Sunday, April 02, 2017
Sermon: James 5: 13-20 Faith in Action - Prayer Power
Whenever you get home today, there are probably a few things you’ll do between now and bedtime. You’ll press a switch or turn a knob, and the oven will come on to cook your dinner (or else to turn it off, hoping that it’s not burnt if the sermon goes on too long...). You’ll twist your fingers, and water will flow from the tap. You’ll pull a cord, and lights will come on. Did you ever stop to consider the power you have in your fingertips? A fairly simple activity brings great power.
Now imagine if you were to go home, and didn’t do any of these things. The water is available, but you don’t turn on the tap. The electricity is waiting, but you don’t use it for cooking or lighting the room. So, even with the fair stretch in the evenings, you just sit in the dark until it’s time for bed. What would someone else think? You have this potential, this power at your fingertips, and yet you don’t use it. You don’t get the benefit of it.
As James brings his letter to a close, this is the point that he wants to get across to us. He’s saying to us that we have the potential of a great power available to us, but we need to use it! Now maybe you don’t feel very powerful this morning, but look at verse 16, in the middle of it: ‘The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.’
In our Bible reading this morning, James wants us to realise the power potential we have. So how do we release this power? How do we see this power at work? It’s when we pray. So let’s dive into the passage to see how we can develop in prayer power.
And as we do that, James has a question for us. Or rather, a series of questions. You see, when we meet together on a Sunday morning, we each come from different situations. On any given Sunday, some will be cheerful - maybe it’s someone’s birthday, or you’ve been feeling great this week. Or maybe you’ve been knowing the Lord’s presence and blessing in a special way. Yet the person beside you or near you is feeling completely different. Maybe there was a row in the car on the way here. Or you’ve been feeling under the weather. Maybe you’re dreading an appointment this week.
That’s why James gives us the kind of checklist in verse 13. ‘Is anyone among you suffering?’ (We’ll not ask you to put your hands up...) ‘Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church...’ Both praying and praising are ways of speaking to God - and that’s what prayer is all about. The opportunity to speak to God; to communicate with the maker of the universe; to let him know how we’re feeling.
But remember that James says that it’s the prayer of a righteous person that has great power. Does that mean that only a certain sort of Christian’s prayer have power? So how do we become righteous?
In verses 14-16, we see how the last of the checklist works out in greater detail. James says, ‘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.’
In this ministry to the sick, the elders are to pray over them (when they’ve been called!). and anointing them with oil. Some traditions save this anointing for the very end of life (extreme unction / the last rites), whereas some of us maybe don’t use oil at all when we maybe should. But notice that it isn’t the oil that is powerful and effective. Verse 15 ‘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.’
What is it that saves, brings forgiveness, and the promise of being raised up (whether that is healing, or ultimately the promise of resurrection)? The prayer of faith. You see, none of us are righteous in and of ourselves. All of us have committed sins.
It’s only when we put our trust in Jesus, when we believe in him and what he has done for us in the cross - it’s only then that we become righteous. It’s only then that we have the promise of eternal life and the forgiveness of our sins. So as we gather here today, whether you are suffering, or cheerful, or sick, I wonder can you say that you are righteous? If not, then look to Jesus today, and call on him in faith to save you.
If you are righteous, if you are trusting in Jesus, have you realised just how powerful your prayers are? When you become a Christian, you become a priest, you have a ministry of prayer - for one another in the church family, and for others who are outside the family of faith (for now!). That’s why James says in verse 16 ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.’
In admitting our weakness and our faults to one another, and praying for one another, we grow together, and have this promise of healing. Now that doesn’t mean that we’ll have someone come up to the front and tell us everything that they’ve ever done wrong - we’d be here a long time - but it does mean that in appropriate ways, with people we trust, we can admit our faults and pray for one another. Righteous people have a ministry of prayer for one another.
James then gives us an example of how a righteous person’s prayer has great power as it is working. Elijah was just like us, and yet by his prayers, it stopped raining for three years and six months. We heard of the stopping and starting of the rain in our Old Testament reading from 1 Kings 17-18. If Elijah’s prayers could achieve the turning off and on of the rain, as easily as we can turn the tap on and off, then what could our prayers achieve?
Imagine the things that could happen, if we were to realise the true potential of the power made available to us, and actually prayed for them to happen? Sometimes at youth groups we ask the question - if you could have any super power, what would it be? But James is telling us we do have a superpower available right now, if we will just pray.
In the last verses, we have an example of how we can see our prayers at work. Imagine someone wanders away from the truth. They’ve been part of things, but are now far away. If we care for them, and pray for them, how might that power of prayer work? If we bring them back, do you see what happens? ‘Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.’
Jesus is the one who died to bring us salvation, to save us from death, to cover over our sins. Yet by our prayers, we can have a part in the saving of others. So who are you praying for, that they’ll come to saving faith? Perhaps today, as you receive the bread and wine and remember what Jesus has done for you, you’ll spend just a moment longer at the rail to pray for someone who needs his salvation.
And after the service, I’ll be available by the font to pray with you or for you. I’ll even have a little oil if you would like to be anointed for yourself or someone else. But any of us could pray for anyone else - ‘for one another’ as James says.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. This power is at your fingertips today. How will you use it?
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 2nd April 2017.