Summary: Prayer that Works takes work, along with persistence, risk, and righteousness before God. In this sermon, we're going to try to close the gap between what we say about prayer and what we practice.
Good morning. I invite you to turn in your copy of God’s Word to James chapter 5, but also to put a bookmark in 1 Kings chapter 18, because we are going to spend some time there as well.
The story is told of the western town that had experienced a hard drought. One of the local churches announced that they would hold a special prayer meeting one night to pray for rain. On that night, the church building was packed, but the preacher told them to go back home. There’d be no prayer meeting that night – because no one had come expecting to have their prayers answered…
NO ONE HAD BOTHERED TO BRING AN UMBRELLA.
This story may or may not be true. But it illustrates that there is very often a big difference between what we say about prayer and what we actually believe about prayer. And I think that if we actually believed what we said we believed about prayer, we would be doing a whole lot more of it.
In the last few years, all three of the major Christian research organizations have conducted surveys on Americans’ prayer life.
Pew research focused on how often people prayed, and of the 35,000 people that responded, they found that 55% prayed at least once a day, 16% weekly, 6% monthly, and 23% seldom or never.
The Barna group focused their survey on how people prayed. Of those who said they had prayed at least once in the past three months, they found that 82% prayed silently, by themselves; 13% prayed out loud, by themselves. But notice that only 2% prayed audibly with another person or group, and another 2% prayed with a church.
Finally, LifeWay research drilled down on what people prayed for. I won’t read all of these, but I would say if you compared this to our church’s prayer list, you’d find that it matches up pretty well. We typically spend the most time praying for our family and friends, followed by our own problems and difficulties. (I’ve been here for about two years, leading prayer meeting every week, and I’m pretty sure no one has ever asked the group to pray for their own sin. If you are praying for that, you’re praying for it silently and by yourself!
It was interesting, also, that LifeWay had a number of topics they asked people if they had ever prayed for. Take a look at these:
Now, keep all these in mind, and let’s see if our practices about prayer line up with what God’s Word says about prayer. Because the truth is, if they don’t line up, then our practices need to change. The book of James, which was written by James, Jesus’ half brother, contains a lot of teaching about prayer, and I’d like to start off by looking there. Those who are physically able, please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word, as we look together at James 5
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Before we dive in to this passage, I want to remind you of some of the teaching James has on prayer. In James 4:2, he says that one of the reasons we don’t receive what we desire is we don’t pray. In other parts of his letter he tells us:
• If we lack wisdom we should pray (James 1:5)—notice that doesn’t show up at all on the list of things people typically pray for.
• If we are suffering we should pray (5:13)—looks like we do that one pretty well.
• And if we are sick, we should call for the elders to anoint us with oil and pray for us (5:14)
• What about “confessing our sins one to another?” (5:16)
In other words: If there’s something you want from God - you should pray, or have others pray for you.
And most of us believe that God answers our prayers. The LifeWay research found that 83% of people believed God answered their prayers at least some of the time.
So let’s get back to the gap between what we say and what we do: If we believe that prayers have such power, do we pray as often as we should? There is a nagging suspicion that we don’t pray as much as we might think.