Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 14
Praying about Your Problems
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 27, 2008

 

Main Passage: James 5:13-18

We’ve 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.

The interesting 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 knees.

Really. I’d like to know about his knees. Let me tell you why.

You 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.”

Now, 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 knees like?

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.

But 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.

So 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…

“[James] 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

James 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. Prayer.

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)
“I 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.

But 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.

Prayer 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…

When Should I Pray?

And 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.

1.    When I am hurting emotionally

James 5:13 (NLT)
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray.

“Are 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 ears.

Joseph 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.
    
The 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!
 
That 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.


2.    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.

Oil 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 he adds…

Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.

Now, 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 you.

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.

That’s 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.

Or 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?

Well, 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 sickness.


So I should pray when I’m hurting emotionally, when I’m hurting physically, and…


3.    When I’m hurting spiritually

James 5:16 (NLT)
Confess 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?

Well, 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.

One of 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.

That’s 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.

When 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.

And 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 the need.

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.


Who Can Pray?

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)
Elijah 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.

Now, 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.

But read 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.

Who Can Pray? I Can

So 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.

But 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 more effectively.

James 5:16b (NLT)
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

Anybody 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…


How Can I Pray Effectively?

1.    Pray simply

Use 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.


2.    Pray specifically

In 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.


3.    Pray Scripturally

You 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.


4.    Pray sincerely

James talked about praying earnestly and righteously. He’s talking about sincerity.

Here’s 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.


5.    Pray steadily

In 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.”

Now, 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.”


6.    Pray submissively

This is where you repeat the prayer that Jesus prayed…

Matthew 26:39 (NLT)
“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Jesus 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.

You 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 the best.

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…

Lord, 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.

Why 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 you.

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.

Lord, 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.



[Note: This message 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.]



 

 

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