2020-1-26 The Prayer of Faith

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          January 26, 2020

“The Prayer of Faith”
James 5:13-18

 

We come nigh unto the end of our punctuated sermon series through James entitled The Wise Life.  We have today’s text and one more—which, God willing, we’ll treat next week—before we come to the end of the series.  Today, the Holy Spirit teaches us much through James about prayer.  In particular, we learn about the prayer of faith.  Let us give ear now to God’s Word read and proclaimed again in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

First, the Lord, through James, teaches us when to pray.  We pray when suffering.  James asks, “Is anyone among you suffering?”  The answer comes quickly, “Let him pray.”  When we suffer in God’s good providence—no matter if from physical pain, or hardship of any kind, or distress of any kind—we do well to bring ourselves and our case before the Lord in prayer.  Alternatively, we pray when cheerful.  James urges the cheerful one (literally the one encouraged, idiomatically the one cheerful because encouraged, Greek euthumeo [euqumew]) to sing songs of praise.  The purist may argue that praise is not strictly prayer, but the evidence appears against such a claim.  Prayer is expressing needs and intercessions before the Lord, whereas praise declares to the Lord His own greatness and glory.  Both are ways to express oneself before God.

Also, we pray to the Lord when sick.  The Lord conveys through James quite the protocol to observe.  The sick one will call for the elders of the church.  These elders, whether the formally ordained ruling and teaching elders of his local church or an informal gathering of veteran Christ followers, will pray for him.  These elders will anoint with oil, and the sick one will receive that anointing.  It is true that God, in His sovereign mercy, has made certain oils medicinal at certain times for certain ills, but forget not that the power for healing resides not so much in the oil itself as in the Lord Himself, our Healer.  The Holy Spirit leads Matthew to write that Jesus’ healing ministry fulfills Old Testament prophecy (in Isaiah 53:4, in this case), namely, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17).  Moreover, as part of the prayer of faith when sick, we are to confess sin and receive forgiveness—to and from God, to and from offended or wounded parties—in order that we may be healed: physically to be sure, but also mentally, emotionally, and (chiefly) spiritually.

Second, the Lord through James teaches us how to pray.  We are to pray, of course, in faith.  Just as we are to ask God for wisdom, without doubting (in James 1:5-8), thus, also, we pray generally in faith, without doubting.  Recall also that, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Let us, then, pray filled with faith in our triune God’s Person and promises—and, if we sense ourselves short of such faith, then let us cry to Him with the cry of the father of a demon-possessed son: “I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

We also shall pray with fervency.  There exists under these English words an apparent emphatic construction in Greek (my wooden translation: prayed a prayer).  Hence, we offer no half-hearted, insipid prayers before Almighty God.  A Scripture example of this occurs in Jesus’ teaching on prayer (in Luke 11:2-13).  The matter for prayer occurs in Luke 11:2-4, and the manner of prayer occurs in Luke 11:5-13—especially in the parable of the midnight visitor (in Luke 11:5-8).  There we learn that we are to persevere in prayer before God even if the praying grows long and even if the praying meets with initial rebuff.  These sense of the asking, seeking, and knocking is that of continued action.  This is fervent prayer—prayer pleasing to the heart of God.

Third, note our confidence in prayer: God will cause it to avail much.  He does this not because we are righteous inherently, but because God imputes Christ’s perfected righteousness to those trusting in Him.  God will cause our prayers to avail much as He defines the word—not as we define it.  Worry not, though.  God gives unto His own far above what we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  Let us pray in faith to God in Jesus’ Name, let us trust Him with the result—and let us glory in Him as we see His answer to exceed by far what we asked of Him.

Fourth, note a sterling exemplar of fervent prayer in faith: Elijah the Tishbite.  James declares that Elijah was a man with the same kinds of desires that we have—and, contra most estimations of him, not some spiritual superhero in and of himself.  He prayed fervently that rain be withheld from the land of a people forsaking the Lord—and it was so.  He prayed afterward that rain be granted—and, some three and one-half years after rain stopped in Israel, it was so and rained fell in buckets upon the parched Israelite ground.  Note well that God moved Elijah to pray after His will and worked that which He led Elijah to pray.  Rest assured that, in accordance with His Word, He will do these things in and through us as well.

What would you like from the good hand of Almighty God?  What good thing do you need that none else can supply?  For what good thing have you longed, yet still do not have?  Pray to God, in faith, for these things.  Pray to God, in Jesus’ Name, in the Holy Spirit’s strength and insight for several things.  First, pray for increased faith, just as the apostles themselves did in Luke 17:5.  Second, pray for increased fervor.  Recall that, though you feel you have no fervor or energy left, that God gives power to the faint and increases strength to him who has no might (Isaiah 40:29).  Third, pray according to His will, and trust for the fulfillment of this precious promise: “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15).  Fourth, pray at all times in all conditions, thus fulfilling the sense of Paul’s injunction to the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Fifth, pray that God may be glorified, both in your praying and in His glorious response.  Let us ever be quick to pray as guided in this portion of Holy Scripture.  AMEN.