A. The story is told of a man who went and made a sales presentation to the leadership of a church.
1. When the presentation was over, one of the men in leadership when into the auditorium, knelt down and after a minute of silent prayer, returned and announced in a solemn tone, “The Lord says we should wait.”
2. Without flinching, the salesman went into the auditorium, knelt down, and after a moment of silent prayer, returned and said to the leader who had just prayed, “The Lord wants to talk with you again.”
3. I’m not really sure that either man was actually praying, but it is interesting that they both saw prayer as a way of getting what they wanted.
B. Please don’t misunderstand this statement, but in some respects, there is nothing wrong with using prayer to get what you want.
1. In James 4:2, James wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.”
2. In James 1:5, James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
3. In today’s passage, James says that if we are in trouble or sick, then we should pray to God about it.
4. In other words, if there is something we want from God, then we should pray about it, and we should ask others to pray on our behalf.
C. But we all know that there is more to effective prayer than just asking God.
1. The Bible teaches that not all praying is effective.
2. According to Psalm 66:18, those who pray while they cherish sin in their hearts will find that God doesn’t listen to that prayer.
3. According to Matthew 6:5, those who pray only to be seen by men will not receive the reward of answered prayer, because their reward was to be seen by men.
4. According to James 1:7, those who waver in faith should not expect to receive an answer to prayer.
5. And according to James 4:3, those who pray for things simply because of selfish desires will not receive what they ask for.
6. But at the same time, James wants us to know that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
D. I think we all would agree that the great people of God in any generation are those Christians who pray.
1. These people do not necessarily talk more about prayer.
2. They don’t advertise their belief in prayer.
3. They don’t try to explain everything about prayer.
4. No, they are those humble, dedicated ones who simply and obediently pray.
5. They don’t necessarily have more time than the rest of us to pray, they just consider prayer more important than the things with which most of us fill our lives.
6. They have disciplined themselves and have worked out a time, a place and a system for prayer.
7. And believing in a God who hears and answers prayer, these people have claimed the power of prayer.
8. Brothers and sisters, I don’t know about you, but I’m not there yet.
9. I have a long way to go in becoming more faithful in prayer.
E. James, the writer of this letter we have been studying, was a person of prayer.
1. His contemporaries knew him by the nickname “camel-knees.”
2. He had spent so much time on his knees in prayer that they were literally baggy and rough.
3. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that James has a lot to say about prayer in this letter of his.
4. He speaks about prayer with authority and from experience.
F. There are many ways that we might approach this passage, but the way I would like to do so is to simply point out a couple of observations, and then spend a few minutes addressing the question of healing prayer.
A. The first observation is that James wants us to realize that prayer is appropriate on all occasions.
1. What should a person do when they are suffering or are in trouble? Pray. And we usually do.
2. What should a person do when they are sick? Pray. And we usually do.
3. What should a person do when they are happy and successful? They should sing songs of praise, which is just another form of prayer.
4. But isn’t it interesting that that is often what we forget to do.
5. When we are in need, our natural tendency is to turn to God.
6. But when we are doing great, our tendency is to forget about God.
7. Prayer, however, is always the right activity, regardless of our situation or circumstances.
8. And if we will make prayer the most basic and consistent part of our relationship with God, then we will experience prayer power, whether at times of need or times of plenty. Whether we are in pain or in pleasure.
B. The second observation is that James wants us to see Elijah as our best example of effective prayer.
1. James wrote, “Elijah was a man just like us.” (James 5:17)
2. When you think of Elijah, do you think of him as a man just like us?
3. I don’t. I have a hard time seeing him as a man like me.
4. Elijah held such a unique and esteemed place in Jewish thought, that some regarded him as almost divine.
5. But James offered him no super-human status.
6. James says he was a man just like us. He felt stress. He knew failure. He was influenced by his feelings. He was exhilarated when he defeated the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, and he was deeply depressed just a short time after that success.
7. He truly was a man just like us, but he also is a great example of the kind of person of effective prayer that we can become.
C. Let me give you a little background on this story.
1. At the time of this story (found in 1 Kings 18), the king of Israel was a man named Ahab, and he was married to a Philistine woman who has since become infamous because of her wickedness, her name was Jezebel.
2. Because of the influence of Ahab and Jezebel, the nation of Israel had fallen into a kind of hybrid paganism.
3. They still prayed to the Lord, but they also worshipped the pagan gods – Baal and Asherah.
4. So, because of this kind of disobedience, God sent Elijah to tell king Ahab that they would be punished with a drought. There would be no rain for 3 ½ years.
5. Just as suddenly as Elijah had appeared with that message, he disappeared into the desert.
6. The drought brought great suffering on the people of Israel, and Ahab hated Elijah for his part in all this.
7. Ahab blamed Elijah for his troubles, but the blame only belonged to himself.
8. In the third year of the drought, the word of the Lord came to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” (1 Kings. 18:1)
9. James summarized the story, “Elijah prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:17-18)
10. The drought began when Elijah prayed, and the drought ended when he prayed.
D. Notice with me, quickly, several things that made Elijah’s prayer so effective.
1. First, he prayed earnestly, fervently, with effort.
a. The Bible says that he climbed Mt. Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees and prayed seven times that it would rain. (1 Kings 18:42-45)
b. Each time he prayed he sent his servant to look for clouds, and on the seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
c. Very soon there after, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, and a heavy rain fell.
d. Elijah kept praying until he was sure of the Lord’s answer.
e. Likewise, we must show effort and earnestness in our prayers.
2. Second, Elijah was specific in his prayers.
a. He didn’t simply ask God to bless Israel, he prayed for rain.
b. I’m thankful that when our elders pray for our missionaries, we pray for them by name, and mention specific needs. And we do the same for the sick.
3. Third, Elijah prayed for something that he knew God wanted to do.
a. This is what we call praying in the will of God, or praying in the name of God.
b. As we pray we should look for Scripture and pray the promises of Scripture.
c. We should pray for things that would result in the praise of God.
d. We should pray declaring how God’s answer would positively effect our witness.
4. Finally, Elijah prayed expectantly with faith.
a. He expected an answer, and that’s why he kept sending his servant to look for clouds.
b. I like the old story of the church in a western town that had a special prayer meeting to relieve a drought. The preacher sent everyone back home, because no one had come with an umbrella.
c. When we pray, we must pray expectantly, believing God will answer our request.
E. So, those are the observations that I want us to apply from this text.
1. Anytime is a good time to pray.
2. Elijah is our excellent prayer example to follow.
3. Now let’s briefly address the question of healing prayer.
A. Look again at our passage, verse 14, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him, and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
B. Do I believe that God still heals people today? Yes I do.
1. I believe that God has never stopped healing people in answer to our prayers.
2. But, while I believe that God heals, I am concerned with much of the teaching and practice of healing that goes on in many churches today.
3. It is very easy to distort and misrepresent the truth of God on this subject.
4. Allow me to point out several common errors.
C. First, Some falsely link a person’s own faith to the desired result.
1. They say that the failure to be healed is caused by insufficient faith on the part of the person needing physical healing.
2. It is true that Jesus talked about those who had too little faith, and we need to pray with faith, but it is wrong to point a finger at a sick person and imply that the lack of healing is a faith problem.
3. Let’s take the Apostle Paul as a case in point. Would you accuse Paul of having too little faith?
4. We know that he had some kind of “thorn in the flesh” as he called it. Some scholars think it was epilepsy, others say that he had an eye disease.
5. But, whatever the nature of the problem was, it led to his suffering, and he asked for God’s healing.
6. Three times he prayed for God to take it away, but God’s answer was “NO”, not because of a lack of faith, but because of the will of God and the good of Paul.
7. When healing does not come, we must not blame it on a lack of faith.
D. Second, some falsely link a lack of healing on the person’s sin.
1. Certainly, there is some biblical president for this idea. Here in James, he prescribes confession and prayer to encourage healing.
2. There are times when sin and suffering have a connection, but not all the time.
3. All of us have sinned. Each one of us has fallen short of the glory of God, but that does not mean that our physical ailments are in proportion to our sin.
4. Certainly a life of sin can have its physical consequences, but some of the greatest Christian saints have lived holy lives while having to bear great physical burdens.
5. When we are suffering from sickness, we should examine ourselves and willingly confess our sins, but we should not conclude that it is a direct cause.
6. That was the problem that Job’s friends got themselves into. They wrongly assumed that his suffering was a direct result of some grievous sin.
E. Finally, some falsely define healing as only physical and miraculous.
1. The text here in James does not define the kind of healing that takes place, nor does it define how the healing takes place.
2. All healing is not physical, anymore than you or I are just physical.
3. God’s healing is not restricted to any one specific area.
4. God’s healing is sometimes spiritual, sometimes emotional, sometimes relational, and sometimes physical.
5. Whether God’s healing comes quickly or slowly, by miracle or by medicine, or by any combination of types and methods, God is able to heal His children. Amen!
F. James does offer a process for praying for the sick.
1. Step #1: James says that the sick person should call for the elders. Whether that sickness is physical, emotional, or spiritual, calling the elders for prayer is the proper approach.
2. Step #2: The elders should pray and anoint with oil.
a. The type of oil is not specified, but it was certainly not Pennzoil. More than likely it was olive oil.
b. In the Bible we see that oil is often used as a symbol of health and vitality.
c. Kings were anointed with oil as a visible symbol of God’s choice and blessing.
d. Certainly there is nothing magical or supernatural about the oil itself.
e. The oil is a sign of obedience and a humble reminder that all healing must come from God.
f. Oil may also have had a medicinal purpose and therefore encourage the application of medication in addition to prayer.
3. We notice also that the prayer and anointing with oil must be done “in the name of the Lord.”
a. The power to heal is not in the elders, not in the oil, not even in the prayer; the power to heal is in the Lord.
b. We would think that this goes without saying, yet some call themselves “faith healers” and use this “gift” to bring attention and glory and cash to themselves, rather than to God.
G. The way to avoid the abuses of healing prayer is to recognize the sovereignty of God.
1. Healing is a gift, and what is a gift? Is it something given on demand? NO!
2. A gift is the voluntary generosity of someone toward you.
3. Trust is the key. God knows what we need, even better than we do.
4. Are we prepared to trust the Lord?
5. Are we willing to receive the gift which He chooses to give, even if it is not the one we hoped for?
6. Can we pray like Jesus, “Not my will, but thy will be done”?
7. Some would call that kind of prayer a “copout” and an obstacle to God’s healing touch.
8. But I call it the ultimate statement of trust in our sovereign, loving God.
A. Allow me to conclude the way James does, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
B. While God is deeply concerned about our physical needs, He is even more concerned about our spiritual needs.
1. Our bodies are temporary, but our spirits are eternal.
C. Let’s be sure that we give enough attention in prayer to people’s spiritual needs, and let’s be sure we are ready to help our brother or sister who has wandered from the truth and bring them back..
D. All this is a matter of spiritual life and death!