This weekend Jeannie and I had the opportunity to visit with Josh and Amy in Washington, PA. One of the places I really enjoy going when we are there is the Montour Trail. So on early Friday morning, while everyone else was headed to work, I went to the Montour Trail and spent some time enjoying the winter scenery there. It was quiet, it was peaceful, and it was a wonderful place to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and allow God to speak through it. It was an especially good place to pray. As we continue through the beginning of 2013 as individuals, as families and as a church, if we are to experience what God has for us, we must be people of prayer. Prayer is not just an option to us, it is not just one of many activities. Prayer is essential if we are to grow as disciples and as a congregation. A prominent pastor from the turn of the 20th century, A.C. Dixon, said, “When we rely on organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence we get what eloquence can do but when we rely on prayer we get what God can do!” So for the next three Sundays we are going to be focusing on prayer. This morning we’ll focus on the person of prayer. What traits mark an individual who prays? We hear people talk about prayer warriors, but do we know what that term means? How would we recognize a person of prayer if we encountered one? What specifics things need to be part of our lives if we want to be people of prayer? Let’s see what kind of answers James 5 gives.
First of all, a person of prayer prays for a definite purpose. Verses 13-14 of our passage say, 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. I believe the more specific we are with our prayers, the more likely we are to see them answered. God loves to answer our requests of Him, but when He answers He wants us to know that He is the one providing. When we are specific, it allows Him to bring greater glory to Himself. One of the frustrations I have as a pastor, particularly in this congregation, is when people need prayer because they are sick, but they don’t want anyone in the congregation to know that they are sick. I am the chief of sinners in that regard – if I am struggling with the flu, with a sinus infection, or something else, I don’t want “trouble” people. “There are other people worse than I am,” I think. I also don’t want to be a whiner, so I’ll just keep it to myself. The Bible says however, that if we truly want healing, we let others know we are ill so that they can pray for us. So if I want to be a person who truly believes in prayer, I need to allow others to pray for me. If you want to be a person who truly believes in prayer, you need to allow others to pray for you. God often uses prayer, along with medicine, to make us better quicker. When we pray, we pray for a definite purpose.
Are you suffering? Ask for God to comfort you.
Are you happy? Praise God for blessing you.
Are you sick? Let the elders of the church pray for you.
Several years ago there was a lady in my congregation who was struggling with a particular illness. She actually followed the directions of this verse, and asked if the Deacons and I would pray over her in a church service and anoint her with oil. We honored her request. Eventually her condition improved. Was she taking medicine? Of course. Well then we may ask, “which one healed her?” The answer is, “Does it really matter which one God used?” She took advantage of all that God had made available to her, and she got better. God gets the glory regardless, for giving doctors the wisdom to prescribe the medicine they do, and for working through His Word to answer specific prayer. No concern is too great for God, and no concern is too trivial. Never say, “Well, God is too busy to get involved with this matter – I’ll let him focus on the big stuff.” God doesn’t have any trouble focusing on anything – He is God!
Do you need healing? Ask God for it.
Do you need money? Ask God to provide it, and to give greater wisdom in managing what He brings to You.
Do you want a family member or friend to be saved? Start praying for him or her.
Do you need a better job? Pray for it.
A better marriage? Pray for it!
Do you need a wife? Do you need a husband?
One single woman, as I understand it, took a pair of men’s pants and hung them at the foot of her bed. Every night she would pray, “Father in heaven, hear my prayer, and grant it if You can; I’ve hung a pair of trousers here, please fill them with a man.” A person of prayer prays for a definite purpose.
Then, a person of prayer prays with a determined patience. Verses 15-16 of our passage read, “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.” When you pray, realize that the answer may not come immediately.
Sometimes it may take a few days.
Sometimes it may take a few months.
It may even take a few years, or many years!
A person of prayer doesn’t give up praying – there is a determined patience. A former contestant on the television show Survivor, Austin Carty, tells of mission trip he took to Indonesia. The country is 99 percent Muslim, and just this past March, Time magazine deemed the small nation “the crossroads of the Muslim faith.” Because it is so strongly Muslim, the team was prohibited from talking about Jesus in the villages. The people however, knew well that they were Christians, not Muslims. Not being able to speak about Jesus in the villages didn’t mean Jesus wasn’t there working in their hearts and minds. The team had visited the previous year, and had been burdened to pray for the salvation of seven children there. On the final night of this particular trip to Indonesia, the mission team and the villagers met on the beach. A bonfire had been lit, and as it stood tall as a man, violently ripping with flames, it symbolized the refining process God had been doing in everyone’s heart that week. That evening the team played guitar and led praise choruses for a service that lasted nearly an hour. Then an incredible thing happened: a boy fell to his knees to give his life to Christ. Another followed…and then a third. When the service was finally over, seven children had given their lives to Jesus. The seven children? The same ones for whom the team had been praying the past year for God to save. A person of prayer prays with a determined patience. In other words, a person of prayer prays and doesn’t give up.
Then, a person of prayer prays in a darkened predicament. Rather than just going with the flow, rather than just giving up and thinking, “Well times are changing and people don’t serve God like they used to do” a person of prayer prays all the more. Verses 17-18 say, “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.” The time in which Elijah was praying is a key part of this verse. He was praying that it would not rain due to the sinful decline of the people. The people of the land of Israel had strayed from God and were worshipping another god, Baal. Baal worship was characterized by the killing of young children, perverting God’s plan for sexual activity, and focusing more upon the earth that God had created rather than upon God Himself. King Ahab was ruling during Elijah’s time, and he was a wicked ruler. His wife Jezebel was even worse than he was. The national leadership was going in the wrong direction, so Elijah began praying that the people would see the light of the one true God and His plan for their lives. The method God chose to bring the people back to him was a drought. For three and a half years it did not rain. The point here is that Elijah cared enough to pray, even when the outlook was bleak. Who would have thought that the people of Israel would turn to God under Ahab, of all the kings who had ruled over them? Who would have thought three and a half years later Baal worship would be crushed by popular opinion? The pivot point in this whole, dark episode with King Ahab and the widespread practice of Baal worship was that Elijah cared enough to pray. He prayed against the odds. He was a man with the same kind of emotions we have, he was subject to the same kind of outlook we would have in such a situation. Still, he cared enough to pray. Elijah was a person of prayer in a darkened predicament. Years ago Hudson Taylor was one of the first missionaries to China. It was a dark time then, but he was moved with a desire to reach the people of China for Christ. He made his first trip there on a sailing ship. When they neared their destination, they had to pass by an island before reaching the harbor. Taylor heard a knock on his stateroom door, and it was the captain of the ship. “Mr. Taylor, we have no wind. We are drifting towards an island, and I fear we will perish.” “What can I do?” Taylor asked. “I understand you believe in God. I need to pray for wind.” Taylor said, “very well captain. I will, but you must roll down the sails.” The captain said, “That’s ridiculous! There is not even the slightest breeze. If I set the sails now, the crew will think I’m crazy!” Finally the captain agreed, and Taylor began praying. Forty-five minutes later the captain returned and found Taylor down on his knees. “You can stop praying now!” the captain said. We have more wind than we can handle!” Taylor cared, and dared to pray, even in dark times.
This morning, do you care, so much so that you will dare to pray? Will you pray for your unsaved family members and friends? Will you pray for the members of your church family, and for the church leaders? Will you pray for your government leaders? Will you pray for your nation, and for the lost and the hurting around the world? Will you be a person of prayer? If you do not know Jesus Christ, your prayers will be not be effective until you ask Jesus to save you from your sins, and to give you new life. Effective prayer stems from a relationship with God, but you cannot have a relationship with God if you do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you know Jesus but have been rebelling against God in one way or another, return to him and allow him to restore the closeness of the relationship You once had. Then begin praying for others.