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Jericho Ridge Community Church (Archived)

Before You Say Amen

 “Before You Say Amen”

 Message @ Jericho Ridge Community Church – Sunday, Nov 23, 2014

Text: James 5:13-18 // Series: Mirror, Mirror: Reflections in the book of James

 

Being a pastor, you get asked to do certain things.  16 years into pastoral work, I am fully comfortable with most if not all of those things.  But one of them still intrigues me: That is, that as a pastor, I get asked to pray in the most interesting of places.    

 

I get asked to pray at the gravesides of people I have never met.  At the bedsides of people who are moments from eternity.  In the homes of people who are celebrating new life.  At the altar when a couple is marking a new beginning.  These are holy and hallowed moments and it is a privilege to talk to God in these moments.  But one of the most ubiquitous or common requests that comes when you are a pastor or maybe for you, if you are the only religious person in the room, is to pray for meals.  Now meals are funny things to pray for, in my opinion.  I’m not sure if you’ve thought much about the verbiage that is usually deployed there… I’m always curious ask Jesus to bless food that is beyond bless-able in my mind – anybody remember the scene from Talladega nights where the main character Ricky Bobby says his mealtime grace to Christmas Baby Jesus – cause that’s his favorite Jesus – and asks Christmas baby Jesus to bless the KFC, the Doritos, etc…  But for meal-time prayers, my personal favorite is from the Meet the Parents trilogy, where the awkward son-in-law Greg, tries to say a mealtime grace.  Let’s watch. 

 

VIDEO: Meet the Parents clip (53 second)

 

Prayer can be a funny thing when you stop to think about it.  Is there a right or wrong way to pray?  Do you have to use certain words to open or close your prayers?  Why do we bow our heads and close our eyes?  But there are also the bigger, more philosophical questions: If God knows everything, why pray?  What about prayers for healing that go unanswered?  And so many more.  These questions are not new to us – they have always existed.  In fact, when you think about the life and work of Jesus and all of the questions that his disciples could have asked him for more teaching about, the one recorded master class that Jesus gives is in answer to the question “teach us to pray”.  And as we close out our fall teaching series in the book of James this morning, it is intriguing to me that in a book chalked FULL of practical advice for living and the integration of faith and deeds, the writer, James, feels that the important place to land his letter is not with personal greetings like some of the NT letters, but with instructions on prayer.

You might remember that James, who was the half-brother of Jesus, is writing to people living in difficult circumstances in the first century.  His readers are people who are experiencing intense trials both personally and societally. There is unresolved conflict in their churches.  There are issues with people favoruing the rich and neglecting people who are poor.  There are individuals who are quick to speak but slow to listen.  There are people who are falling into the same traps of temptation and sin over and over again.  There are people who say they love God and others with all their hearts but have no demonstrable actions that would indicate this to be true.  They are people who have trouble waiting.  In other words, they are people like me and people like you.  And with all of the things James could have chosen to write about to them, his summative comments focus on prayer.  He doesn’t answer all the inquiries you and I might have about the topic, but he does cover three main questions: James tells us WHEN to pray, HOW to pray and WHY we should pray.  Let’s look together at James 5:13-18 [2 slides].  I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation.

 

So the first thing James lays out is WHEN to pray.  If you are taking notes, there are three things underneath each of James’ three questions – I’m a pastor… I can’t help myself J but I also owe much of this structure to the IVP NT Commentary Series.  The first answer to the question when should I pray is right off the top in v. 13 -  1. In Times of Trouble – or suffering. 

 

In our study of James 1, we talked about how often we pray that God would deliver us from hardship.  Whereas James would counsel us to ask God for strength and perseverance in affliction.  The other danger is that sometimes when the challenge level in our lives goes up, we stop praying altogether because we think that God doesn’t care or can’t help us.  The instruction in the book of James is exactly the opposite: times of trouble are exactly the time to pray. For us here at Jericho, one expression of this is our e-prayer team.  When you or someone in your life has a need, we want to be able to stand with you in prayer.  So the when you are in need, send an e-mail to prayer@@jerichoridge.com and that gets distributed to around 60 people – elders, staff, intercessors – who have expressed a desire to pray for you.  Put that in your contact now so you have it. 

 

The second time to pray is In Times of Happiness – “Are any of you happy? Sing praises.”  Many of the songs that we sing here at Jericho Ridge are drawn from the text of Scripture.  They express our collective joy and celebration at being forgiven and free from sin, they call to mind all of the reasons we have celebrate the amazing gifts that God has given to us as humankind.  Often these happy or up-tempo songs are the ones we sing right at the start of the gathering because they set our hearts and minds on God and they set the tone for our time together.  And I love that our worship leaders work hard to choose and rehearse songs that express these emotions and experiences.  But I’m going to be a bit directive with you for a minute, church.  So if you are new or visiting with us this morning, you are welcome to tune out for a few minutes – check your Facebook status of something.  On Sunday mornings in our gathering, when someone is praying from the front, I love the fact that it gets quiet in here.  That there is a sense of respect both for the person on the mic as well as the fact that we are praying collectively to Almighty God.  But here’s the deal - that same direction of communication that is in play when a person is praying is the exact same directional communication that is in play when we are gathering and singing together.  We start a time of corporate prayer at 10:30 AM sharp every Sunday.  And when you wander in at 10:40 or whenever, talking loudly to your friends about your week, you are interrupting a prayer gathering that is in process.  We are singing our prayers and praises.  So I want to push you a bit here, Jericho…  You are great at showing respect to those who those who lead us in spoken prayer.  I’m going to ask you to show respect to those who lead us in sung prayers and your fellow pray-ers by making the effort to be here on time.  It’s not that early – you can do it.  And if you do come in late, be mindful of that fact that though it is celebratory and the music is rocking, people are praying.  They are just doing it because they are happy and they are singing songs of praise to Jesus.  So respect those around you.  OK, I’m down from my soap box but I think I heard a few “amens” out there.  

 

So number three under when to pray.  James says In Times of Sickness – Call the elders of the church. [read 5:14-15]  What is James on about here?  That instead of heading to the doctor when I have the flu, I need to call Pastor Keith or Karen or Ralph or David or Tyler?  Just because they have the role of elder, does that mean that God hears their prayers more than other people?  I don’t think that is what James is getting at in these verses.  Remember back in chapter 1 what he said about prayer? That prayer is an expression of confident faith.  The fact, then, that a sick person would make the effort to call on others to invite them to come and pray for him or her is not only an expression of faith put into action, which is one of the main themes of the book, but it is also an expression of submission and unity in the church.  One commentator on this text says it this way “James envisions a spiritual power available to the church and exercised through the elders. This is not at all to diminish the importance of personal prayer by each Christian. It is to affirm the value of agreement by the church, for Jesus promised that agreement among Christians would unleash power for answered prayer (Mt 18:19-20;Jn 15:7-17).”  When you are sick, invite others to stand with you. This is why we have prayer response.

But this isn’t the most radical thing that James says about prayer.  Let’s keep looking in verse 16 where James is going to help us learn not only WHEN to pray, but also HOW to pray.  The first thing he says is that we should pray in the context of 1. In community. But the specific instructions James gives is the shocking thing.  James invites us here to confess our sins to one another.  Not just to God but to other trusted and wise members of the community.  The first time I read this I remember thinking “you’ve lost me on this one, James.  I was with you praying when I’m in trouble, praying when I am happy, praying when I am sick – but now you want me to expose the deepest, darkest sins in public? No thanks!” 

 

But remember the trajectory James has taken us on.  This is a community that is wrestling with verbal attacks on one another in 3:9. They have been fighting with each other, slandering one another and judging one another in chapter 4.  James has pushed and pushed until he gets here.  To a place where he is describing relationships that are so transformed and so authentic that instead of all of the things that used to prevail, there is a common recognition of a need for grace.  There is a common understanding expressed in prayer that invites others into our lives to the place where they know our weaknesses and sins and can help to hold us accountable.  One of my favorite contemporary spiritual writers Dallas Willard says this about the discipline of confession: “Confession helps us to avoid sin.  Proverbs 28:13 says ‘He who conceals his sis does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.’… It is said that confession is good for the soul but bad for the reputation, and a bad reputation makes life more difficult in relation to those close to us, we all know.  But closeness and confession force out evil doing. Nothing is more supportive of right behaviour than open truth. 

 

And the baring of the soul to a mature friend in Christ or to a qualified minister enables such friends to pray for specific problems and to do those things that may be most helpful and redemptive to the one confessing.  Confession alone makes deep fellowship possible, and the lack of it explains much of the superficial quality so commonly found in our church associations.” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, 1991, page 188.)

 

Nothing is more supportive of right behavior than open truth.  Who knows you deeply that can share every part of who you are and invite them into the process of supporting your growth by hearing your confession?    

 

This obviously does not mean that we go around blurting out everything that is on our mind and in our hearts all of the time to everyone we meet.  This notion of being authentic all of the time with everyone is not what James is driving at.  There is appropriate and healthy disclosure and confession and there is confession that is damaging to both the confessor and confessee.  What James is inviting us to consider is that entrusting someone in community with the shared duty of care for our souls brings about the possibility of wholeness.  Relationally and spiritually and physically.  Appropriately enacted, Confess is good for the soul, it is good for the body, it is good for right behavior.  In my quarters group, for example, we know that confession is built into the package so we go there.  And though it is awkward at times, it is profoundly and deeply healthy to confess our sins to one another.  It has and is resulted in healing. 

 

The second aspect of HOW we should pray comes to us in verse 15 – the prayer offered #2 In Faith – This has been the primary theme of James’ writing so we need to hear this in the context of the whole book.  There’s no magic formula for prayer, no special words that will stir up this faith.  James has reminded us that praying in faith requires a sense of conviction that God is hearing my prayer and also a sense of keen listening to His Spirit so that I can walk out in obedience any aspects of my prayer that God puts into my heart to do.  Praying in faith is active, not passive, and not simply a mindset in James’ thinking.

 

The third reminder on HOW we should pray also comes to us in verse 15.  That we want to pray in a spirit of In repentance.  If you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.  Repentance brings relational and spiritual healing.  Nothing blocks or prevents me from praying like broken relationships either vertically (with God) or horizontally (with others).  If I am not in right relationship with God, I find it difficult to approach him.  That’s why the discipline of confession and asking God to search our hearts is so vital to a vibrant prayer life.  This is a growth area for me.  I can go for a long time without asking God to search my heart and point out any areas I need to repent from.  But this also plays out horizontally.  If I am not in right relationship with another person or group, I find it difficult to pray for them.  I cannot have an effective prayer life if I am not willing to walk in repentance and right relationship with others.  If I harbor anything against another person, I can’t pray for them with authenticity.  Jesus talks about this when he says if you worshiping God and the Spirit of God brings to mind a relationship that is broken that you have the ability to mend, you need to tend to that first.  You repent of your pride and your need to be right or to be smart or to be first or to be whatever and you humble yourself and you go to your brother or sister and you make it right.  We have had two instances of that over the course of this past month where Daniel and Danny have both come and asked for forgiveness from the community.  They have asked for forgiveness & it’s been granted so it’s done. 

Repentance opens the doorway for relational and spiritual healing to occur with the vision that this plays itself out in prayer.

 

And this is where James lands the plane.  He answers the most basic question last:  WHY pray?

#1 - The Results Prayer makes the sick person well… provides forgiveness…  Allows the power and mercy of God to flow into my life.  “Pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  You and I may not understand everything about prayer, but we are given to understand prayer is connected with wonderful results.  It builds faith, brings healing, releases forgiveness into our lives.  We want these things, don’t we?  Prayer is the place where we come to receive these things from the Lord.  Not in the sense of a magic potion or incantation.  That if you and I just say the right words, we can twist God’s arm into doing something that He was previously unwilling to do in our lives or in His world. But in the sense that in prayer, you and I are invited to listen to God and to receive from Him the strength to endure hardships, the joy that bubbles over into song, the ability to control our tongue and resist temptation and to patiently wait for His coming.  You and I may not understand all there is to know about prayer but I like what C.S. Lewis says “I pray because I can’t help myself, I pray because I am helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking or sleeping.  I pray because it does not change God, it changes me.  What part of your life do you want to God to intervene in?  Bring it to Him in prayer.  Invite others to join you. 

 

Because the principle that James wants to leave us with is simple:

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.  It’s not the anointing oil that brings healing, it’s not the elders praying for a sick person that make them well, it’s not the even the righteousness or piety of the person that shakes heaven and moves earth in prayer.  It is the authority and power and strength and grace and mercy of the God to whom we pray.  He is powerful.  He is the One who is producing and ordering the results of our prayers.  Our responsibility is to maintain right relations with God and with others and to pray earnestly.  The great power and wonderful results? Those are up to God almighty. 

 

And as if to underscore this principle with an example, James points to biblical history, to the character and actions of the Old Testament prophet Elijah.  Elijah is one of the prophets who is known for miracle producing prayers.  He is the guy who prayed for the widow’s son to be raised from the dead and God responded.  He is the one prayed and God gave the widow of Zarapeth an un-ending supply of oil.  Elijah is one who prayed and God sent ravens to feed him by a brook that didn’t dry up when the rest of the country experienced crippling drought.  The story he references about there being no rain for 3 and a half years is the one that culminates with his dramatic showdown against the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18 and God answers Elijah dramatically not only with fire but also with rain.

 

So as an example of prayer, we might think that this Elijah guy had some kind of special status.  But James says “you know what?  Elijah? He was a human being just like you and me.”  The miracles that God did as a result of Elijah’s prayers were just that – works beyond Elijah’s human powers.  They were God moving in power to answer prayer. 

 

But here’s the problem for you and I.  We sometimes think to ourselves that we could never pray like so and so.  I mean listen to their eloquence.  Think about their lives – how close to God they must be!  I mean, my life is nowhere near that level of super-spirituality.  This whole prayer thing? If that’s the bar, righteous living and powerful prayers, I shouldn’t’ even try!”  Maybe that’s why James uses Elijah and not Jesus as his example for us.  If he said “pray like Jesus” we could be tempted to say “yeah, but He was the Son of God”.  So James invites us to consider that Elijah want’s really different than you or I.  He was a real person, who prayed real prayers, with a confident faith that a real God would hear and respond.  James is saying to you and I “if a man can pray so earnestly that God shuts the heavens for 3.5 years, then surely you and I can pray with enough faith to receive healing or forgiveness from sin”.  Elijah shows us both the great expectations & common availability of prayer. 

 

As we wrap up our series in James and move into Advent next weekend, I want to invite you to examine your own prayer life.  What areas do you want to grow?  Maybe for you it’s overcoming fear.  Maybe you fear that you’ll sound stupid so you hold back in prayer.  Maybe you have been hurt before by gossip so you hold back from sharing your needs with others.  All of us have room to grow in our prayer life so why not make a commitment to starting today.  Right now.  Part of the reason that we have response prayer time each weekend is that we want to create a culture of prayer here at Jericho.  Some of you have been wrestling for months with whether or not to go up.  Just do it.  The team is going to come and lead us in two songs about prayer that are also prayers.  As you sing, I want you to think about an area of your life that you want to lift up to God in prayer and then walk it out.  Pray with someone around you.  Come to pray with the team – Deb Jarvis and I will be on this side, Pastor Keith will be on the other side.  Then after two songs we’ll close with the Lord’s Prayer.      

 

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