Summary: A mature disciple makes prayer the first response, not the last resort.
A couple of months ago our dog, Susie, was apparently chasing some critter near our pool equipment, which resulted in several wires that are required for that equipment to work properly being broken. So I got my tools and equipment out and re-spliced all those wires and my equipment was working correctly again.
Then a couple of weeks later, I was getting an error message on my control panel that indicated that I had no power to the cell that generates the chlorine that is necessary to keep my pool clean and sanitized. And, sure enough, when I tested for chlorine in the water, there was none present. I checked all the wires that I had previously repaired and they all looked okay, but I figured that there must be something wrong with the wire that went to my chlorine generating cell, so I completely redid that splice. But when I hooked everything back up, I was still getting the same error message.
So I decided I would do some research on the internet to see if there might be some other issue causing my problem. And when I searched, the very first site that came up described exactly the problem I had encountered and showed how to fix the problem by re-soldering a connection on the motherboard. So I went down to the hardware store and picked up a cheap soldering iron and some solder and followed the directions I had found online and, sure enough, the problem was fixed. And that was a great relief because I discovered that my other option – calling out a service tech – probably would have meant that he would have replaced my whole motherboard and charged me $700 or $800.
But, because I had failed to first go to the internet and find those instructions, I had wasted a lot of time and some materials to do some work that wasn’t needed. As I thought about that, it occurred to me that how I handled that situation reflects how I often handle other problems in my life. I often waste a lot of time trying to handle those things on my own and only turn to prayer as a last resort. And in most cases what I discover is that if I had just made prayer my first response instead of my last resort, I would have avoided a whole lot of wasted time and effort.
That is James’ message to his readers in the passage we’ll look at this morning. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to James chapter 5 and follow along as I read beginning in verse 13:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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. 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. 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. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
(James 5:13-18 ESV)
There is little doubt about the theme of this passage. Take a moment to go through this passage and underline or circle the words “pray”, “prayed” and “prayer”. [Wait for people to do that] How many times did James use those words in these six verses? [Wait for answers]. If I counted right those words are used 7 times in six verses. So would you agree that the main theme of this passage is the priority of prayer?
It’s really appropriate that James is the one who communicates the priority of prayer because he was such a man of prayer himself. He had such a reputation for prayer that his nickname was “Camel Knees” because of the big knots he developed on his knees as a result of spending so much time in prayer.
I’d love to say that I pray like that, too. But before we go any further this morning, I have a confession to make. This is an area where I really struggle. We’ve seen that the book of James contains a series of tests that we can use to evaluate the genuineness and maturity of our faith. And for the most part, I can honestly say that I do pretty well on most of those tests. But when it comes to the kind of prayer life that James writes about here, I know that I really fall short. So the message this morning is something that I need as much or more than any of us.