Opens with movie clip from, “Meet the Parents” (Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro)
Rev. Dan Borgelt
Kirkmont Presbyterian Church
Listen to AUDIO while reading TRANSCRIPTION BELOW:
“I love that video, not only because it introduces our topic of prayer today but also because also reminds me of the first time I ever prayed out loud in front of other people… I was going into my senior year of high school when someone invited me to attend a Bible Study… and I thought I’d give it a shot.
I’d had a relationship with God, but not really with other people at all with regards to my relationship with God so I was open to the idea. I went to the Bible Study and we had a Bible study and the study was fine… and at the end of the Bible Study they leader said, “Now does anybody have any prayer requests?”
Now if this is a scene that is unfamiliar to you, this is a time where folks will go around and share some things that are happening in their life that they’d like other people to be praying for. And so someone shared, and after each person shared the leader would say, “Is there someone who volunteer to pray for that?” And then someone would volunteer… and they kept sharing and sharing. And then the last person who shared was this gentleman just a couple seats away from me and he shared something that I could kinda relate to and so I said, “Sure… I’d be happy to pray…” but thinking, I’d be more than willing to pray for this guy sometime alone…. that week (LAUGHTER).
So the leader says, “Let’s pray”. The leader started leading us in a short prayer and the next person prayed, and I thought “Wait a second, that’s what they volunteered to pray for”… and then the next person prayed, and then the NEXT person.. then I realized EVERYBODY’S PRAYING OUT LOUD for the thing they volunteered to pray for and IT WAS COMING TO MY TURN… (laughter).
It’s amazing what anxiety can do to the physical body… I mean it just shut down completely.. the amount of anxiety I had.. and I have no idea what I actually ended up saying, but it probably looked a lot like the scene in the video clip. (laughter). I doubt that I impressed very many people with that prayer.
Well we do want to talk about prayer today… something specific with regards to prayer… my hope and desire is to point out to you from James Chapter 5, this last passage in our series through the Book of James together… I hope to point out to you the 3 occasions in which James clearly says we ought to pray.
This is like a Type A pastor’s dream… who loves 3-point sermons… but I hope we don’t just walk away with “here’s the 3 occasions in which we should pray”… I mean I hope that we GET that whats REALLY happening in James Chapter 5 is, God is inviting us to take all things to Him in prayer”… so I want to invite you to our passage, James Chapter 5, starting in verse 13 as we close our series together today, here’s what the Scripture says:
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. 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.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
The first occasion of 3 which James tells us we ought to pray, he says from the very beginning, “If anyone is in TROUBLE he should pray”. Now James is using a word for the word “trouble” that is intentionally ambiguous and generic… and essentially what he’s saying is, “Through any of life’s hardships or misfortunes… the only thing he DOESN’T have in mind here is like medical or physical things that might happen to us… he’s going to cover that in the next verse… but through any of life’s hardships or misfortunes we ought to be conditioned to pray IMMEDIATELY when those things happen. He’s basically saying, “Look, if your marriage is struggling… PRAY; if you’re having a hard time raising your kids.. PRAY about that; if you’re having a difficult time financially… PRAY; if you’re having a hard time at work.. PRAY; if you’re having a hard time finding out what direction you should go in your life.. PRAY about that.
God in this passage, right off the bat is inviting us to embrace the idea that in times of distress or hardship in our life, whether they’re personal, whether there with regards to our circle of friends or our immediately family, or our church family… the BEST and the FIRST recourse always should be prayer. It doesn’t mean that it’s going be the only recourse.. right?
We might also have to ACT in response to the hardship that we’re in, but he’s saying instead of ACTING FIRST.. how many of you are like me… when I have a hardship I ACT, ACT, ACT and then when I’ve exhausted all possible means I think, “oh yeah, by the way, I should pray”
He’s saying, “We might have to act, or we might NOT have to act.. but either way what we do and what we DON’T do in the midst of a hardship is it should be grounded in time by our prayer FIRST… we need to be conditioned… the Scripture is telling us to be trained to pray immediately when we begin to experience distress or hardship in our life.
But not only CONDITIONED to pray, but it’s so important WHAT WE PRAY FOR in the middle of a hardship… isn’t it. I mean what’s our natural instinct to begin to pray when we’re in the middle of a hardship? …`”Oh Lord, take this hardship AWAY from me”… that’s the most natural thing. And if we don’t check that with the Scripture that’s probably what many of us have prayed… over and over again, we have a hardship, we have a difficult circumstance, and some of us, praying in the midst of a hardship is not difficult… it naturally comes to you… the problem might be what it is that you prayed FOR in the midst of a hardship, because we’re naturally inclined to say, “take the hardship AWAY” … but that might not necessarily be the most Biblical and therefore the most beneficial for you and I
We don’t have to look too far elsewhere in Scripture to see that MAYBE God has something else in mind when we’re going through a hardship than just taking it away from us.
James, Chapter 1, the very first sermon we looked at told us in verses 2-4 these words,
“Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops PERSEVERANCE and perseverance must finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete and not lacking anything.”
Why would James write those words and then a few chapters later say, “Oh, if you’re in the middle of a test, if you’re in the middle of a hardship, just PRAY about it and God will take it away”… I don’t think that’s what he’s suggesting we pray. Instead I think what he’s suggesting is when we’re in the midst of a hardship the first thing we ought to do is yes pray, but pray that we have the strength from God to endure that hardship.
Some of you might say, “That’s insensitive to say.. you have no idea the hardships that I’ve been through; it’s insensitive of you to ask for merely the strength to go through it instead of asking God to remove it. What about a widow who simply doesn’t have enough food, for instance… right?
What, is she supposed to just endure… her hunger… is she simply to just ask God for the strength to endure it? .. Well let’s just think about the Lord’s Prayer… did Jesus say something about food somewhere in there.. “Give us this say what… our DAILY bread.
Now, let’s just think about “daily bread” from our context here in America. If you had to wake up every morning wondering and relying and trusting upon God for where you were going to get food for that day… would you not consider yourself to be in some form of hardship?
By all means.
You would qualify for every government assistance program in our country. And yet God simply says, NOT pray for your weekly food, not pray for your monthly food, not pray for a $500 Walmart card… just “our daily bread”.
Even his suggestion in there is not a prayer for the ability to have the hardship removed, it’s more like the strength to endure the hardship… isn’t it.
We ought to be reminded that when we suffer, we don’t suffer alone. Philippians Chapter 3, verse 10 tells us something profound about our hardships,
The Scripture says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering becoming like him in His death”.
So that when we are experiencing a hardship, yeah, we’re called to pray, but not necessarily to have the hardship removed, but when we are suffering and experiencing the hardship we find ourselves in unity with Christ like never before. We’re reminded, many of us need to be reminded this morning that THAT is why we’re here… is because we have a God who loves and cares about us enough that he was willing to endure hardship and suffer on our behalf; He was willing to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross, willing to suffer on the cross for us
What if Jesus had prayed in the midst of His hardship the way that we are so inclined to pray? What if in the Garden Jesus said, “Ya know.. it’s about to get really rough, ya know… I think I’m gonna bail on this”.
He was honest, he said words such as “if there’s any other way Father that you can accomplish what I’m here to accomplish.. other than by dying on the cross.. then OK, but if not I’m willing to endure… I’m praying for the strength to endure what it is that you’ve asked me and called me to do.
So we have a God who LOVES us and CARES for us, who’s WILLING to suffer on our behalf; and so when we ourselves are suffering He’s inviting us to TRUST in Him and allow Him to treat us as He would treat us.
Friends, we can’t forget in the midst of our hardship and the temptation to complain against God, that He is preparing, right now as we speak, a place for us for all of eternity that is more glorious than we can possibly imagine. Can we not allow Him to treat us here on earth the way that he needs to treat us, EVEN if it involves suffering and hardship.
I came across a quote when I was doing some research on this passage… it’s from this lady named Hannah More; and Hannah was a woman who was born to incredible privilege and by all means her money and her family could’ve protected from many of life’s hardships, but eventually she basically left all that. She joined the likes of John Newton as she was teamed up with him to fight the slave trade battle… and in the midst of that in the hardships that she endured as a result of that she wrote this reflecting on the Christian life and suffering and struggling, she said,
“Affliction is the school in which great virtues are acquired and in which great characters are formed. It’s like a Spiritual Gymnasium in which the Disciples of Christ are trained in robust exercise, hardened exertion and severe conflict”
Affliction, like a Spiritual Gymnasium… so that when we pray that God immediately remove the hardship from us it may not necessarily be what God has in mind, or what’s BEST for us.
So the FIRST point that he tells us to do is to PRAY when things are difficult FOR THE STRENGTH TO ENDURE THEM. And then he goes on in the second part of this verse, he give us the second reason why we ought to pray:
“Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” James 5:13b
Well, some might ask, “What’s singing have to do with prayer?” I would ask you, “Are they really that different?” Aren’t they actually two different ways of doing the exact same thing? I mean when we pray we are talking to whom? … GOD. And when we sing we are talking to whom? …. GOD.
There are different ways of speaking to Him, of communicating to Him. And I think the key to understanding why James would include the thought of PRAISING in the midst of this topic of prayer is to realize he’s not talking about a happiness that’s sort of circumstantial, he’s talking about a HAPPINESS with a sense of PEACE, a sense of JOY that comes when someone realizes the blessing of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.
You see friends there comes a point where when we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we understand and begin to grasp the full measure of what He has done for us on the Cross–that He has paid the FULL-price for our sins… how much He loves us, how much He desires to have a relationship with us.
We begin to have inside of us affections for HIM… emotions and passions for Him, convictions for Him that cannot merely be SPOKEN, as we think of it, in NORMAL PRAYER. So He gives us the JOY OF SONG to take the opportunity to SING our convictions and our emotions to Him, which is another way of speaking and talking to Him but we do it through song.
We’ve had the blessing today of having our family from Louisiana here with us; we’ve got my wife’s sister Cathy and her husband Nicholas, her three wonderful kids who are here… they drove up yesterday morning; got up at like 3 in the morning and got here around dinner time. And like at breakfast time our kids started asking, “Are they here yet?” … ya know. And then after several “are they here yets” we finally said, “Well you’re not allowed to say that anymore, and then they would say things like, “When are they going to get here?” (LAUGHTER)… and we say, “well you can’t say that either”.
And we went through a whole series of those… and they were just so excited and full of anticipation about them coming… and at one point in time I look over to the front door and one of our kids had taken the stool that was folded up, like a little step-ladder stool.. that was folded up and behind the fridge; and they had pulled it out, they opened it, they drug it over to the front door and they set it up against the front door to they could climb up and look out the peep hole thing (soft laughter).
Now can you imagine had our kids been that excited and full of anticipation for the Almasy family to get here, then all of the sudden there’s Cathy and Nicholas and (without emotion) they’re just like, “Good to see you Caleb; good to see you Sophie; good to see you Levi. BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT THEY DID… right.. they jumped in their arms and they picked them up and HUGS were exchanged, and KISSES were exchanged, and people were happy and BIG SMILES were there…
…and I think what James is saying is “Look, there’re emotions that we experience for God that MERELY SPEAKING those words to Him DOESN’T SUFFICE. And so He gives us the idea of PRAISE where we can SING those emotions and passions and convictions to Him.
When I began to understand SINGING AS A FORM OF PRAYER it changed my whole attitude about music and the church. I’m not musically inclined; if you’ve ever had the dis-privilege of sitting in front of me… THAT’S WHY GOD PUT ME IN THE FRONT ROW.. alright (LAUGHTER)… it’s not an enjoyable thing to be in front of me, I have a horrible singing voice, and so for a long time I sort of resisted the idea of music at church… let’s sort of get through this, let’s get to the sermon… and then eventually I got to the point where I kind of LIKED the music, but I didn’t sing or participate.. and I sort of resisted that whole idea…
…but, when we start thinking of it, when we start thinking of it, just like we might put on the screen, we might put the Lord’s Prayer up there and we would all SAY THAT together… and then we put a song up there, where we all SING that to God together… and it changes our attitude whether we are musically inclined or not, the only prerequisite is for someone to realize that you have an emotion for Jesus that is so great and strong because of what He’s done for you on the Cross… you want to participate in that time because it’s the best opportunity for you to communicate that emotion back to Him.
James has now given us both ends of the spectrum.. right? What do we do when there’s a HARDSHIP; and what do we do when we’re HAPPY and we’re praising; and then he gives us our final occasion for which he mentions specifically THAT we ought to pray… and he gets more specific about HOW we should pray as well.
In verses 14-16 he brings up this idea of SICK,
“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven…” and so on…
Ya know this word “sick”, it’s a very interesting choice that James used here… it’s the exact same word that Paul used; some of you remember this passage; it was the Apostle Paul who used this word in the Bible in the Book of 2nd Corinthians chapter 12, verse 7, Paul writes about this with his experience.
“…to keep me from becoming conceited, because of these surpassingly great revelations, I was given a thorn in my flesh,” that expression, ‘a thorn in my flesh’ which is the same word that James is using here for SICK, “as a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”
For that reason a lot of people think that Paul’s thorn in the flesh must’ve been physical, and it might have been physical but what’s clear is that JAMES is talking about a PHYSICAL, MEDICAL AILMENT of some kind.
There’s a lot of skepticism when it comes to the whole idea of healing people physically through prayer. We’ve all seen the TV guy.. right? We’ve seen people walk up the aisle, and they have a limp, or they have something going on, and then the person on TV just puts their hand on their head says, “BE HEALED” and then the person walks away, and then, for $19.99 you can subscribe to his healing ministry… or whatever.
I mean, we’ve ALL SEEN that kind of thing and we’re sort of trained to be skeptical, many of us, towards that type of ministry; but this is NOT THE PICTURE THAT JAMES IS CREATING. What he’s talking about is far more than the individual power of prayer. Instead he’s creating an image where we see the elders of the church coming together, trusting NOT in their individual spiritual gifting, but in the Power of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Jesus Christ in the compassionate heart of God the Father.
And here we see that there are aspects of prayer life that are connected to just how connected to a church we are… that God DRAWS us beyond a personal relationship with Him into a community of faith by not granting our every individual need apart from that community of faith.
I mean perhaps if you’re here this morning and your prayer life is struggling in its QUANTITY or in it’s QUALITY, perhaps it’s because God is inviting you to experience the power of prayer within the context of a community of faith.
[Transcriber note: read previous paragraph again; it was convicting to me]
Being here at church, this is just the first level of how you could do that. You could certainly experience some of the increased power of prayer in a community of faith by coming to church; but I mean you can only get SO personal.. right? … at a Sunday morning church service; and so we have things like Bible Studies, and Small Groups where people are invited to come to, where we love to have you participate, where you got to know a group of people who you are willing to connect with further and share with deeper and PRAY TOGETHER AT ANOTHER LEVEL.
And then James seems to be alluding to I think a level even beyond that.. when he says,
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
There’s this idea that he wants to draw us so deep into a community of faith that we know somebody who we’re willing to CONFESS and ask to PRAY for us our deepest sin. And I don’t know about you, but I think that a small group is too big for that. I think he invites us beyond even that to RELATIONSHIPS within the church community with one or two other people with whom we are willing to share our deepest needs.
One of the things I found so troubling about this passage is just how matter-of-fact the HEALING is in this passage
NOTE: Here he pauses because it looks like one of the members is ill and may need help… they’re getting up to leave but indicate they will be OK. A few weeks earlier a man had a mild heart attack at the very end of the service as we were leaving; 911 was called and fortunately there were 2 doctors and an RN in the congregation.
… umm just how matter-of-fact the healing is in this passage. If you read this passage, James comes along and he says, “Is somebody sick? … just pray for them and they’re gonna be healed”… and I don’t know about you, but I find that troubling… because that hasn’t always been my experience in my life.
I remember the first time I was called on a hospital visit… I was 2 weeks out of seminary. And there I was in Southern Illinois as the assistant pastor of this church. The secretary came in and she said to me, “Look, we’ve had someone who was in the congregation who was at work; they’ve had a massive heart attack, they’re in the hospital fighting for their life.”
Of course my response was, “Where’s the senior pastor?” (LAUGHTER). “Senior pastor is nowhere to be found; we can’t get ahold of him.” OK… alright and I start driving, and the hospital is about half an hour away; I called my father-in-law up, I’ve got him on the phone; he’s now a retired EPC minister, and I said to him, “Look, I don’t think we talked about this in seminary, I really don’t know what to do.” …and so he gave me some advice.
We got there got there and we all agreed we wanted to go into the hospital room and there was probably 5 or 6 of us laying our hands on this man as he was fighting for his life; and we were praying for him; and NEVER BEFORE in my life had I been so intent and focused in prayer. Just envisioning, just imagining the power of God and the Holy Spirit going through me, through my hand right into this person’s body.
And he would move a few times in our time of prayer and I thought, “That was it…” …his body sort of waking up, his body sort of waking up, the Spirit’s working through him; at any moment all this beeping and all the noise from the machines is gonna stop he’s gonna wake up and be fine and say, “What happened?” … ya know.
And 2 days later… he passed away.
And when I read, “Is any one of you sick, lay hands on and pray for him and he’ll be healed”… it makes me feel kinda lousy about myself. It feels like, “Do you just LACK faith Dan?” … “Is that why you’re not one of those pastors who just prays for people and they’re healed?
Let’s go back to that passage from Paul in second Corinthians… Paul says, “Look, I’ve got this thorn in my flesh…” continuing in verse 8,
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Did Paul just lack faith? Was that his problem too? Was he not a man of utmost faith whom God the Father had other plans for as far as healing him in this moment?
Truth be told… sometimes, right? …God brings incredible miraculous healing to people when people lay hands on them. I don’t think that James is trying to say that this is something that we should expect to have happen ALL OF THE TIME.
But God is inviting us to take all of the “THING” to Him… on ALL OCCASION, to prayer.
And that might seem burdensome for some of you. For some of you’ve been taught that the time you pray is that window of time in the morning that you carve out; and now the pastor is giving you the idea that you should be praying MORE… which means you’re going to have to set your alarm earlier.. ok? Who wants to hear that?
But I thing the only way to possibly accomplish what James is after here is to develop the idea of just talking to God throughout the day. I’m not saying there’s nothing beautiful or important about having a time in your day that you set apart. God is Holy and pure and deserving at times of our undivided attention. And there are certain things that you can only accomplish through those moments. But there are also those things that you can only accomplish in prayer by developing an ONGOING prayer life throughout your day.
Ya know, when I think of this passage and how it applies to Kirkmont (pause).. I was talking to someone the other day about this idea that Kirkmont over the last 20 years has had a numerical downward trend in it’s attendance… there’s been some exceptions, but overall for 20 years or so the attendance has been on a downward spiral.
And we were just having a very practical discussion about the idea that we have a passion and desire to see Kirkmont be a thriving and growing place that’s reaching the community for Jesus Christ.
Of course that when I encounter a situation like that my first instinct is to think of all kinds of practical lists to make about how we could make things different… right? And I have those lists (LAUGHTER).
And we may want to implement some of those things.. (more laughter)… but it’s a passion of mine and a desire of mine that should that day come, and should someone ask ANY of you the question, “How did you turn things around”?. That the first answer that comes from all of us is… “WE PRAYED”.. we might of had to DO somethings after we prayed, but PRAYER WAS THE ROOT of everything that we did–all of the things that we DID do and all of the things that we DIDN’T do was because of our time spent in prayer… GOD IS THE ONE WHO MADE THIS HAPPEN.
Now maybe you’re not most burdened by Kirkmont as a church as a whole, maybe you have another burden of some kind in your life… the solution and the application is the same: HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH IT? … how did it get turned around? … WE PRAYED.
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