Gets Its Hands Dirty part 14
about Your Problems
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 27, 2008
Passage: James 5:13-18
spent the past several weeks gradually working our way through the book
of James found in the New Testament section of the Bible. And right at
the beginning of this series we discovered how this book actually
started out as a letter written to followers of Jesus by James, usually
understood to be James the brother of Jesus.
thing about James is that he wasn’t a follower of Jesus at first. While
Jesus was traveling around and healing people and teaching people,
James just thought his brother was nuts. It wasn’t until after the
crucifixion and resurrection that James was convinced of who Jesus was,
became a fully devoted follower of Jesus, and even became a leader in
the newly formed Church.
You might remember a few years ago when
the big news was that they had discovered the ossuary of James… they
had found a box containing his bones. [PowerPoint] That was considered
to be quite an archaeological find, and was even put on display at the
Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It was eventually declared to be a
fake, even through some people still believe it’s authentic. I don’t
know and I don’t really think it matters.
But there is one thing
I would like to do if the bones of James really are contained in that
box. I’d like to see if there’s anything we can find out about his
Really. I’d like to know about his knees. Let me tell you why.
see, James had a nickname. According to tradition, he was called “Camel
Knees.” As in, “Oh, there’s old Camel Knees eating at the deli.”
why would anyone have a nickname like “Camel Knees?” Well, I suppose it
would be because he had knees like a camel, right? But what’s a camel’s
Well, think about how people traveled in the first
century. Not many people owned automobiles back then, and skateboards
weren’t very effective on the sandy terrain, so people had to either
walk or ride on an animal. Such as a camel.
Now, it’s easy
to understand how someone could ride on the back of a camel. I mean,
once you get used to the hump, it’s really not all that difficult. Or
so I hear. But getting on… well, that’s a different story. I mean,
camel’s can be pretty tall. And the part of the camel you want to sit
on is the highest part of all. It’s not very easy to get up to the
camel’s level. But that’s okay; you don’t have to. The camel will come
down to yours.
[PowerPoint] Camels kneel in order to allow
passengers on and off. It bends its knees, lowering itself to a
position where people can have easy access to get on and off. They also
sleep on their knees. But they thing is, when camels kneel,
particularly in the hot, dry, desert parts of the world where you find
them, they subject themselves to the hot, sharp sands of the desert.
that’s okay, because the camel has a built in protection against this
type of terrain: Large, thick pads cushion the joints of their knees.
[PowerPoint] Which was great because of all the kneeling that camels do.
James… why was James called “camel knees.” Well, it was because James
could be found on his knees praying so much of the time. To the points
that his knees had become tough and calloused like a camel’s. In fact,
the second century historian Hegesippus wrote how…
would enter the Temple, and be found prostrate on his knees beseeching
pardon for the people, so that his knees were callous like a camel’s in
consequence of his continual kneeling in prayer to God...”
~ Hegesippus, from Faith For Pedestrians (Laurence Croswell) p. 104
had a reputation for being a man of prayer. In the passage Jim read for
us, James specifically mentioned prayer a total of seven times. Just in
those few verses. That’s what those couple of paragraphs are all about.
There is tremendous power in prayer. James understood
that. He understood that prayer is the greatest privilege of the
Christian life, being able to talk to God. Prayer is our means of
communicating with God… us talking to Him and Him speaking to us. It
gives us access to God, and invites Him to get involved in our lives.
In fact, this is what Jesus said about prayer…
John 14:12-14 (NLT)
tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I
have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the
Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that
the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my
name, and I will do it!”
What’s Jesus talking about? He’s
talking about prayer. He’s telling us that there’s great power that
He’s making available to us through prayer. And that through prayer, we
can do even greater works than He did while He walked this planet.
I think a lot of us are pretty dissatisfied with the current condition
of our prayer lives. We know we should pray, we talk about prayer, we
study about prayer… but then we don’t do it. Or we feel like we’re just
going through the motions. Or we feel like there’s no connection there.
is a great privilege, but it’s also a great area of failure for many.
So this morning, we’re going to explore what James has to say about
prayer and we’re going to see what we can learn from him that can help
us in our own prayer lives. Okay?
So let’s start by answering this question…
Should I Pray?
let me start by saying that the Bible actually tells us that we can
pray continually. We can pray at all times. We can pray when we’re
happy, when we’re sad, when we’re tired, when we’re challenged, when
we’re in doubt, when we’re seeking answers, when we’re striving to
accomplish a goal… we can pray at all times. But James, in this
passage, mentions three specific times when I really need to pray.
When I am hurting emotionally
James 5:13 (NLT)
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray.
you suffering hardships?” In the Greek, that literally means “are you
in distress” under stress, under tension. So what James is talking
about is the internal anguish caused by external circumstances. It may
be a financial crisis, a relational crisis, fatigue, stress, bondage to
the past, grief, despair, confusion, loneliness, or lack of direction.
Maybe your heart is breaking, tension is at an all time high, and your
life is getting hard. You’re hurting emotionally, and James says the
very first thing that you should do… not the last thing but the first
thing… is to pray. In the Old Testament, David said in Psalm 18:4…
Psalm 18:4 (NLT)
In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his
Scriven was a man who took the instruction of James seriously. He was
born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1820 and was educated at Trinity College.
It looked like he had a bright, promising future ahead of him. In fact,
he was engaged to be married to a lovely and beautiful Irish girl. His
life seemed to be perfect. But it suddenly took a turn for the worse.
day before he was to be married, his fiancee died tragically in a
drowning accident. He was twenty-five years old and his life had
suddenly been thrown into turmoil. He had pain and anguish that he was
dealing with really for the first time. And he decided that he needed a
fresh start. So he moved from Ireland and settled right here in Canada.
And when he got here, he decided that he’d keep himself busy by helping
the poor and the homeless. He gave clothing to those who needed it, and
he shared his food with those who had none of their own. He devoted
himself to helping the underprivileged. In fact, people started to
think he was strange because he helped those who could do nothing for
him in return.
Well, it was was about that time that his mother
became seriously ill. By now it had been ten years since Joseph lost
his fiancée, and he had been working through his pain over that time,
and now he looked back on this time and was inspired to write some
words of encouragement to his mother. These words, which came directly
from his heart and his experiences, were words that we actually sang
earlier this morning. He wrote:
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry,
Everything to God in prayer!
became what is one of my favourite hymns. “What a friend we have in
Jesus.” When we’re going through a time of distress, or loneliness, or
fatigue, or loss, or despair… when we’re experiencing some kind of
emotional anguish… He invites us to bring all of our pain to Him
through prayer, and He welcomes us with open arms and offers us peace.
When I am hurting physically
James 5:14-15 (NLT)
Are any of you sick?
Now, just so you know, the idea that James is communicating here is
that you’re really sick… you’re bedridden. He says…
You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you,
anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.
symbolized the presence of the Holy Spirit, and oil was also used as
medicine in that era. Remember the Good Samaritan used oil on the
wounds of the person who had been beat up. So James is saying pray for
God to help, and take advantage of medical science to help, too. Then
Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will
make you well.
right here is a verse that you find a lot of argument and confusion
over today. It seems pretty clear, doesn’t it, that if you’re sick and
you pray but you’re not healed, then it’s your own fault… right? You
must not have enough faith. That’s what some people today would tell
But what you need to remember is that the key to
understanding any verse in the Bible is to understand it in the context
of the entire Bible. That is, the Bible does not contradict itself.
James didn’t take the time to expand on this verse and explain it in a
48 page dissertation because that wasn’t his purpose in writing. His
goal was to give us some practical guidelines of what it means to live
and act as a follower of Jesus Christ. He was addressing our behaviour,
not formulating doctrine. “If you’re sick, pray.”
But what James
didn’t do was explain that there are times that you will be healed, and
there are times when you won’t. Reading through the Bible as a whole,
you will discover that there are times when divine healing does happen,
and there are times that it doesn’t. And there can be a variety of
reasons why. It could be a lack of faith, as James does address here.
It could be sin, it could be that it’s just not the right timing, it
could be problem in the life of the person praying for you to be
healed, it could be the result of living an unhealthy lifestyle, it
could be that you need to experience some growth in character or some
inner healing first… there could be a variety of reasons why healing
might not happen, even when you pray with lots of faith.
not to gloss over times when healing doesn’t happen, but it’s to help
you understand that there are reasons when it doesn’t. And it’s not
always within your control and healing is not always for your good. In
fact, if we were always healed from every disease then we would never
die. So we would never be reunited with our Creator and be able to
spend eternity with Him in Heaven.
Many people were healed in
the Bible. But there were some who weren’t, too. Good, godly, righteous
people with lots of faith who weren’t healed. We talked about Job last
week. Job was struck with a deadly disease, and he was healed… but he
had to wait for it. And when he questioned God and challenged God,
God’s response was simply, “I am the Lord.” In other words, “I know
what I’m doing. You know who I am. You know you can trust Me. I will do
what is right.”
So Job suffered disease, and he was healed but he had to wait for it.
how about Timothy in the New Testament? Timothy had some kind of
problem with his stomach, maybe ulcers. And as far as we know, he was
never healed from that affliction.
So healing doesn’t always
happen, even for faith-filled, godly, righteous people. But there are
times when a full and complete healing does happen. I’ve known of
people who have been healed from life-threatening, incurable diseases.
So what are you supposed to do? Sometimes healing happens and sometimes
it doesn’t. What are you supposed to do?
if you are sick, then pray for healing. Ask some others to pray for
you, too. Perhaps even be anointed with oil, as James suggests. And as
you pray, believe that God can heal you, and that He even wants to heal
you. But also trust that God knows what He’s doing. If healing doesn’t
come, then keep on praying. Don’t give up. Do a self-assessment to see
if there is anything in your own life that might be blocking it… is
there sin, is there a lack of faith, is there unforgiveness, do you
need to grow first, do you need to make some changes? And if healing
still doesn’t come, then keep on trusting God… looking forward to the
day when you will be reunited with Him and free from every disease or
So I should pray when I’m hurting emotionally, when I’m hurting
When I’m hurting spiritually
James 5:16 (NLT)
your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be
healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and
produces wonderful results.
Why? Why would you want to confess your sins? When is it appropriate?
if your sin has affected the church, then it should be confessed before
the church. You’ve seen that happen in particular with some of the
Christian leaders who have been caught in some kind of sin that hurt
their entire church and sometimes even other churches. In many of those
cases those leaders have confessed their sin before their church and
have submitted themselves to the discipline of their church. That’s a
good thing. Not a good thing that they sinned, but good that they
confessed it before their entire church so that both they and the
church could begin the healing process.
But what if your sin
hasn’t affected the church but did hurt another person? Well,
confessing to the entire church probably isn’t the best thing then. But
you should still confess it to that person and ask their forgiveness.
Again, that allows healing to begin.
Or what if you find
yourself struggling with the same sin over and over again and you can’t
seem to overcome it? Then you may want to confess it to a few trusted
friends who will pray along with you and who will provide the support
and accountability that you need to overcome that sin.
the great things about the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s is that
it brought us back to the New Testament truth that as followers of
Jesus we all have direct access to God. We don’t have to go through any
priest or rabbi or pastor in order to get to God. We’re all on equal
footing and can all approach Him directly through prayer. That’s why we
don’t have a makeshift confessional set up here and you don’t have to
tell me all your dirty little secrets while hiding behind some screen.
a great thing, to be able to confess directly to God. But what we’ve
lost is the benefit we gain from confessing to each other. Both for the
person doing the confessing and the person hearing the confessing.
someone confesses to us, we have an opportunity to minister to them. We
can learn from their experiences. We can exercise some compassion. We
can extend some mercy. Not judgment… mercy.
And when we
confess our sins and our vulnerabilities to someone else, it helps hold
us accountable. It creates an opportunity for us to bond. It forces us
to confront the reality of our sinfulness. It opens the way for us to
experience forgiveness and receive the moral and prayer support of
others. There are definitely some benefits to confessing to one another.
you know, it’s a shame that so many Christians feel like they have to
conquer sin in their lives all by themselves. They’re actually ashamed
to admit any weakness or sin to other Christians. But God designed the
Church to support and pray for each other, even when it comes to
overcoming sin. It was never in His plan for someone to have to go
through life alone. God created us as social creatures who desperately
need each other, and who should be there for each other no matter what
So follow the advice of James. Make yourself
vulnerable to others. And make yourself available to others. You’ll be
amazed at the power of God that is unleashed when God’s children join
together in prayer.
Okay, so James says
to pray when you need emotional, physical, or spiritual healing. But
maybe you don’t feel qualified to do that. Maybe you think you need to
be a spiritual giant to pray and get those kinds of answers. A lot of
Christians feel like that. A lot of Christians feel inferior when it
comes to prayer.
Well, James has something to say about that, too.
James 5:17-18 (NLT)
was a man just like us. He 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.
And just so you know, you can read all about that in the Old Testament
book of 1 Kings, chapters 17 through 19.
we usually see Elijah as a spiritual giant of the Old Testament. We
look to him as an example of what it means to be a fully devoted
follower of Jesus. We see him as a great man of God.
about his life. You’ll discover that James is right… Elijah was a man
just like us. Elijah demonstrated fear, resentment, guilt, anger,
loneliness, worry. He experienced the same insecurities and frailties
that you and I experience.
You see, the lesson of Elijah’s
life is that you don’t have to be perfect to pray. You don’t have to be
perfect to see answers to your prayers. It’s for ordinary people. God
uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things through prayer.
Pray? I Can
go ahead and pray. Talk with God. Tell Him what you need. Praise Him
for what He’s already done. Don’t worry about saying all the right
things. There’s no magical incantation that you need to use to pray.
Just be yourself and talk with God. If it’s a new thing for you, you
might feel a little awkward at first. But you’ll quickly move beyond
that and discover the strength and joy and peace that can only be
experienced through prayer.
Anybody can pray. So if you’re not already praying, start today.
let me also say that just because anybody can pray doesn’t mean that
you can’t learn to pray better. Because you can. You can learn to pray
James 5:16b (NLT)
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces
can pray, but you can learn to pray more effectively, with greater
power and with wonderful results. So just as we finish up here, let me
give you a few tips…
Can I Pray Effectively?
your everyday language, and just say what you mean and mean what you
say. You don’t have to learn a secret prayer language, because there
isn’t one. When you hear others pray these big impressive extravagant
prayers, don’t be intimidated.
Remember what Jesus said when a group of children came toward Him and
His disciples tried to hold them back?
Luke 18:16 (NLT)
“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God
belongs to those who are like these children.”
He just wants us to approach Him, honestly, simply, being who we are.
that passage in James 5, Elijah prayed for it to stop raining and it
stopped. He prayed for it to rain and it rained. He had a specific
request that he prayed for.
He didn’t just pray, “God, bless
us.” Who even knows what “bless” means? So don’t just pray in general
that God will bless you… pray specifically about how you need Him to
bless you. How you need Him to bless your family. How you need Him to
bless the church. How you need Him to bless missionaries. Bring
specific requests before Him. And be sure to thank Him specifically for
when He does answer prayer.
know, the one common denominator that I can observe among all people
who pray effectively and powerfully is that they all know their Bible.
They’re familiar with Scripture. Tap into the Word of God. Read it. Get
to know it. Internalize it. And your prayer life will become much more
vibrant because of it.
James talked about praying earnestly and righteously. He’s talking
a little language lesson: there are a couple of theories about where
the word “sincere” comes from, but the most popular and the one I like
is this one. Back in ancient Roman or Greek society, dishonest
sculptors would create their works and then try to hide any flaws by
covering them with wax… So if they created something out of clay,
placed it in the kiln, and it cracked, they would fill that crack with
wax to hide it.
Well, in the latin, “sine cera” means “without
wax.” So if a sculpture was sine cera, or sincere, it would be without
wax. There’d be nothing hidden. There’d be no concealed flaws. There’d
be an integrity to the work.
James says that a sincere person… a
person with no hidden sin, no deception… an earnest, righteous person…
that kind of a person can pray powerfully and effectively.
that example that James uses of Elijah, it looks like Elijah just
prayed for rain and it rained. James wasn’t trying to tell the whole
story, so he didn’t get into the details. Besides, the original
recipients of his letter would have been quite familiar with the
details of the life of Elijah. They would have known that Elijah
actually prayed seven times for it to rain. Now, that was all in one
time frame… he didn’t have to wait for days or weeks or months… but he
did still have to persist in prayer.
Earlier in this message
series we talked about the importance of being persistent in your
prayers. We saw how Jesus taught that God responds to persistence and
passion in prayer.
This is what the Apostle Paul said…
1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)
Never stop praying.
In the King James Version, it says “Pray without ceasing.”
does that mean that you should always go around everyday on your knees
with your hands up in a “prayer position”? Does it always mean that you
should be muttering prayers under your breath?
No, that’s not
what Paul was getting at. What he was talking about was more like a
cough. Have you ever had a cough that just wouldn’t go away? And so
you’d be coughing all day long? Now, were you really coughing all day
long… one after the other… no breaks… all day long? No, of course not.
When you say you “coughed all day long”, what you mean is that you
would cough, and then maybe a little bit later you’d cough again, maybe
you’d have a bunch of coughs close together, and then maybe you’d have
a few that were spread out.
Well, that’s what Paul means when he
says “Pray without ceasing. Pray continually. Never stop praying.” He
means, “Make it a regular part of your day throughout your day. Live in
constant communication with God. Don’t reserve it for just a set block
of time… let prayer be sprinkled throughout your daily life.”
This is where you repeat the prayer that Jesus prayed…
Matthew 26:39 (NLT)
“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
was just about to be arrested, taken away and executed on the cross.
And He knew all that was about to happen. He was under some serious
emotional distress that was being expressed physically as it became so
intense that He began to sweat drops of blood. So he was suffering
emotionally and physically. Plus, He was tempted to throw in the towel.
He didn’t want to have to go through it. So He was suffering
spiritually, too. All three kinds of suffering that we talked about
earlier. So Jesus prayed… He prayed specifically that His Father would
not require Him to go through with it. But then He added, “Yet I want
your will to be done, not mine.”
Even Jesus was submissive to His Father’s will. He trusted that His
Father was doing what was best.
and I can trust that, too. You can I can have faith that He cares for
us, that He wants the best for us, and that He’s working things out for
So as you pray, and as you let God know what you want
Him to do, remember that you’re not telling Him what to do. You’re
asking. And along with that, you’re trusting that He’ll take your
request and He’ll do what’s best.
Right now, let’s all join together in prayer…
teach us to pray. Teach us to pray more effectively, teach us to pray
more powerfully. Help us to learn to recognize Your will so that we can
pray accordingly. Thank You that you welcome us to bring our requests
to You. Thank You specifically that we can bring our emotional, our
physical, and our spiritual suffering to You and ask You for help.
don’t you go ahead and do that right now? If you need help emotionally,
if you’re experiencing a lot of stress, or you’re feeling lonely,
you’re feeling abandoned, you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’ve got a
broken relationship, you’re in bondage to some guilt or grief or some
events in your past… whatever it is, let God know and ask Him to help
If you need help physically… you have an illness, you have
a disability, you’ve done what you can do to improve your health,
you’ve changed your lifestyle, you’ve sought medical help, and nothing
seems to be working… ask God for help.
Or if you need help
spiritually. You know you’re not living in a right relationship with
Jesus… you know you need to experience His forgiveness and you need a
clean slate, a fresh start at life… go ahead and tell Him that. If
there’s something specific, then be specific. Or maybe this is the
first time you’ve ever asked His forgiveness and you want to begin to
live for Him starting today. Then let Him know that, too. This is the
first day of the rest of your life; may as well start it off right.
thank you for caring for each one of us individually and meeting us
exactly where we are in life. Help us to grow and mature in our
relationship with You, and to learn more and more each day what it
means to pray and to live in constant communication with You.
series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that
Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell,
and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]