No matter what you’re going through, prayer is a powerfully effective tool.
We’ll continue our series through James this morning, so if you have your Bibles, turn to James, Chapter 5. I had thought we would wrap it up today, but it looks like this will kind of be a 2-parter and we’ll wrap it up next Sunday, but today will be James Chapter 5. We’ll start in verse 13 and following, and as you’re turning there, I will tell you about a guy named Hudson Taylor.
Hudson Taylor was a missionary, a great missionary. I would say he’s one of the fathers of the modern mission movement, and there was a time when Hudson Taylor was on his way to China. He was on his boat, and they encountered a very dangerous situation. The wind completely stopped. The boat, you know this big sailboat, had no control. The captain and the crew were unable to guide it in any way because the wind was gone. And they began to notice that they were drifting close to an island with a reef. And on that island were cannibals. And they came so close to the island that they were watching these cannibals build their fires in preparation.
Now you can imagine the heartaches. You can imagine that. One, they’re getting ready to be shipwrecked. Two, they’re getting ready to be shipwrecked on an island where there are people who are hungry, and they don’t want bread or potatoes. OK, so the captain comes up to Hudson Taylor and says we’ve done everything we can do. There’s nothing left to do. And Hudson replied, Sir, you’re wrong. There are four Christians on this boat, and we have not done everything we could do. Hudson and his three other partners retired to their individual cabins and set out praying – praying for the wind to start to blow. Praying for the current to change directions.
Hudson Taylor did not pray long before he got up. He walked back up, found the first mate of the boat, and said drop the sails. The wind’s going to blow. The first mate said, “What are you talking about?” Hudson said to trust God and drop the sails. They dropped the sails and the instant they did, the wind immediately started to blow, and they were back on course, and they made it to their missionary destination.
What that story shows us is that there is power in prayer, isn’t there? There is power when we communicate with God. There’s power when we admit our complete and utter dependence upon God. There is power in prayer.
James is a man of prayer. I may have mentioned at the start of our series that he was so committed to praying that his knees were so calloused, they called this man James “Old Camel Knees.” Can you imagine walking down the streets? Hey Camel, how’s it going? Yeah, but if you’re like, how did his knees get so calloused from praying? One, he prayed all the time. He was a prayerful pastor, but two, I know when I pray, I have a little pillow. Anybody got a prayer pillow? You get on your knees, or you lay in bed at night and thank you and you’re asleep. James didn’t have a prayer pillow. We’re talking dirt and gravel ok, and so his knees became calloused because he spent so much time praying because he knew the power of prayer.
And as we get to our passage today, and James has talked about prayer; he said seek wisdom early on. And he talked about if you don’t have wisdom, ask, but he circles back today as he closes out his book with this concept of –
Prayer is powerfully effective in all seasons. No matter what you’re going through, prayer is a powerfully effective tool, and that’s how he ends his book with this topic of prayer.
So here’s what James writes in James, chapter 5, starting in verse 13 and following.
James 5:13-15: 13 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Let’s pray. Father, as we examine this wonderful text this morning, may You reveal to us who we are. May You reveal to us our need for You and show us our Savior. Father, let the Spirit work in us in such a way where we become a prayerful people in all that we do. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
This has become one of the most challenging passages of the New Testament for reasons we’ll get to in a little bit, but I don’t want you to miss the fact that the word “pray” or “prayer” or “praying” is used in every single verse.
With the challenges of this text, we can often lose sight of the main point, which is pray in all seasons of life. The first one we see is
1 – Pray when we are overwhelmed with emotions.
We are to pray when we are overwhelmed with emotions. He first starts this up like, “Is any among you suffering?” It’s basically James the pastor standing up to see how you’re doing. You ever seen pastors do that, by the way? How’s everybody doing today? Well, what’s the typical response? Yeah, we’re great. Not everybody is always great, are we? When we come to church, some Sunday mornings were like, “How you doing?” Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine, but not everybody is fine. There are people who are really dealing with some stuff in their life, and there’s some people who are suffering.
So, James starts out by asking how they’re doing. It’s not good, James. We’re suffering because of our faith. We’ve lost our jobs. I mean, we’ve talked about this through the book. We’ve lost our jobs. We’re sick. We’ve been beaten. We’ve been thrown in prison. We’re being persecuted. What should we do? Pray. You know, I say that to people. Sometimes we just got to keep praying. We just got to pray about it.
It seems like such a simple answer, doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s just me being honest. I sometimes feel bad when I say that I don’t know what to tell you except to pray about it. But the truth is, prayer is extremely powerful, especially when we are going through those times of suffering.
What he’s talking about here is misfortune. When you are having trouble or you are suffering the evil treatment, and it’s this idea that as you’re suffering, you have a response. And sometimes it’s an emotional response to suffering. I mean, think about how we respond when things don’t go our way.
Now, I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands, but somebody may elbow your spouse sitting next to you, but you get angry. That’s an emotional response when you don’t get your way or things don’t work out – you complain about it. You begin to question God about it. You begin to throw up your hands. Be like, it is what it is. Suffering brings all these emotions rushing into us, and our response to that shouldn’t be to grumble or to complain or to get angry. Our response first and foremost should always be to pray.
Psalm 13 I think helps us see this very clearly, cause I think we can all relate to Psalm 13 because it starts out with the question – how long, Lord? Anybody ever had to pray that prayer? How long, Lord? How long will I have to work at this job? How long will I have to deal with this boss? How long will I have to deal with this client? How long will I have to experience this health problem? How long will I have to go through this family conflict? How long will I have to suffer the bullying on social media or at school? How long? How long? How long, oh Lord, will I have to experience this? And yet Psalm 13 ends this way – but I have trusted Your faithful love. My heart will rejoice in Your deliverance. I will sing to the Lord because He has treated me generously.
How long, O Lord? I trust you. If it lasts a year, I trust You. If it lasts two years, I trust You. If it lasts a decade, I trust You. If it takes my life, I trust You. And so, we are to pray.
But, we’re also to pray when we’re cheerful, and it comes in the form of singing praises. Now this is a struggle for me because my bucket that’s supposed to carry the tune has got holes in it. OK, some of you are like that, too. Some of you just bless your heart. You can make a joyful noise, but it’s not a pleasant noise. You know it happens. That’s me. I’m not pointing a finger at you, that’s me. I mean I make a joyful noise. I was talking to my daughter and her friends this week and I said, you know, I used to sing in the shower.
Anybody else do that? This is going to date me a little bit. I would take my boom box OK, you know the big boom box with the CD’s, usually Garth Brooks all the time. And I put it on the counter and I would just sing as loud as I could, and then my dad would knock on the doors like alright, you’re giving me a headache! Stop it. Cause I couldn’t sing.
James is reminding us that, hey, when you’re suffering, you got to pray. And by the way, it’s easy to go to God when we’re suffering. But he reminds us when things are good, when we have a peace of mind, when we’re feeling happy, praise God for it, but still pray. One commentator wrote this – turning to God in need or in suffering is just half the truth. Turning to Him in praise, either at church or alone, is the other half of the truth. We are reminded to give thanks.
With me continuing James next week, I’ll take this as an opportunity as a little Thanksgiving message. Count your blessings. Name them one by one, and you’ll see what the Lord has done. Be thankful. Psalm 103 gives us more insight. Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and do not forget all His benefit.
God’s been good to us, right? I just jotted down a few. First and foremost, I’m grateful for my wife. She’s always first, right? I’m grateful for my kids. I’m grateful for every youth and child who comes to this church. I’m grateful for every senior adult and young adult. I’m just grateful to be a part of this church. I don’t ever take for granted that and how blessed I am and how blessed we are as a church. I’m grateful that I have a car to drive, a house to live in, and plenty of food to eat. I’m grateful. I’m grateful to live in this country.
And so, what is our response to cheerfulness? We got a saying – did you know this? This is a command: sing praises to the Lord. I didn’t confirm this, but three commentators said it’s the most commanded thing in the whole Bible to sing praises to the Lord. It’s the most commanded thing from Genesis to Revelations.
Sing praises to the Lord, and so we can do it on our own. We can do it driving down the road, putting on a little Matthew West or southern gospel like the Gaithers. I really like the Gaithers. That’s pretty good stuff. We can just drive down the road, and you come to a stop light. You’re just praising God and everybody sitting around. Right? I’ve been there. I know a person, that was a long time ago, she was so involved in worshipping the Lord, this is years and years ago, she was so in tune with singing to the Lord, she got a speeding ticket. She was not focused on the fact that it went from 55 to 35, and she was just praising the Lord and she told the deputy that. He still wrote her a ticket. It happens, but she was just so engrossed with the Lord. We can praise the Lord with the organ, the piano, with the choir. We can praise the Lord with the band. We can praise the Lord like Barney – acapella, acapella, acapella. You all seen that episode? Yeah, I can sing acapella too. Yeah, we just we sing praises to the Lord when we’re so grateful and we understand we are so blessed by the Lord.
And so, we can pray and praise in all seasons of life – suffering and in cheer. When we are overwhelmed with these emotions, we are to go to God in prayer.
But then we get to verse 14, and we see that we are to
2 – Pray when we are overwhelmed with weakness.
You’re going to stay with me as we’re going to get in the weeds just a little bit on these verses.
You say, why did you say weakness? The Greek word literally is to be weak or feeble. And the truth is, I wrestled with it all week on what this is talking about. This guy says this. This guy says this. I said this. Your pastor is going to have to admit something. I’m not really sure exactly what James is specifically talking about. It could be physical weakness. It could be spiritual weakness. It’s, you know, the people who are much smarter than me are split 50/50. So, me studying it and praying about it, I came to this conclusion.
I think James is talking about both. I think James says when you are sick, meaning when you are experiencing weakness physically, and we’ve all been there, you got the flu, you got a cold, you can’t get out of bed, you’re sick.
Call the elders when you have been experiencing spiritual weakness, a sin that you’re struggling with, or questions about your faith. We call the elders. When you’ve been persecuted, which is likely to have happened and they have beat you to the point where you can’t get out of bed, call the elders.
This is a physical, spiritual, emotional, mental weakness, and it could be this – that the suffering and the circumstances of your life that you have been putting up with it for so long, you have just reached the end of your rope and you’re tired.
You’re like, just throw up your hands. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m tired of this. I can’t do it by myself anymore. Call the elders of the church.
I love the way this kind of shifts and it’s hard to see in the English, but verse 13 is very individual in nature. You pray. You pray. Verse 14 and following is very corporate. It’s about the church praying for each other, starting with the elders that James says that they’re to call. So, if anyone is sick, weak in any way, physically, mentally, relationally, call the elders of the church. Well, who are the elders cause we don’t use that word a lot. Well, they’re the pastors. I do want to point out it’s plural. There’s always more than one in the New Testament. It is a plurality of pastors. When you see that word – bishop, pastor, overseer, elder, in the New Testament, it means the same thing. It’s what we call pastor. It’s what I do. The New Testament would say I’m an elder of the church.
What’s the job of an elder? To shepherd the flock. This, a lot of people, a lot of pastors do get this confused, but we are under shepherds. What that means is Jesus Christ is the chief shepherd of the church. And we are all as members of the church, accountable to each other. But God sets apart men. He calls men to serve as under shepherds who are under ultimately the leadership and the Lordship of Jesus. Men who are not responsible to the church first and foremost, but responsible to Jesus.
We talked about this a few weeks ago. When I die and stand before the throne of God, I’m accountable for how I pastored you and how I cared for you and how I taught you. I have to give an account for that. And yes, it is a lot of pressure when Jesus is reading off hey, you did this wrong. You did this wrong, but you did this right. I am accountable as your elder as your pastor for how I lead and how are we supposed to lead.
Well, we pray, we teach, and we minister to the people. See what James says. James says to call the elders. Now there is a very important point that you have to see. They had to call the elders. I don’t know everything, OK. If you’re in the hospital and don’t tell me, I don’t know you’re in the hospital. And you think, well, that’s just common sense. I’ve gotten in trouble for that before. You didn’t come see me. I didn’t know. You have to call the elders. I love that word “call” cause it’s not that you call the elders, but the elders come alongside of you to pray for you and minister to you. We’re there with you to live life with you.
And so when you’re bedridden and when you’re weak, call the elders. Call the pastors. I’m your pastor. And I don’t have all the answers and I give bad advice most of the time. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and make you think I’m the smartest man in the room. I’m not. Do you know what I’ll do for you? I’ll pray for you. I’m here for you. I’m here to minister to you and to care for you. Yeah, I love to study the Bible and I love to preach. But I also love to care for the sheep.
And all pastors, if you have a desire to be a pastor, you need to understand that a part of your ministry is caring for the people. When they call you, you can pray for them on the phone. That’s OK. Or you can go and pray for them in person. In fact, James says you pray for them by anointing them with oil. Now, I’m going to be honest with you. A lot of us see this, and what do we think of? You’re just putting a little cross on the forehead, right? Anointing with oil? Huge verse that’s misinterpreted. OK, because what this really means is this is the best picture I can come up with. A horse just runs the Kentucky Derby as fast as it could, as strong as it could; then they take oil and they massage the muscles of the horse. That’s exactly the picture that James is painting. It’s not just a little anointing, it’s a you are being massaged with oil, and some of you are thinking hey, First Baptist Church massage parlor. All right, no! No, that’s a very literal, physical sense of what he’s talking about. That’s the picture of it, of massaging, dumping oil all over the body. And yes. Oil in this day and time had a medical purpose. If they had been beaten and cut and scratched, the oil would have helped with some medical healing. But here’s what I don’t want you to think. I don’t want you to think that the oil has any miraculous power because it doesn’t. It’s not some magical potion that’s going to heal you of any sickness. The oil that James is talking about here is very symbolic.
You know, we talk about baptism, right? Baptism doesn’t save anybody. Baptism is the next step you take when you are saved. Baptism is a symbol. It is an external symbol of an internal reality of what’s going on in your heart. The anointing of oil is an external symbol of the internal reality that God is living in you, and that God has the power to heal you. The oil is not going to heal you; it will be God that will heal you.
So, I don’t want us to misunderstand, because many of you have heard of Joni Erickson Tada. She was a very athletic person, and she had an accident that left her completely paralyzed. She read this verse in James, Chapter 5, and she had her pastors and the leaders of her church organize a healing service where they laid hands on her, anointed her with oil, and she was so confident. She had the faith. She was so confident that they were going to do this, and she was going to stand up and walk, that she started telling people and inviting people to the service and saying that night, she was going to stand up and walk.
Guess what? Didn’t happen. They anointed her with oil. They prayed over her, and she’s still a paraplegic. And she writes about this, and she talks about how she went into such a dark, spiritual place because she thought God had failed her. But then she comes out on the other side with a better understanding of Who God is.
So here you know, there’s a promise in verse 15 that we have to wrestle with. The prayer of faith will save the sick person. And I mean, that’s a promise. That’s a guarantee. That’s not “may” save the sick person, but everybody in this room knows that you’ve prayed, and there have been people you have prayed for and prayed for and prayed for, and they still died. There have been illnesses you have prayed for that God would take away from you and take away from you and take away from you, and you still have them today.
Was God unfaithful to you? You have to understand how God works. God works sovereignly. God works according to His will and to our purpose, and we should still pray. There’s nothing wrong with praying for the healing, but we’ve got to understand how God heals. Sometimes, God heals miraculously. There are people I know who are walking around today for no other reason than God put a touch on them and miraculously healed them. He still does it. God works through medication. The doctors give you something to take. It works, right? You prayed about it. You took the medication, and it worked. Who healed you – God or the medicine? Yes, both. God works through modern medicine. But don’t miss the 3rd way God heals. Sometimes very tragic and very, very sad for us who are left, but God heals in heaven. That prayer that you prayed for that person to live and they still died. Was God unfaithful? They were healed in heaven if they were followers of the Lord Jesus.
He miraculously heals, He heals through medication, and He’ll heal us in heaven. Joni Erickson Tada had to come to that realization that God was no less God because she still can’t walk. God works in the ways that He chooses to work to accomplish His will and His purpose, and I would say this – that He has used her in such a mighty way through her accident, that His will has been accomplished.
So, we shouldn’t not pray because we don’t have faith, and it says we have to pray in faith. There’s another commentator that explained that about as well as anybody. He says prayer offered in faith is circular in shape. It starts and ends in heaven and the sovereign will of God. See, when we pray and become a people of prayer, then we’re going to pray the will of God in our life, and we’re going to see God answer those prayers because it’s the God will we’re praying for. All of our prayers start in heaven, come into our heart and we send it back up to heaven. So that’s important for us to understand.
But I also want to tell you this. The last part of verse 15 – if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. The greatest sickness that has ever entered Earth is sin. Sin is greater than cancer. It’s greater than heart disease. It’s greater than diabetes. Sin has left us as a fallen people, separated from God forever unless we give our life to the Lord. If you want to be healed in heaven, you need to ask the question – are you going to heaven? Have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you stepped out on faith and said hey, I’m going to give my life to the Lord. I’m going to surrender all that I have to Him. Will you let Him save you from your sins? Will you let Him heal you from the penalty of sin, which is death.
As Jesus hung there on the cross, He looked down at the people and He said, Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing. Has He forgiven you today? Have you said yes to Jesus? Have you? Do you believe, and have you turned away from following this world to follow Him? If you have, then no matter what happens in this world – suffering, death, sickness -God’s going to take care of you. God is going to heal you. It may be in heaven one day, but He will absolutely, emphatically heal you.
And here’s the great thing about heaven. We’re also healed of sin. There is no sin in heaven. We will be absolutely perfect. Have you made that decision?
You know, almost every morning when I wake up to do my devotionals, I pray a prayer something similar to this. I say Father, show me my heart and that’s what I want us to pray this morning – for God to show us our heart. Have we given it to You? Have we surrendered it to You? Have we decided to follow You with our hearts?
I also pray show me where I am at in being a disciple. What do I need to work on? Where do I need to get better? I pray show me the truth about myself and then the last thing I pray as I start is show me my Savior so that I may follow Him.
Do you need to follow Jesus today?
Let’s pray together. Father, we are so thankful that you had this guy named James who wrote this letter to the church. And we’re thankful that we can pray, that we can get on our knees and we can pray to You and we can cry out Father how long, O Lord, and we can seek Your wisdom.
Father, help us to be people of prayer. Help us every day to commit to being in prayer, in communion with You because we are utterly dependent upon You in all that we do. And we know when we pray that there’s power in that prayer when we pray the will of God.
Father, we love You and we thank You. We ask all these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.