situations where we are called to pray: when in trouble, sick, sinful actions. The odd one out is happiness – in those times, we’re called to sing songs of praise. If you define prayer as talking to God, it’s added to the list. There are lots of verses in the Bible that encourage us to pray at all times, in the bad times and the good times.
But one of the great things about this passage, is that it encourages prayer within, between and, among the members of the house of faith. We’re not often called to endure challenges, or celebrations, on our own, we’re instructed to gather others around us to pray. Now some may say that’s turning everything into a social event, a chance to chat (hopefully not to slip into gossip), but it is encouraging to be prayed for. One of the secular sayings we hear is “A trouble shared is a trouble halved”. And sometimes when we pray, God can seem a long way off, but when we pray with others, we are encouraged to remember that he is present, however we are feeling, and we are for each other God’s hands and feet and ears and eyes. What a difference a touch on the shoulder can make, our feet carry us to the person to be prayed for, we have ears and eyes to observe the person in need. In these cases, we’re God’s representative. The passage encourages us in v 16 to pray for each other that you/we may be healed.
Let’s take a moment to think and chat about this. Are you by instinct an individual prayer or one who likes to share prayer with others? Have you stepped outside your comfort zone and done the opposite? What difference has it made? There are no right or wrong answers, just share experiences.
I am by nature a social prayer, but one day when I needed strength and courage to get through something, none of my prayer friends was available, and I knew it was just me and God. (When you stop to think about it, isn’t that actually the best!) And God was faithful, he taught me the lesson that he would answer prayer, and I would be strengthened, without the intercessions of praying friends if they weren’t there. So now I weigh up a situation, sometimes I ask friends, sometimes I just talk to God. He taught me that day that he is with me no matter what, and I’ve been so grateful for that.
We are given in this passage too an encouragement from the Old Testament, just like James did in the passage we read last week. This time it’s the story of Elijah who prayed for the rain to hold off for three years, and then prayed for it to return for three years. (I have no idea what farmers thought of this!) But it is a statement of fact, and if you want to read the whole story, you’ll find it in 1 Kings 17 & 18. This is another great Old Testament read, do have a look at it later.
We are reminded that the prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective. “Righteous” means in a good relationship with God. You may feel close to God today, but not tomorrow, and for your friend, it might be the other way around. Sometimes we don’t feel connected with God and it takes someone else to remind us of his presence. And it raises the question about what an answered prayer looks like. Very often we come to God with a request, having thought about it, and having already decided the answer or the means of the answer!! But of course, it isn’t like that, God isn’t a sparkly fairy with a magic wand here to simply do our bidding. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and he’s here, overseeing our lives, knowing what is best for us, but also knowing that there is sin, wrong things, at large in the world too, and we need strengthening to get through those times He’s here forour strengthening, as well as for the times of thanksgiving when he has gloriously answered our prayers way beyond our feeble thoughts of what the answer might look like.
The topic of prayer is a big one, but as one of our housegroup said, it about being in a right relationship with God. And it doesn’t just apply to prayer, it applies to all the other topics we’ve covered in James. If we are in a right relationship, and close to him, we will be given answers (even if we don’t agree with them), support, encouragement, fellowship, good attitudes – in short, all the things that make up for a wholehearted devotion to Jesus.
I pray we all feel God’s presence with us today particularly, and in the week to come, especially in challenging, difficult or heart wrenching situations, but in times of thanksgiving too, and that we learn to hear better how God answers our prayers.